Reviewing the Pages: Wild Cards I

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The first volume of George R. R. Martin’s WILD CARDS shared-world series, back in print after a decade—and expanded with new, original material.

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I includes powerful tales by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

This is my second read-through of this story collection, and I have to say, my rating will not change. There are some stories in here that are masterful in their creation, and there are some others that are really lacking in their execution. The whole world is creative, and while the characters are actually flawed in one way or another, there is a lot that this world has to offer that we just don’t get. Yes, the epilogue and appendix serve as a way of getting some explanation as to the details of the Wild Card Virus (including a well-thought out speech (lecture) on how the Wild Card Virus is primarily PSI in nature). However, don’t shy away from this read. For all of it’s flaws, it sets up a world that has survived and thrived going on four decades now. I recommend those who like tales that are both dystopian and alternative-history in nature. You never know, you just might find this to be an Ace.

Well, as stated above, I’ve read this book before.  But, it had been pretty much two years since I last read this book, so it’s been an interesting journey to dive right back into the Wild Cards universe.  And I have to say, there were some short stories that I did enjoy, and some that I downright despised.  Why? Because some of the stories were too disjointed; way too all over the place to be coherent.  Granted, I like some of the characters within those stories, but their stories just didn’t do it for me.  There are also some character that I wasn’t huge fans of, like Fortunato and Puppetman.  In Puppetman’s case, it’s because his involvement in the story was confusing (even though that he’s pulling strings like a puppet master, and the end reveal was good, it just gave me that weird feeling).  For Fortunato, it’s just his powers in general.  There are some characters in here that I’m not sure are Aces or Deuces.

There are a lot of real-world events that come across in this story, and a lot of real-world themes like discrimination (putting Jokers in the shoes of those in the minority during the Civil Rights era).  There are also a lot of very heavy themes, with violence and various themes of a sexual nature (including rape), so a fair warning to those who are ready to dive into this collection, be careful.

One of the good things that I like about this read is that, while we have several different authors writing for this book, we get a lot of interconnected characters.  Multiple characters get brought through different stories, whether it’s the Sleeper and his ever-changing faces; The Great and Powerful Turtle in his armored body; or other characters like Fortunato and Gimli.

Don’t let my review give you second thoughts about picking this one up.  It may not be that great, but it’s the first in what appears to be a very large series.  There are going to be some hiccups along the way.  Dive right into this series folks, and enjoy questioning everything you once knew.

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Reviewing the Pages: The Strain

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In one week, Manhattan will be gone.

In one month, the country. In two months . . . the world.

At New York’s JFK Airport an arriving Boeing 777 taxiing along a runway suddenly stops dead. All the shades have been drawn, all communication channels have mysteriously gone quiet. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of a CDC rapid-response team investigating biological threats, boards the darkened plane . . . and what he finds makes his blood run cold.

A terrifying contagion has come to the unsuspecting city, an unstoppable plague that will spread like an all-consuming wildfire—lethal, merciless, hungry . . . vampiric.

And in a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem an aged Holocaust survivor knows that the war he has been dreading his entire life is finally here . . .

Hogan and del Toro take vampires in a whole new direction with a great tale of the beginnings of a vampire apocalypse. They even go so far as to take the established tropes of vampires and disprove them in this world through Setrakian’s knowledge of the strigoi. It starts out simply enough with a plane that just suddenly…stops, and quickly escalates.

One of the small problems I have with this book is the dismissal of what really went on with the plane. Sure, it’s a small part of the story that doesn’t really have any impact on the plot. But, are we just supposed to forget that an entire plane just went dark without any warning. Some of the loose ends can be a bit jarring, but as this is the first book in the trilogy, some of the overarching plot points just get started but should get resolved at the very end.

This book also gives us a wonderful insight into the minds of rats. Yes. I did say rats. There are a lot of comparisons to rats in this story, and it’s quite a nice way to include something from the real-world into this dystopian world. For those who like vampires, but want something a little different from their cross-fearing stereotype (or to wash the taste of sparkles out of their mouth), then this tale is for you.

So, vampires that have a very different physiology than anything that I’ve seen (at least in terms of vampires anyway).  There’s a creature that their stinger tongues remind me of, but I can’t remember what it is for the life of me now (if someone could let me know just what that is, I greatly appreciate it).

So, I listed one of my minor grievances with the tale above, but here’s another.  Dr. Goodweather takes an interesting evolution.  From hard-lined scientist to unbeliever, to later vampire killer; it all seems unbelieveable.  Especially after his first kill.  It felt like he should have a little more remorse than he did, but..he didn’t? Seemed a little too forced for me.  Granted, his actions toward the end of the book; with him wanting to find and kill the Master for taking Kelly is understandable.  But, there is some suspension of belief that has to happen here to make me want to follow Eph around and like him.

Meanwhile, the other stories that we follow, from the survivors that we follow that turn in different ways, to the interludes of Abraham’s past are nice changes of pace from the main tale.  Granted, each of them weave their way into the main story so by the end of it all, we get a lot of plot lines that do get closed up, but not all the way.  I really like Fet though.  His character just seems very likeable to me.  I couldn’t tell you why though.

As I said before, I would recommend this book to anyone who like vampires, and want something with a different taste to it.  I’ll be ready to dive into the second book in this series, and get further into the vampire apocalypse.