A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #32:-
WILD CARDS: DEUCES DOWN
Edited by George R. R. Martin
ibooks hb, 325pp, £14.99
This is the latest volume in a shared world series created by Martin, the basic premise of which is that in 1946 mankind was infected by an alien Wild Card virus, which killed many, deformed others (Jokers) and gave a lucky few superhuman ability (Aces). In other words an alternate history of the last fifty years in which superheroes really exist and interact with ordinary people and celebrities.
Deuces Down is the sixteenth volume in the series and, while I haven’t seen any of its predecessors, on this evidence the concept is looking a little tired. Early volumes attracted contributors of the calibre of Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, Roger Zelazny and Martin himself, but by now we’re well down the batting order and, with the exception of Melinda Snodgrass, none of these writers rang any bells with me. While earlier volumes concerned themselves with the doings of Aces, this book, in an attempt to inject new life, turns the spotlight on to the Deuces, individuals with very minor powers, the kind of people who would normally be relegated to the role of sidekick or spear carrier.
There are seven stories. ‘Storming Space’ by Michael Cassutt has a Deuce with the ability to reduce a body’s weight giving a helping hand to a covert space programme and becoming one of the first men to walk on the moon. ‘Four Days in October’ by John J Miller has an unfancied baseball team experiencing a suspicious winning streak, while in ‘Walking the Floor Over You’ by Walter Simmons a man who can turn his body into liquid takes it upon himself to protect a woman from both her vengeful ex-husband and King Kong. ‘A Face for the Cutting Room Floor’ by Snodgrass has the centaur son of a famous film director making his own way in Hollywood and dodging the advances of a pornographer with designs on his body, while learning the secret of Grace Kelly’s unfading beauty. In ‘Father Henry’s Little Miracle’ by Daniel Abraham a priest with the ability to turn water into wine saves a whore on the run from Ace hitman Demise, while ‘Promises’ by Stephen Leigh has a Deuce granted sanctuary in the Joker community of Rathlin Island, only to have his loyalties divided when the time comes to leave. Last, and least, in ‘With a Flourish and a Flair’ by Kevin Andrew Murphy a lady conjuror tries to recover her magic hat in a world where everyone seems to be wearing top hats (think of the laundry basket scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll get an idea of the depths this story sinks to).
The authors try hard but the overall impression here is of much ado about nothing, with hopelessly contrived plots and simple scenarios made needlessly complex, then played out at great length. The writing is at best competent, with only the stories by Snodgrass and Leigh having much to offer, the former packing some nice touches of humour and invention, while the latter scores by placing the emphasis firmly on the emotional dilemma of the characters. At the other end of the scale the story by Kevin Andrew Murphy is wholly farcical and I completely lost the thread of what was happening by the end, though I gave up caring long before that moment was reached. A bit more exegesis about the series as a whole in the introduction would’ve been welcome, and to get full value you need an acquaintance with recent American history and events (for instance, much of ‘Four Days in October’ went over my head as I’m not familiar with baseball). On the plus side there are some excellent illustrations provided by respected comic book artist Timothy Truman, but set against that Deuces Down has some of the worst proofreading I’ve ever seen. If people paid to read the book don’t care, why should the rest of us?