Inside Straight A Wildcards Novel edited by George R. R. Martin is a bit different than most novels. It is written by a team of authors, Daniel Abraham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassatt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregillis, and S.L. Farrell. Each chapter is written by a different author. The novel still holds together well. It is like a hybrid between a short story and a novel. They call it a mosaic novel.
The reason I think this still works is because, the Wildcards series was first started in 1987, so the outline of how the novels are supposed to be written is pretty clear to the writers. There are already seventeen books in the series. That is pretty long if you think about it for a set of superhero novels.
The premise of the superpowers is that in 1946 al alien virus that rewrites peoples dna was released over New York City. 90% of the people died, 9% turned into mutated misshapen creatures some with powers, others with none, and 1% turned into human superpowered archetypes. The world this happens in is called Wildcards. The world is recognizably different than it is today.
The opening chapter begins with a successful assassination attempt against the ruler of the “New Caliphate”, by a terrorist of unknown origin. The New Caliphate is a kind of muslim fundamentalist superstate.
Then the novel switches to reality television show in 2008 called American Hero. The producers have recruited superpowered aces for a chance to become the new American Hero. Tryouts are run and 21 superpowered individuals are chosen. Some of the different “Aces” are toadman who looks like a giant toad, stuntman who can be beaten up repeatedly, Jonathan Hive who can turn himself into insects, Earth Witch who can split and reshape the earth, and many others.
They are broken into teams– diamonds, hearts, clubs, and spades. Different challenges are given to them. Save people from a burning building, stop a mock bank robbery, find some hidden statues, and other activities. Whoever doesn’t succeed has to eliminate team members.
Jonathan Hive who is blogging about this event gets eliminated early. He ends spying on the producers of the show, eventually becoming involved in an epic struggle between the “Living Gods”, ace protectors of the joker community in Egypt and the New Caliphate. The New Caliphate blames the “Living Gods”– embodiments of the gods of ancient egypt for the assassination of their leader. Some of them include Isis, Sekhmet, Osiris, Ptath and Thoth. Serquet, the scorpion goddess and Taweret, the hippo goddess of fertility were kind of weird to read about.
Jonathan Hive travels to Egypt accompanied by Lohengrin, an invincible ace with a ghost sword, indestructible ghost armor, and a motorcylce. He is a kind of ace crusader. He is essentially the embodiment of western interference in the middle east. There he battles the Egyptian army and the New Caliphate as the jokers of Egypt and the Living Gods flee the New Temple. Jonathan Hive systematically recruits the eliminated aces to join him in Egypt to support the fleeing “Living Gods.”
There is an interesting dichotomy between the contest American Heros, and the fight in Egypt. This novel touches on a lot of very interesting issues, racism, sexism, colonialism. I was not sure that I originally wanted to write about it. There are some rather interesting passages in it which will be uncomfortable for some people to read. The characters drink alcohol, argue, fight, and have sex with each other. There is some foul language and interesting sexual situations.
There is of course a hidden evil adversary manipulating the situation in Egypt. As a final piece, the Aces who are in Egypt are recruited to help the United Nations after they defeat the armies of Egypt and the New Caliphate preventing a massacre in the desert.
I am not sure how to describe this book. This is not your typical superhero novel. However, it is well done for the genre. Most superhero novels are considered science fiction. There is a lot that is entertaining about the novel, but also there is some disturbing content. I enjoyed reading it.