Pennies From Hell by Lewis Shiner was a sad and interestingly vague tale involving Fortunato, the powerful Ace pimp, still on the trail of the cult o...morePennies From Hell by Lewis Shiner was a sad and interestingly vague tale involving Fortunato, the powerful Ace pimp, still on the trail of the cult or explanation of the killer who took three of his Geisha's lives ten years previous. After stumbling upon another coin identical to the one he found in the murderers' apartment, Fortunato enlists the help of the ordinary yet extraordinary historian "friend" of Hiram Worchester, aka Fatman and proprietor of the Aces High restaurant, Eileen who fascinates him more than any person since his infection of the Wild Card virus and who can help him track down this group and perhaps give him the closure and peace he has been looking for since the virus became his life.
I had mixed feelings on this story. On one hand, I liked the idea behind the story and I liked the character and world building presented. I also liked the idea of Eileen being normal and somewhat plain yet Fortunato was totally interested and nearly obsessed with her. I like when a plain Jane attracts the sexy, unattainable man they never could even believe possible. This story was startling and sexy and yet I felt there were a lot of details missing and a lot of the story yet to be written about Fortunato. I'm beginning to believe this was intentional on the part of the author to produce more stories featuring Fortunato and the story of his exploits in later Wild Card anthologies. I hope so because I feel like I'm missing a lot of information on this character and cannot wait to find out where this character is actually headed in the series.
What an unusual and unique anthology focusing on an alternate reality where the world has been affected by an alien virus, dubbed the Wild Card virus,...moreWhat an unusual and unique anthology focusing on an alternate reality where the world has been affected by an alien virus, dubbed the Wild Card virus, in 1946 that causes three distinct symptoms amongst the populace: First, is the Black Queen effect which is a very painful and prolonged death, Second is the Joker effect that horribly disfigures and/or mutates individuals and possibly gives some super powers in addition but not often, and lastly the fourth effect is the Ace strain of the virus that gives individuals extreme super powers that are somewhat dangerous but also awe inspiring and very useful like flying and superhuman strength.
Wild Times: An Oral History of the Postwar Years by Studs Terkel by George R.R. Martin this anthology begins with first-person accounts of the aftermath of the virus that changed the world. Dr. Tachyon came from the alien planet that produced the virus and attempted to thwart its descent to Earth before it detonated and infected the populace. The historical aspects intermingled with the fiction of the story was written quite flawlessly together and made the idea of a biological accident created by an alien race very realistic and very interesting.
Thirty Minutes Over Broadway! Jet Boy's Last Adventure! by Howard Waldrop takes us right into beginning of the Wild Card virus before it is detonated over New York City in 1946. Jet Boy, a national war hero, recently returned to the States and civilian life after being marooned on a deserted island for over a year when his last assignment for the Army went awry. Of course, this hiatus is short lived when his arch nemesis Dr. Todd decides to extort the US government into giving him millions of dollars or he will release the deadly virus over the city in retaliation.
I truly enjoyed this story as it reflects a lot of historical facts based in the time frame including rations and short films. I also liked the realism of Jet Boy himself and his attempt to be a regular person as opposed to a national hero and flyer. I also enjoyed the comic feel of the story as the hero takes on the villain with the intent of saving the world. Very vivid writing and enjoyed the character development.
The Sleeper by Roger Zelazny details the events immediately following the release of the virus over New York as fourteen year old Croyd Crenson and his schoolmates' viewing the bedlam while sitting at their desks in school waiting for the day to end. Marshall law is in full effect across the city and everyone is just trying to find safety and shelter and some sort of normalcy in the wake of the Wild Card virus. Croyd's story was exceptionally unusual as the virus takes hold of him every time he wakes from prolonged sleep and changes him into either a Joker or an Ace as the virus chooses. When he's an Ace, he is very prosperous doing dubious and possibly illegal activities with the help of his buddy Bentley and Croyd tries to remain awake as long as possible to enjoy his prosperity and abilities with the help of amphetamines and caffeine. However, when he is a Joker, he tries to remain secluded allowing no one to see him and to fall asleep as soon as he possibly can.
I truly enjoyed this characters' development and the issues he faced as he tried to survive his transformations every time he slept and I thought the author did a great job of portraying life in the fifties from the point of view of a fourteen year old boy. I can't wait to read more about Croyd as this volume progresses!
Witness by Walter Jon Williams details a very realistic and ultimately destructive tale of the Four Aces, ordinary people who received powerful gifts after the Wild Card virus was released that could and did benefit America, and how society at large and the governments' fear and suspicion overpowered their strength and changed the lives of all Aces from that moment and into the future.
This story took me by surprise with the historical attributes and political and congressional structures represented. The descriptions were very vivid and nicely written. I also loved the characters in this story with their flaws and their achievements and I also loved the idea of the Four Aces, crime fighters for the American government out to preserve justice and protect the people of the world even though this story mostly focused on two of the four Aces, Jack Braun dubbed the Golden Boy because of his strength and the glow he emits when using it and Earl Sanderson dubbed the Black Eagle for his ability to fly and the color of his skin. I did not expect the "witness" in the end or the things revealed and the repercussions of the testimony, but it made the story all the more realistic and enjoyable.
