Review of INSIDE STRAIGHT by George R. R. Martin (Editor) (see his website)
A WILD CARDS NOVEL
Tor, January 2008
A plague has transformed ordinary people into Norms, Jokers and Aces. The Aces are given superhuman powers, but for a lot of Aces, it's business as usual. One digs holes. One can turn into wasps and uses the wasps to snoop on others, one blows bubbles. Until, that is, they have a chance to appear on a TV reality show. One of the aces will be named as the new American Hero, but first, they'll be divided into four teams (for the four suits in a deck of cards) and be faced with obstacles that will take every bit of their Ace powers to defeat.
Meanwhile, an assassin attacks the restored Caliph, and the Arab world convulses into an orgy of destruction--much of it targeting the Jokers--especially Egyptian Jokers who take the form of the old gods of Egyptian Mythology.
For a few of the losers (discards) on the American Hero show, escalating genocide in Egypt becomes more important than hanging around and watching former allies destroy one another. In Egypt, they figure, their powers can be used for something more significant than stunts and TV ratings.
George R. R. Martin (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Martin) created his Wild Cards series long before his Song of Ice and Fire fantasy, but there's a lot to enjoy about the angst-filled antics of wanna-be heroes who are suddenly given the opportunity to become, in reality, what they've only acted out before. Martin is joined by several other authors but Martin's editing is smooth enough to allow INSIDE STRAIGHT to read as a seamless novel--I certainly couldn't tell from the writing where one author left off and another began.
I did have some problems with the implausibility factor. The American (and one German) Aces squared off against entire national armies aided only by a few untrained jokers. Their defensive heroics along the Aswan Dams in Egypt are simply difficult to buy. Why, for example, did the new Caliph have to cross the Nile under fire? Why couldn't he have sent a force across the river to the north (or south) of where the Aces and returned gods waited? And why, when so many Aces were available in America that they could be used to dig holes in the ground, did the entire Egyptian army have none, and the Caliph only two?
Fantasy doesn't have to be believable--after all, it is fantasy. Still, it is nice to be able to maintain that suspension of disbelief. INSIDE STRAIGHT is engaging and well written. It certainly held my attention. I would have liked a few less opportunities to roll my eyes and say "that couldn't happen."
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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