High Stakes (A Wild Cards novel) edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass (book review).

September 29, 2016 | By | Reply More

The problem with the ‘Wild Cards’ mosaic these days is that after 23 books, started back in the later 1980s, which makes co-editor George RR Martin’s more recent fantasy series look like a small excursion in comparison, you do have to a little knowledge to break into. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to read them all because when resurrected in the past decade or so, you only really need to go back two books of this latest trilogy at that. As a long-term reader, I still think the early books were probably the best. Then again, market forces play a part as well. Back in the 1980s, you had a wide diversity of writers and characters writing these books. Today, fewer writers per book and ergo, fewer characters overall, as each have their own ownership by agreement which can limit other usage.


Jumping in without reading ‘Fort Freak’ and ‘Lowball’ first and even if you do doesn’t really explain what’s going on in the week that this novel is spread over. Monday is more like an introduction to the various players than moving the story on. By Wednesday, you discover that there appears to be a virus affecting both aces and jokers taking place in Kazakhstan and the SCARE team of aces haven’t got time to wait for UN sanction to go in and sort things out. It’s only later that there is a discovery that it’s more like an inter-dimensional monster. I should point out that you see the individual lives of the characters along the way but there’s so a lot of spoilers here as well so I’m treading very, very carefully not to give away a lot of what is going on.

The danger this time is even more deadly than the Wild Card plague because it is potentially affecting world-wide aces, jokers and norms alike and its quickly spreading and the nearest thing to the end of the world yet that makes the dangers caused by the Astronomer in the early series look like small-fry and that’s saying something. If anything, this is more Lovecraftian in nature and none of the Wild Cards are up to the task. One of the jokers presented has an ability that is potentially more deux ex machina that will undoubtedly need further exploration in later books. The odd thing is that Molly Steunenberg aka Tesseract is probably the most powerful Ace so far, being able to open teleportation portals to anywhere in the world even if she has a bent side. Although I don’t like the idea of giving characters weaknesses after the fact, you do have to wonder about energy expenditure and how unlimited they are in what they do. Those that were beaten this time will have emotional scars which should defy any reset button and needs to be explored in the future. It also leaves the potential for the introduction of new writers and more Wild Cards characters.

If I have to be critical about some things is that when certain characters are taken over by this hatred, the tone of the writing doesn’t carry it over. By that I mean, it’s written within the same style, not much change in emotional texture, let alone the beats of the sentences. When some characters declare others as being psychotic, you do have to wonder as you’ve just read them and other than odd quirks you don’t notice anything drastically changeing and their normality not their mental function tends to come over more than it should. Mind you, that could just be how their minds are being manipulated by the creature. Whether this is a fault of the editing or writing is hard to say but the insight tends to come over mostly when characters discuss other characters.

For those of you who wonder if super-human realities exist in novels away from comicbooks, ‘Wild Cards’ has been going a long time and shows it can work. I do think that after an epic adventure, there is a need to get back down to the grassroots and show the normality of life, such as it is, at ground level.

GF Willmetts

September 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge. 555 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US) $38.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3562-3)

check out websites: www.tor-forge.comwww.georgerrmartin.com and www.melindasnodgrass.com

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Category: Books, Scifi, Superheroes

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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