George RR Martin gets top billing — as an editor

Lowball (Wild Cards, #22)Lowball by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure what number this is in the Wild Cards series … 22? 23? Over twenty anyhow. I’ve read most of them. They seem to come out in trilogies so I suspect this is the start of another threesome featuring the same group of central characters. Which isn’t to say it’s altogether free of prehistory.

I certainly remember DB (Drummer Boy), Curveball, Earth Witch, Rustbelt, Ghost and a couple of others from the unfortunate sequence based on Survivor or some such. Almost turned me off Wild Cards. Do seriously get tired of giggly, yet somehow ever so sensitive (melodramatic?, sanctimonious?) millennials giving each other hugs and kisses, spouting OMG every third sentence and basically being indistinguishable from one another, nor any of their other equally shallow, hollowed-out “friends”.

Fortunately that doesn’t happen as often as it did in the last threesome. Indeed, it mostly sticks to Carrie Vaughn’s bottom of the foot contribution.

Yes. it’s another ensemble piece in the form of a mosaic novel. Has contributions from at least six different writers, none of them named George RR Martin despite his top billing on the cover. Second billing goes to his longtime co-editor Melina Snodgrass, who does contribute a sequence that’s copyright by Lumina Enterprises LLC.

Presumably they get together, draw up story ark then bring in Wild Card writers to flesh it out according to preset parameters. I’m guessing that it falls to Snodgrass to oversee the project, tying it together and filling in the inevitable gaps with her contribution to the whole enterprise, the ten-part “Galahad in Blue”.

There’s a great deal of yawn-inducing soap opera in this book. That may pass as character development these days but most of it just seems perfunctory, uninspired and not particularly relevant to the storyline. The Ghost character, for example, hardly does anything but what she does do, well …

It’s a shame about Ghost really. She only appears in one sequence, and then only as a secondary character, but she has lots of potential. How can you not be intrigued with a psychopathic preteen with nifty abilities and a thing for sharp blades.

Hers is arguably the best story in a not bad batch. One hopes Ian Tregillis, a writer I’ve appreciated previously, is holding out for a great whack of an upcoming installment featuring her. Too bad Rustbucket isn’t the best lead, though he did good work in an earlier Wild Cards book, set in Africa, where-in he met and ending adopting Ghost.

Overall a bit of a police procedural set in Jokertown. Typically, in addition to incompent copes and their idiotic supervisors, that means guns, lots of them. Some of the writers come up with a few nicely grotesque Jokers with some decent ancillary talents. The pacing is lively and variations of a couple of the chase sequences will probably appear in the next Captain America or Batman movie.

Seems to me the Aces are mostly recycled, though. We’ve seen teleporters before, almost everywhere we go in the grim-dark, fantasy sub-genre these days. Plus, the shape-shifting, paranoiac Sleeper, Croyd Crenson, does a couple of cameos as a presumed tribute to Jack Kirby’s Thing from Marvel’s Fantastic Four. (Which for many started the whole superhero/supervillain bandwagon  that my own Phantacea Mythos jumped on in 1977.)

Have to say I’m looking forward to what I assume will be two more books in this threesome. There’s something very familiar about one of the unnamed characters who survives Lowball and if it’s who I think it is I may have to go to the library for some some early Wild Card books as my collection has suffered from two many moves and trade-ins at the secondhand bookstore.

Three out five stars but nevertheless recommended if only for its promise of what’s to come.

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