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Katie Rask

Religion, Revolution, and 80s Politics: Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad

When Dr. Tod condemned the world to the wild card virus in the 1940s, he did so miles above New York City. Some of the spores floated down to the city below, but a great deal was also carried along in the upper atmosphere to other parts of world. Every so often, over the years, outbreaks occurred when the virus turned on unsuspecting human populations. While urban NYC may seem like the center of the wild card story, the virus continued to transform the planet. Other major outbreaks occurred, such as the one at Port Said in 1948, among others. It is this reality we explore in Aces Abroad, the fourth Wild Card book.

Set in the year 1987, following the dramatic conclusion of the first wild cards trilogy, a number of American aces and jokers travel the globe as part of a UN and WHO junket led by Tachyon and Senator Gregg Hartmann. Their goal is to investigate the condition of wild carders in various cultural and geographic locales. Of course, while the plight of jokers is a major concern of the group, only a few jokers are represented on the tour, as Desmond is at pains to point out. Many of the characters we meet are brand-new; others are old pals.

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Series: George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Reread

Here’s What Art Tells Us About the World of the Wild Cards

Jokers Wild, the third volume in the Wild Cards series, covers a single day in New York City: September 15, better known as Wild Card Day. Like last month’s Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., Wild Cards Day began as one of remembrance. While Memorial Day initially arose as a patriotic Day of the Dead of sorts, when people decorated the graves of those who had died in the Civil War and later conflicts, on September 15 the Wild Cards world remembers those who gave their lives in an attempt to stop the attack, those who died in the streets, those rewritten by the virus, and those forever changed. As we see in Jokers Wild, however, the holiday is more than that. It is also a celebration of the many subcultures created by Dr. Tod’s attack, and the communities that developed in its wake. Nats might attend the parades, but foremost the day is about jokers, aces, and the victims of the black queen. The parades, parties, and memorials are put on by jokers and aces, with nats left to the sidelines. It is fitting, then, that the same can be said of the artistic representations described in the book.

In Jokers Wild, the authors include something of a meditation on images and artistic portrayals throughout the book. They provide us with a survey of four different sculptural and visual representations which exhibit wild card symbolism and meaning-making.

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When Sex, Death, and Kid Dinosaur Collide — Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild

Time passes differently in the third volume of the Wild Cards series, Jokers Wild. The first book spanned decades, from the end of WWII to the 1980s. In the second book, time jumped back and forward, here and there, before mostly settling in for a two year stint. In Jokers Wild, the passage of time slows evermore, caught on a single day, with each chapter marking off the hours.

It’s Wild Card Day, 1986. Forty years have passed since the alien virus was released by human villain Dr. Tod. New York City celebrates, commemorates, and manages to barely escape yet another disaster, thanks to the post-virus villain the Astronomer. In his eyes, it’s Judgement Day. He plans to spend it murdering all the aces who opposed him at the Cloisters, before jetting off into the galaxy on a stolen spaceship. He sends forth his minions Demise and Roulette to kill various aces, but both are desperate to escape him and will turn on him in the end. By then, a slew of aces are dead (or presumed dead), including the Howler, the Turtle, and Modular Man.

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Series: George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Reread

Killer Space Yeast Attacks: Wild Cards II Is A Superpowered Love Letter to Science Fiction

In 1985, Earth is attacked by an alien horde, sent by a giant biomass floating through space that spawns tens of thousands of vicious children. In the Northeastern United States, wild carders help contain the horde’s first attack, although human casualties are high. Meanwhile, the arrival of the Swarm Mother is connected to a cult of Egyptian Freemasons controlled by wild card villains, headed by the reprehensible Astronomer; the members of this cult hope to bring the Swarm Mother to earth. You’d think things couldn’t get much worse, but suddenly the Takisians (the alien creators of the wild card virus) show up in the form of the Tisianne family. The good-guy wild cards must unite to fight off the Takisians, to overthrow the Masons, and ultimately to defeat the Swarm Mother by merging her with a more benign ace personality.

Aces High, the second Wild Cards novel, was published in 1987. The first book in the series related the origin and history of the wild card virus and provided worldbuilding via somewhat discreet stories covering a 40-year period. Aces High, in contrast, focuses on a unified storyline to which each author contributes, with many of the characters’ paths interwoven throughout. Nine authors wrote for the volume, which includes full chapters and interstitial segments to link them together.

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Series: George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Reread

Wild Cards Reveals a Dark Reflection of Our Post-War Reality

Although it’s a superhero story in prose, the Wild Cards saga begins with nothing less than alien first-contact. In 1946, Tachyon lands on earth alone, desperate to stop the release of a gene-altering virus engineered by his family on the planet Takis. His failure allows the virus to fall into the hands of a pulp-worthy villain who carries it high above New York City. There, in a desperate and heart-stopping sky battle worthy of the best WWII flick, Jetboy attempts to stop the release of the alien biological toxin. The young fighter pilot gives his life in the attempt, but the virus is released in a fiery explosion six miles up, floating down to the city below and carried across the globe in the upper atmosphere’s winds. On that day in NYC, 10,000 people die.

The effects of the virus are immediate and devastating, exactly as its alien creators envisioned. Each person transformed by the virus responds in a completely unpredictable manner. What can be predicted, though, are the numbers: 90% of those affected will die horrifically, 9% are hideously transformed, and 1% gain spectacular powers. The arbitrary nature of the individual outcomes lead first-responders to nickname the virus the Wild Card, a metaphor applied to the victims as well. The majority who die draw the Black Queen; those who manifest the gruesome side effects are cruelly labeled Jokers; and the few graced with enviable powers are elevated to the designation Ace. Even the “natural” and unaffected themselves will bear the label “nats.”

The history of humankind changes on September 15, 1946, ever after known as Wild Card Day. This first installment in the Wild Card series covers the event and its aftermath, exploring the historical, social, and personal impact of that day. Although some of the action occurs on the West Coast, in D.C., and abroad, most of the events center on NYC. Each story recounts the experience of a nat, a joker, an ace, or the lone resident alien, beginning in 1946 and ending in 1986.

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Series: George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards: The Reread