Friday, 7 December 2007

‘Inside Straight’ – George RR. Martin (Tor Books)

With only a few days left in 2007, I think I can safely say that I’ve found my favourite book this year… I never really knew much about the ‘Wild Cards’ universe (the books don’t seem to be so readily available over here) but it was a testament to the skill of the authors involved that I felt completely at home in this book and am eager to read more now that I’ve finished…
For those of you who don’t know (which was me until not so long ago) the ‘Wild Cards’ universe (longest running ‘shared universe’) is set on a parallel earth where an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was released in 1946. Ninety percent of those infected died, nine percent mutated into deformed ‘Jokers’ while the remaining one percent gained superpowers and were known as ‘Aces’. ‘Inside Straight’ brings the ‘Wild Cards’ universe firmly up to date by concentrating on events in 2008. The Jokers and Aces of yesteryear are a lot older now; either drawing a pension or, in some cases, dead. It’s time for a new generation of Wild Cards to step up and make their mark on a world already shaped by their illustrious forebears. In 2008 is there any better way to do this than compete in TV reality show ‘American Hero’? The genocide of Jokers, in Egypt, is certainly a more worthwhile cause but the stakes will be much higher…
After finishing ‘Inside Straight’ I was in awe at how nine (yes, nine!) authors could get together and write a book that was so cohesive the whole way through. If I hadn’t seen the names, on the inside, I’d have thought the whole thing was written by one person. For a book that’s based around a TV Reality Show, there’s a lot more to ‘American Hero’ than you will ever find in any real life equivalent. There’s a real ‘no holds barred’ thing going on in the way that the reader is allowed access into the head of each character, how they interact with each other and how they play the game. (I can only imagine how much real life ‘Reality TV’ was watched, as research, to truly capture all the Machiavellian scheming that goes on). In an America where money and fame are prime motivators it is interesting to see what being a hero actually means to the larger number of contestants but some form of redemption is offered in the form of events happening elsewhere. This also serves to ground the reader in a universe much larger than an LA studio; bringing new readers up to speed and introducing regular readers to old friends. The nature of heroism is explored in many ways, not least in the journey many of the Aces take from LA to the battlegrounds of Egypt. Hive’s story in particular makes compelling reading. Through his blog (which runs throughout the book, tying things together) the reader sees him go from a journalist, trying to get his foot in the door, to a reluctant hero who’s loyal to his friends. Compare that to Stuntman’s journey and you get a pretty good idea about what side of the fence the Wild Cards team are on regarding what makes a true hero. Nothing is clear cut though and I ended up having some degree of sympathy for everyone (apart from the nasty TV executive but that’s to be expected!)
I could go on all day about how great this book is but I really should get some work done. Suffice it to say that Tor is releasing ‘Inside Straight’ as a ‘Sci-Fi Essential’ and I think this is a title that’s well deserved. If you want a read that will entertain you, and have you thinking about it long after you’re finished, then ‘Inside Straight’ is the book for you.

Ten out of Ten


Robert said...

Like you, I wasn't familiar with the Wild Cards universe until recently so "Inside Straight" will be my first taste of the world. It sounds like something I would really enjoy being a fan of superhero comics and whatnot, and it's been getting rave reviews from what I've seen, so I'm pretty excited to check this out :D Might take it with me on vacation!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I've been hearing about the Wild Cards universe for a little while, but had no real idea what it was, either! Now, I HAVE to read this!

As for Joker's and Ace's, I can see Zelazny's influence there! f I were an author, I couldn't think of anything more fun that sitting around with a group of friends and creating something brilliant :)

Graeme Flory said...

Chris - What can I say but, "yes, you do have to read this book!" I reckon you'll like it ;o)

Robert - Hope you enjoy it too, hope you have a great vacation!

Drew said...

Great review!
You might be interested to know that George R.R. Martin linked to your blog from his LiveJournal page, citing it as an example of the reviews INSIDE STRAIGHT is getting.
take care and all best,
Drew Bittner