Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wild Cards: Down and Dirty

Down and Dirty
George R. R. Martin (editor)

Down and Dirty is both companion novel to Aces Abroad, as well as sequel. It takes place between October 1986 and June 1987. Aces Abroad was set between December ’86 and April ’87. I mention this because Down and Dirty mentions it, and it is pertinent to the story being told here. Down and Dirty opens just before the WHO world tour of Aces (the events of Aces Abroad), shows the situation back at home during the tour, and then expands and develops the story with the return of those Aces.

Back at home there is a gang war in Jokertown between the Shadow Fists and the Mob. We get the perspective of Rosemary Muldoon, a prominent District Attorney by day, but the don of the Gambione Family by night. Inherently the Mafia perspective is the more sympathetic one. We see the killers of the Shadow Fists and we see Rosemary trying to survive. Also, through Muldoon the reader learns of the murders of the other mafia dons – leaving Rosemary as the only surviving don. It’s mob warfare at its best.

There’s a lot going on in Down and Dirty. Besides the gang violence, we’ve got a very strong introduction of The Reverend Leo Barnett, an outspoken church leader about how the Wild Cards virus is a punishment for the sins of the Jokers. Morally, Barnett is despicable, but as a character – he’s great. The Turtle attempts to fully give up his life as a hero. Croyd Crenson returns with two powerful new transformations (one of which will have long reaching ramifications). The disgusting Ti Malice from Aces Abroad makes an appearance, and for me, is completely out of place here. That storyline only tangentially intersects with the two main stories of the novel (gang war and Croyd), but Ti Malice is such a gross little parasite that my stomach turns a bit. This is perhaps my biggest problem with Ti Malice – that beyond any possible story contribution I just wish the character was off the page. When the WHO tour returns Tachyon steps back into a prominent role in figuring out the new Wild Cards plague. Oh, and there’s a Buddy Holly story that really doesn’t have a place here but is utterly delightful and so I can’t complain.

There’s a LOT going on in this novel.

An argument could be made that too much is going on in Down and Dirty, and I couldn’t really argue against it. Except that Down and Dirty is such a well written mosaic novel that I did not want to put it down. For my money (and I did pay for this), Down and Dirty is the strongest of the first five novels (with Jokers Wild a close second). There are fewer stories here that don’t succeed and several stories that are some of the best written in the series thus far. Roger Zelazny’s “Concerto for Siren & Serotonin”, Arthur Byron Cover’s “Jesus Was an Ace”, and Melinda Snodgrass’s “Blood Ties” are standouts. Not to mention “The Second Coming of Buddy Holley”, by Edward Bryant and “Mortality”, from Walter Jon Williams.

George R. R. Martin, as editor, has a huge task in putting all twelve stories together and weaving them into a coherent whole. Martin is as successful as possible, which is to say that this is a crazy big job and some of the parts (excellent as they are) do not fit perfectly. With that said, the parts that don’t fit are so good that Down and Dirty is stronger for their inclusion despite the fact that they fragment the core stories. Except for that Ti Malice crap. I still hate that little parasite. The rest of it, though – freaking awesome. I very much recommend this book, though I don’t know that this is the place to jump into the series. Either go with the first volume (Wild Cards) of the eighteenth (Inside Straight). But you’ll want to get to Down and Dirty. Trust me.

Previous Wild Cards Reviews:
Wild Cards (bk 1)
Aces High (bk 2)
Jokers Wild (bk 3)
Aces Abroad (bk 4)
Inside Straight (bk 18)

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