Original-Anthology series, edited by George R R Martin, set in a Shared World, each volume comprising stories woven (see Braid) into a more-or-less integrated narrative. Martin prefers to think of these books, because their contents are planned and linked, often as "mosaic novels", though we treat them as, only technically, anthologies. The first volume, Wild Cards: A Mosaic Novel (anth 1987; vt Wildcards 1989), shows its alternate Earth's history (see Alternate History) deviating from our own in 1946 with the release over New York of a virus developed by Aliens. The effect of the "Wild Card" virus is to kill immediately and horribly one out of ten people it infects. Survivors are mutated (see Mutants), mostly in useless, often monstrously damaging ways, in which case they are called "Jokers". One in ten is mutated beneficially: these become Superpowered "Aces". The dividing line can be blurred; for example, physical deformity can be offset by an immense gain in strength.
Ten volumes were issued to mid-1992, the rest of these being Wild Cards II: Aces High (anth 1987), Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild (anth 1987), Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad (anth 1988), Wild Cards V: Down and Dirty (anth 1988), Wild Cards VI: Ace in the Hole (anth 1990), Wild Cards VII: Dead Man's Hand (1990), Wild Cards VIII: One-Eyed Jacks (anth 1991), Wild Cards IX: Jokertown Shuffle (anth 1991) and Wild Cards X: Double Solitaire (1992). Double Solitaire is a novel by Melinda Snodgrass, the first single-author novel in what had so far been an original-anthology series, but is copyrighted in Martin's name; Snodgrass acted as assistant editor on the series from its sixth volume.
The books focus on a cast of Aces and Jokers through the decades. Perhaps the strongest stories are in the first volume, which deals impressively with the McCarthy era. Later volumes are more comic-bookish, and history's incredible resilience becomes irritating: when a secret Ace of enormous power runs for the presidency, events contrive to bring about a victory for George Bush. Despite this, Wild Cards is one of the better shared-worlds series, showcasing hard-edged writing by Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Walton Simons, Walter Jon Williams and others. For a full listing of the still continuing sequence, see the Checklist in the entry for George R R Martin.
A companion comic-book series began with Wild Cards #1: Heart of the Matter (graph 1990), Wild Cards #2: Diamond in the Rough (graph 1990), Wild Cards #3: Welcome to the Club (graph 1990) and Wild Cards #4: Spadework (graph 1990), collected as Wild Cards (graph omni 1991). [RuB/RT]
see also: GURPS; Superheroes.
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