Sunday, May 3, 2009

Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin's famous take on the superhero genre has become the longest running shared universe series of all time. After the series bounced around between publishers, and then entered a dry spell while at Baen, it was picked up by Tor. The eighteenth volume (Inside Straight) is currently in paperback, with the ninteenth (Busted Flush) still in hardcover. The conclusion to this new trilogy of Wild Cards books will be out in print soon as well.

For those, like me, who have never read a Wild Cards series book before, this was hailed as a good starting point, as there has been a generation shift, with a new cast of characters (and some old favorites) and new story lines. This book is a mosaic novel, written by Daniel Abraham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregillis, and S. L. Farrell.

Six decades ago, an alien plague tore through the planet. Called the Wild Cards virus, it killed 90% of the population, leaving in its wake revolting, deformed people known as jokers, and those with special abilities and powers, called aces. Inside Straight follows a new generation of aces as they compete on a television show called American Hero, seemingly an American Idol knock off, complete with vicious judges, while in Egypt the murder of a caliph and the rise of a new leader lead to a clash between the government and those people that believe in the rise of the gods from Egyptian mythology, who are in fact jokers with animal heads.

Initially, the connection between the crisis in Egypt and the reality TV show seems vague at best, but the two stories come flying together, and the ending leaves much left to tell in the next two volumes. There are a multitude of viewpoint characters, each of which you get to know very well, making each sacrifice very real and powerful.

The most shocking part of this novel is that nine authors can come together and make a very well written story that does not feel choppy in the least. All of their tales mesh together without jarring interruptions. Each author focuses on different viewpoint characters, and make them very believable and complex. At the same time, there is plenty of action, and the book still holds that superhero fun that the genre is famous for. Never before have superheroes been as accessible to the adult audience.

This was one of the best, most fun books that I have read in quite a while, and is certainly worthy of all the good reviews it is getting.


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