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Wild Cards II: Aces High Paperback – December 20, 2011
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“Delicious… Everything I'd hoped for in a new Wild Cards book. The character interactions and plot twists have exactly the complexity, surprise, and unsentimental realism I'd expect out of a George R. R. Martin project.” ―Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible, on Inside Straight
About the Author
George R.R. Martin is the author of the acclaimed, internationally bestselling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, adapted into the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. He is also the editor and contributor to the Wild Cards series, including the novels Suicide Kings and Fort Freak, among other bestsellers. He has won multiple science fiction and fantasy awards, including four Hugos, two Nebulas, six Locus Awards, the Bram Stoker, the World Fantasy Award, the Daedelus, the Balrog, and the Daikon (the Japanese Hugo). Martin has been writing ever since he was a child, when he sold monster stories to neighborhood children for pennies, and then in high school he wrote fiction for comic fanzines. His first professional sale was to Galaxy magazine, when he was 21. He has been a full-time writer since 1979. Martin has bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Part of the problem was too many overlapping story lines--an alien invasion of earth, a Takisian succession dispute, a chase after a black hole-powered singularity shifter, and an occult society of Masons trying to call down a mythological god to take over the world. Individual stories were forced to move too many players across the board from Point A to Point B in order to feed an overall arc, rather than letting each story play itself out in an organic way to serve its point of view characters.
On the other hand, maybe the root problem was that I just found the Mason society to be irritating and uninteresting.
Here are the individual story reviews:
“Pennies from Hell” by Lewis Shiner – Using a few clues planted in his previous story (“The Long, Dark Night of Fortunado”), the ace whose power is fueled by tantric sex tracks down a group of occultic Masons dedicated to bringing an ancient Sumerian deity named Tiamet to earth. This story sets up one of the vital plotlines of the book, but it seemed like a lackluster outing for one of my favorite characters.
“Jube” by George R.R. Martin – This is not so much a story as a series of interstitial scenes interspersed throughout the book to tie many of the other stories together into a unified whole. Jube is the Walrus joker mentioned but not named in Wild Cards I. Turns out, Jube is actually an alien, not a joker, and he has the key to technology that can save earth from an imminent alien invasion.
“Unto the Sixth Generation” by Walter Jon Williams—An alien swarm attacks earth and is repelled when all the aces gather (like the Avengers!) to destroy it. Meanwhile, a mad joker scientist living in New York creates an android named Modular Man who helps the aces. The Masons and Modular Man all hunt an alien singularity device that may (or may not) stop the aliens and may (or may not) summon Tiamet. If this plot sounds disjointed and somewhat reliant on coincidence, it is. The story is broken up into four parts with other stories mixed in between.
“Ashes to Ashes” by Roger Zelazny – The Sleeper returns in this broad comedy. Croyd is hired to rob the corpse of a dead alien—one of Jube’s associates—but a series of nearly slapstick digressions caused the body to be slowly lost and destroyed piece by piece.
“If Looks Could Kill” by Walton Simons – A telepathic but psychologically damaged ace is recruited by the Masons and their shadowy leader, known as The Astronomer. This story relies on scenes of ritual sacrifice and violent rape, but the plot is rather lame.
“Winter Chill” by George R. R. Martin –We catch up with Tom Tudbury twenty years after he became Turtle and find that living as a secret hero has ruined his chances with the woman he loves. This is the first strong, character-driven story in the book. However, I had a major quibble with one significant plot point: In a world that has been living with the virus for over 40 years, I think everyone would understand how the virus passes from parent to child—when it is dominate or recessive, and how someone can be a carrier without showing symptoms. This would be part of the fabric of everyday life and relationships, not secret information shared by Dr. Tachyon on the roof of a building in a clandestine meeting.
“Relative Difficulties” by Melinda Snodgrass – Fearing the planet will soon fall to the Swarm, the Takisians arrive on earth to collect ace specimens for further study and also recruit Dr. Tachyon as a pawn in a family power struggle. Readers learn a great deal about the doctor’s background and culture. Mark Meadows returns and the full range of his ace powers is revealed—he is Captain Trips, who uses various drugs to bring forth a host of multiple personas and bodies. All of a sudden, he is a more interesting and versatile character than when he was simply Radical. Turtle has a redemption arc, and even Kiet is brought into the forefront of the narrative in a surprising way. This story is funny, exciting, and layered.
“With a Little Help From His Friends” by Victor Milan – This is essentially a continuation of the previous story. Dr. Tachyon and Captain Trips investigate the death of an eccentric scientist, which leads to evidence the alien swarm is preparing a second wave of attack, this time possibly aided by Tachyon’s relatives.
"By Lost Ways" by Pat Cadigan -- Water Lily is an interesting addition to the pantheon, an impressionable young woman with an ability to manipulate water and a pesky habit of killing people she does not like by sucking all the moisture out of their bodies. Unfortunately, we do not get to see too much of her because this story expends a lot of its energy gathering all the various Masonic bad guys into one place, so the aces can defeat them and close out this subplot.
"Mr. Koyama's Comet" by Walter Jon Williams -- A well-told tale of an amateur astronomer whose life's desire is to discover a new comet, but he only succeeds in establishing the position of the Swarm ship.
"Half Past Dead" by John J. Miller -- Yeoman teams up with Fortunado, Dr. Tachyon, and Mai to infiltrate the Swarm Mother ship and save the planet. Fortunado's unique properties are underused, but otherwise this is a fun engaging tale. Mai's character gets an especially appropriate sendoff, and I hope to see her again to find out what happened after the alien ship left our orbit.
The main difference between this book and book 1 is that there is a unifying plot here -- bad monster from space, and evil cult type helpers on earth. If measured against the standards for a good plot in traditional books, it, lets be honest, falls pretty short. That said, the point of the series is the creativity and fun of the individual stories of the aces and jokers, and on that level this book succeeds even better than book 1. You get more Croyd (always fun), more Turtle, more Mark Meadows, who may or may not be the ace known as Radical, but displays new and fun "abilities" here, more Tachyon, the introduction of Jube as a main -- and very entertaining -- character, and the introduction to Modular Man, another great ace. Fortunato, who I dont really care for, is also here big time, as is the non-ace archer out for vengence.
I wish the plot was better, and the villains had more meat to them. But everything that made first book entertaining is here, plus a unifying plot which, while not great, definitely adds a little something over book 1.
If you liked book 1, no reason to hesitate.
Most recent customer reviews
Good old battle between the Light and the Dark done by humans with powers...Read more