Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wild Cards I

Today I'm looking at a collection of short stories in the Wild Cards universe, Wild Cards I, which deals with the introduction of the Wild Card virus to earth, its aftermath, and changes to the world after survivors of the virus, both aces and jokers, begin to take a more prominent role in the world. The result is an interesting world that feels incredibly cohesive, at least in this first novel, despite being written by a variety of authors over a number of years.

The story begins in 1946 when an alien, who ultimately gets the moniker Doctor Tachyon, lands at White Sands, New Mexico to warn the United States that his people developed an experimental bioweapon they intended to test on earth. Doctor Tachyon managed to prevent them from deploying it immediately, but the vessel carrying it crash landed somewhere in the eastern United States and it's absolutely vital that they recover it before it gets released. Unfortunately they fail and the bioweapon gets released over Manhattan.

For the people who get infected by the virus, about 90% of them die outright, which caused considerable panic when thousands of people died grisly deaths around New York City, creating a state of emergency. Of the remaining 10% who survive, about 90% of them get mutations that are largely useless, whether it be a disfigured hand, transformation into an animal form, or a minor ability such as being able to move coins a little bit on a table. These people are called jokers and a majority of them get consigned to a ghetto at the southern end of Manhattan called Jokertown. Of the remaining 10% of survivors, a mere 1% of those who are infected with the wild card virus, they get legitimate superpowers whether it be flight, super-strength, or telekinesis. These are the aces, first mistrusted and even reviled by the American public, and then later heroes with their own comic books.

The thing I like most about this book was how interconnected everything felt. As I said, this was a combined effort of numerous authors over a period of time within a shared universe. with Wild Cards I the result was a book that felt like it had a cohesive vision and voice throughout the book, rather than a collection of stories by different people in a shared universe. A good comparison would be some of the Bolo books. While these books are within a shared universe, the short stories in the anthologies can be quite distinct from one another with each author's own voice coming through in the book. While this adds to the variety of the Bolo universe, it makes the books feel a lot like an anthology rather than a cohesive story.

Wild Cards I, by comparison, feels like a full-length novel written in the style of a series of short stories. While the individual authors' voices didn't come out as much, the result felt more like a unified vision rather than an anthology. And I, for one, appreciated that and it's something I can't say I've really seen anywhere else in the books I've read.

Overall I think this book was pretty good. There were some bits I didn't care for, and the parts with the HUAC witch-hunts against aces got a little too relevant for me, but otherwise I think it was a really enjoyable story. If you like superheroes, this might be worth taking a look.

- Kalpar

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