Inside Straight by George RR Martin (Wild Cards)

In the six decades since the alien plague known as the “Wild Card virus” spread a wave of mutations across the globe, humanity has begun to come to terms with its consequences. Grotesque half-human creatures known as “jokers” inhabit an underworld of their own, while legendary prodigies known as “aces” have become real-world superheroes, complete with colourful names and costumes.

Now a new generation of aces had taken its place on the world stage, becoming crucial player in international events. At the United Nations, veteran ace John Fortune has assembled a team of young aces, known as the Committee, to assist at trouble spots around the world - including an invasion of zombies in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, a freak nuclear explosion in a small Texas town, and a fateful showdown with the forces of the oil-rich Islamic caliphate in the Middle-East.

But their opponents have there own aces and jokers ready, including a Marxist revolutionary, a brutal mercenary, a young boy with apocalyptic powers, and a sinister arm of the FBI known as SCARE.

I have always been drawn to the supernatural phenomena in fiction - be it films, books, comics or games - and I have been searching now for some time to find a book which features the kind of storyline where characters have developed supernatural (mutant) powers. And by coincidence I stumbled upon the Wild Cards book series. The first book was released in 1987 and since 2008 Tor books have been releasing a Wild Cards revival series, with Inside Straight being the first book.

Similar to the original Wild Cards books, the revival books are also written by multiple authors. Inside Straight feature the following: Daniel Abraham, George R. R. Martin, Carrie Vaughn, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Ian Tregellis, Michael Cassut, Caroline Spector, John J. Miller, and S.L. Farrel. I haven’t read a book written by multiple authors before so I was a bit sceptical about how the storylines would fit together. At the back of the book there is a list of characters in the Wild Cards universe that each author has created so I thought that each author would keep to his or her own, however this was not the case. I must say that I was very impressed by how the storylines fitted together and how seamless it was as a whole, even though written by different authors. Not every author writes the same and you could easily distinguish between the differing writing styles - I went through some chapter in a heartbeat while others took me a bit longer.

First, a little background on the Wild Cards universe. The original series begins as the Wild Cards virus strikes the population of earth and causes people to die. From the few survivors there are the Aces, these are the ones that have developed superhuman capabilities but appear normal in physical appearance. Then there are the Jokers who survived the virus but grew somewhat deformed i.e human body/animal head combination but do not have distinct superhuman powers (otherwise they would be classified as an Ace). This is a great concept.

One downfall of superhero/superhuman powers can be a lack in originality - there are a lot of superheroes already well known thanks to the Marvel and DC universe but I must say that most of the superpowers used in Inside Straight are unique. The characters I really enjoyed reading about were Jonathan Hive (one of the more prominent characters in the book) who can dissolve his whole body into wasps. Others that were fun were Amazing Bubble (she stores kinetic energy in fat reserves and can release this energy in the form of bubble) and Stuntman, who is virtually un-destroyable. Their powers and their individual personalities (anxious, jealous, nonchalant etc.) created highly funny, and above all, original characters.

In Inside Straight, the story picks-up speed after only reading the first few pages. The beginning of the book focuses on a few of the individual Aces and there powers. What I found a brilliant idea was how, at the start of the book, there was a contest termed “American Hero” - a reality show comparable to American Idol and Big Brother where the next big superhero is hoped to be found. This idea was both unique and well thought out. In the scenes where the teams compete there are is a lot of funny and interesting dialogue and there are also a few chapters where the author goes deeper into the background of the characters, telling their back stories and all about how they became Aces.

Inside Straight was, for me, above expectations, It was a great read, very original with all the storytelling being plain brilliant. If you are looking for a superhero story that is highly original this is one for you.

9/10 An original superhero story with brilliant storrytelling.

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