I’ve come to realize something from having now read the first four Wild Cards novels. They are very hit or miss, even within a single volume (as mosaic novels there are multiple story-threads written by multiple authors).
Aces Abroad takes a contingent of delegates from the United States on a world-wide tour to examine the conditions of aces and jokers across the globe. The Contingent includes a Senator (Gregg Hartmann, himself a hidden Ace named Puppetman), several notable Aces (including the disgraced Golden Boy Jack Braun, the one who “named names” in the HUAC trials of the 50’s), the alien Dr. Tachyon, and a handful of jokers from New York City. The trip is half publicity, half investigation.
The background for this world is that in the 40’s an alien virus hit Earth and infected parts of the population, most notably in New York. 90% of those infected died horribly. 9.9% mutated into deformed men and women called jokers (the virus is called the Wild Cards virus), and the remaining .1% became Aces, normal humans with super powers. The jokers were relegated by choice and by societal disgust into ghettos, the New York ghetto was called Jokertown. The world was just like ours, up until the virus struck. After the virus there have been certain changes from history’s path (Fidel Castro played professional baseball and never led a Cuban revolution, the Dodgers stayed in New York), though quite a bit continues to mirror our world (HUAC, AIDS).
In other corners of the world jokers are treated horribly, as any malformed person might be in a third world nation.
There are storylines here, Gregg Hartmann’s gradual increase into power and worldwide acclaim, a charismatic Muslim fanatic is a Middle East power and will likely feature in future volumes, Peregrine’s romance and pregnancy, Tachyon’s guilt, and the connecting thread of the “Journals of Xavier Desmond”, the “mayor” of Jokertown.
Overall Aces Abroad is one of the stronger volumes in the series, though it is only volume four. But, some of the entries in Aces Abroad fell flat. Generally these were the stories which were such a side-show that they only tangentially tied into the larger narrative being woven in Aces Abroad. The stories which were the A or B stories of Aces Abroad were the most successful.
Once again, Mr. George R. R. Martin has put together a solid volume of Wild Cards stories and once again he leaves me wanting to get to the next volume, in this case Down and Dirty. This isn’t a perfect book, and few are even without the limitation of having so many authors working at one time, but Aces Abroad is still worth the time. The first Wild Cards novel was a bit of a scattershot, but things have improved and solidified since then.
I don’t know how common this is, but I saw the TOC of the newest Wild Cards novel Busted Flush (#19), and George R. R. Martin is not contributing a story. Now, I know he is the series editor and this is his baby, and he is busy working on A Dance with Dragons and all, but generally Mr. Martin’s contributions are the strongest parts of Wild Cards. At least, this is the case with Aces Abroad. Granted, I don’t expect him to contribute to the volumes which are complete novels written by a single author, but I look forward to his work in the other books. As I said before, I’ve only read four of the volumes, so perhaps he has taken previous steps away and this is not unusual, but it is disappointing all the same.
(after writing that last paragraph hours ago, I did some digging and after volume #5, Mr. Martin only makes three more appearances in Wild Cards as a writer. Come back, George, come back!)