Degradation Rights by Melinda M. Snodgrass was an emotional and revealing tale detailing Dr. Tachyon and the other two Aces, Brain Trust and the Envoy, previously discussed in Witness and how they lived before and after the HUAC hearing and how their lives truly changed in other more destructive ways not involving the Wild Card virus.
This story was so different from the previous stories presented thus far in this anthology. The focus was more emotional and all the more devastating as all three characters are described more in depth and how their lives and relationships with one another ultimately worked against them. I found the friendship between Dr. Tachyon, David Harstein, and Blythe Van Rensaeller very well developed and I loved the romantic tie between Tachyon and Blythe a great deal. The author did a nice job of describing the inner workings of these characters' minds and was not afraid to reveal the positive and negative aspects of them. Although the focus was on the ill-fated love story of Dr. Tachyon and Blythe, David was still a strong part of the story and revealed more about his character as well as the other two characters. I found the story sad overall but totally necessary and eye-opening and fitting for this story and the continuation of the series.
Interlude One: Red Aces, Black Years by Elizabeth H. Croften by George R.R. Martin detailed a brief summary of the years following the HUAC hearing and subsequently the modern day witch hunt for Aces that ensued. Very revealing and educational as the Aces are ferretted out and some are destroyed while others go into hiding. It reminded me of Hitler and the Gestapo going after the Jewish community. Scary and very realistic!
Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace by Michael Cassutt details producer Karl Von Kampens' investigation into his errant actors' life and delves into the seedier side of the city including Joker dives as he tries to discover and resolve the actors' secrets while also trying to maintain his own secrets in the process and avoid the possible death of the Medusa killer prowling the streets of LA.
I found this story pretty interesting and a good addition to the continuing story of the Wild Card virus. I found Karl's ability fascinating and I thought him very wise as the rise of the HUAC hearings are still in effect at this time. His characters was nicely written and I also enjoyed the introduction of the invisible lady, Estelle. I definitely hope to see more of these two later in this volume and in future volumes. I also liked the descriptions of the Jokers and their life at this time. The Medusa murders were more background and part of the landscape of the story but the underlying story just made the end result of the story a success.
Powers David D. Levine detailed the story of a CIA analyst whose main job is shuffling paper and finding probable statistics for his company who finds himself in the middle of an international operation as he feels his hidden Ace abilities may help the situation.
Frank, aka Stopwatch, was an interesting and complex character with an insanely awesome power of stopping and slowing time while he can still move and do things as everything else remains frozen. I liked the idea of Frank being an elderly man of Polish/Russian decent with many secrets and I particularly like the fact that he could read and speak many languages as well as understanding other countries habits and customs to help not only himself but the US as well. I also liked the glimpse of the politics and world presented after the Aces had been otherwise labeled pariah in society who needed to be policed and, if possible, destroyed from the HUAC trials a few stories back in Witness.
Shell Games by George R.R. Martin introduced the colorful and ultimately fun character the Great and Powerful Turtle, an Ace with the ability to defy gravity through the sheer power of his mind and inclination who has decided he wants to help his fellow man by fighting crime and cleaning up the streets.
Tom was definitely an interesting Ace whose nerdy yet defiant ways really set him apart from the characters depicted thus far in this anthology, and he truly had me rooting for him and his goals of helping and being something and someone more than just an anonymous member of society with superhuman powers. His friend Joey was such a mess as he was the typical sixties tough guy even as he was a great sidekick of the Turtle and a great friend of Tom's.
I also enjoyed the continuation of Dr. Tachyon's "life" after the events of Degradation Rights and his life in the intervening years as well as the introduction of Desmond and Angel Face and the real glimpse into Jokertown nightlife with the corruption prevalent in it. This story really built a new chapter in the lives of Dr. Tachyon, the Turtle, and Jokertown as a whole and I can't wait to find out how their story continues and progresses from here.
Interlude Two: Jokertown Clinic to Open on WildCard Day George R.R. Martin picks up right after the events of Shell Games detailing the new "chapter" of Dr. Tachyon's life and works as he tries to help the Jokers medically and emotionally.
The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato" by Lewis Shiner brought to life the story of the pimp
Transfigurations by Victor Milan
Interlude Three: by George R.R. Martin
Down Deep by Edward Bryant and Leanne C. Harper
Interlude Four: by George R.R. Martin
Strings by Stephen Leigh
Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan by Carrie Vaughn
Comes a Hunter by John J. Miller
Epilogue: Third Generation by Lewis Shiner
Appendix: The Science of the Wild Card Virus by Victor Milan
Afterword by George R.R. Martin
Excerpts from the Minutes of the American Metabiological Society Conference on Metahuman Abilities