Tor.com content by

Jason Powell

Ten Satisfying Long-Term Payoffs in George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards Series

George R.R. Martin is the editor and grand overseer of the long-running sci-fi saga Wild Cards, but he’s only one of several writers who have contributed stories and characters to the novels through the years. Generally speaking, each author is the custodian of his or her own creations. However, not every author is featured in every book. This unique circumstance creates a narrative structure wherein various arcs and plot threads flow in, over, under and around other ones, the directional currents of the narrative decided in part by which writers have or have not contributed to a particular volume.

With roughly thirty novels in the saga, crafted by more than forty different authors over the course of nearly four decades, the narrative latticework that’s now in place has an almost crystalline beauty and complexity. The Wild Cards authors will often end up playing a very long game with the readers, planting seeds early on that can take years to finally flourish. When they do, it’s all the more satisfying for the wait.

Below are some of the most gratifying long-term payoffs in the Wild Cards saga—kept as spoiler-free as possible, of course.

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A Chronology of the Online Wild Cards Stories

Since the release of the first volume in early 1987, George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series has expanded to a total of 29 books and counting. Fortunately, the books are numbered, so it’s not too hard to figure out which ones to read and in what order.

But here’s an interesting wrinkle: Since 2013, online-exclusive Wild Cards content has been appearing on Tor.com, one short story at a time. There are 21 tales currently available to read on the website, and more are published all the time. Some fans might be curious as to how those tales fit into the overall Wild Cards book chronology. Well, let’s have a look and see if we can make some sense of all this. Since some of the Tor.com entries are much trickier to place than others, I suggest we start out easy, and slowly work our way up to the more challenging pieces.

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Music-Making Mutants: Rock ‘n’ Roll in George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series

When Wild Cards Volume 1 was first published back in 1987, a reviewer for Locus called the book an episode in “the saga of mutant Americana.” The writer couldn’t have known that the alternate reality depicted in the series would quickly grow in scope, oftentimes taking readers all around the entire mutant globe. Still, they crystallized so succinctly one of the great joys in reading the Wild Cards saga: The way it re-contextualizes the familiar, through a lens of “mutation.”

A favorite example of mine: popular music in the Wild Cards universe.

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Catching Up With George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards

The Wild Cards saga is vast at this point, and may seem like an intimidating fictional milieu to attempt entering. We fans have known for years that a deep dive into the series’ complex continuity is well worth the effort, and the rewards are myriad. Still, a stack of 28 novels (and counting) is surely daunting for even a more-voracious-than-average reader. A few notes might be helpful in removing the intimidation factor inherent to a continuing literary serial comprising more than 10,000 pages, featuring a couple hundred characters, and crafted by more than 40 different authors (collectively known as the Wild Cards consortium).

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