Lowball edited by George R R Martin & Melinda M Snodgrass
Decades after an alien virus changed the course of history, the surviving population of Manhattan still struggles to understand the new world left in its wake. Natural humans share the rough city with those given extraordinary—and sometimes terrifying—traits. While most manage to coexist in an uneasy peace, not everyone is willing to adapt. Down in the seedy underbelly of Jokertown, residents are going missing. The authorities are unwilling to investigate, except for a fresh lieutenant looking to prove himself and a collection of unlikely jokers forced to take matters into their own hands—or tentacles. The deeper into the kidnapping case these misfits and miscreants get, the higher the stakes are raised.
There is little denying that Game of Thrones has made George R R Martin a household name. The books and the television show are massively, insanely popular and rightly so. I’ll admit that though I thoroughly enjoy my visits to Westeros, and all of its political machinations, I have always had more of a soft spot for Martin’s other magnum opus, the Wild Cards books. Since the late nineteen eighties, this ongoing series of mosaic novels, that Martin edits with Melinda M Snodgrass, has cleverly reinvented the superhero genre on a regular basis. Smart, often bitingly satirical and insightful, this series has managed to so many thing at once. It’s always impressive when genre fiction achieves that most difficult of tasks, to be both entertaining and topical in the same breath.
The Wild Cards novels, like the comic books they expertly play homage to, have had their own golden and silver age and are now we’re bang up to date in the twenty first century. As ever, the majority of the action takes place in New York, specifically on the streets of Jokertown, the one place where the less fortunate victims of the virus can live something close to a normal life. Slap bang in the middle of all this mayhem, the detectives of the local police precinct try to keep some extremely unusual residents under control.
Where Lowball excels, as with the other Wild Cards novels, is in telling the stories of ordinary people who are forced to live in most unusual of circumstances. It doesn’t matter if you’re a natural (untouched by the virus), an ace (a super-powered hero or villain), or a joker (those who don’t quite make the ace grade), each and every person has to get by in a world where the extraordinary can and does happen.
As multiple authors are involved in the book, each get the opportunity to write their own story and weave that into the larger narrative. It’s great stuff. There were are plethora of highlights scattered throughout that always raised a smile. It’s the little things that have always managed to set these novels apart in my opinion. Moments like discovering a joker who just happens to have the same name as my favourite band, or spotting references to jokers and aces from other novels in the series (Croyd Crenson and Carnifex for the win!). These unexpected Easter eggs are a delight to discover.
One word of warning, if you’ve never read a Wild Cards novel before this probably isn’t the place for you to start. Bare minimum, I would suggest that you read the first book in the series. It acts as the perfect introduction to this shared universe. Once you know the rules there are twenty one other novels, including Lowball, to devour. It really is worthwhile understanding the huge history and intricate backstories that so many talented authors have helped to craft.
There have been rumours of a Wild Card movie floating around for a while now. I’ve heard that Melinda M Snodgrass is directly involved, and that can only bode well. To say I am excited by the prospect of this may be the biggest understatement I have ever made. Moving the Wild Cards to the screen, big or small, could be truly wondrous. I’d love to see it happen. There are so many characters and stories, including the ones in this novel, which I would happily kill to see brought to life.
Lowball is published by Gollancz and is available now. If you’re familiar with the Wildcard universe then you’ll be wanting to check this out. If not, then trust me you need to get yourself educated.