Aces High by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As usual for an anthology, I’m going to post my thoughts on each story, but before I get to that, my thoughts on the book as a whole. It was a big change from the previous book and that might be good, bad, or neutral to you. The first book, our introduction to the Wild Cards universe, was basically a series of stories that took place in the same universe and used the same characters (everyone LOVES to play with Croyd) but there wasn’t any unifying story outside of Dr. Tachyon coming to terms with the effects of the virus. But the stories mostly stood alone and even explored different narrative techniques like a Hunter S. Thompson parody. By contrast this book is one tight story that goes from beginning to end strongly being involved in each of the stories. It also once again expands the Wild Cards universe, more literally than metaphorically. Where this works best is with the theory of the small man of history. Many of the characters are just doing their own thing and only tangentially interacting with the PlotDevice.. It’s constantly changing hands and driving the plot and almost no one understands what’s going on until near the end of the book. But everyone’s actions are leading towards the various major plot points of the anthology.
The only reason I’m being a little cagey both here and in my status updates with a 20-30 year old story is because it’s going to be a Hulu show pretty soon. So I think that puts a fresh bit of spoiler-paint on it. Anyway, I really enjoyed revisiting this world and its characters. That said, a few things haven’t aged well – particularly use of homophobic slurs that were de rigueur in the 80s and some of the female characters. That said, I recommend it if you’re into SF and a more realistic version of an X-Men crossed with some Fantastic Four section of the Marvel Universe.
Now, the individual stories:
“Pennies from Hell:” Fortunato, the half-black/half-Japanese pimp who (in the first book) gained Tantric magic powers, solves a mystery. A good pulp mystery with all that entails. I think I spotted Zelazny’s chimeric character at the climactic meeting. A great reintroduction to the NYC of Wild Cards.
“Jube: One”: Impossible to talk about without ruining the final reveal, but suffice to say it’s a brilliant use of the Wild Cards world to subvert expectations. Also love reading about intel informants. Usually pretty neat stories.
“Unto the Sixth Generation”: Connected somewhat to the Jube stories. A warning that goes unheard.
“Jube: Two”: A continuation of both Unto the Sixth Gen and the previous Jube story. It gets filled in a bit more as well as introducing us to more of Jube’s life and friends.
“Ashes to Ashes” – Continues exactly at the end of Jube 2. The stories seem more connected this anthology than the first one. Croyd again! A really, really fun story as he does a task for Jube that connects all of the stories including the Fortunato one.
“Unto the Sixth Generation Part 1”: A modern Frankenstein story. … Alien invasion. Wonder if this leads to a different modern world for Wild Cards or if it swings back towards our trajectory. In other words, do we still have Reagan, Bush, Clinton, etc.
“Unto the Sixth Generation Part 2”: The aftermath of the Alien invasion. Hmm…gentrification was a thing in the 80s! A terrifying end, but at least progress has been made in the stories that both started with Fortunato and Jube.
“Jube: 3”: Jube makes a plan in the aftermath of the previous chapters.
“If Looks Could Kill”: A guy with the ability to kill others by making them experience his death gets involved in the book’s overarching plot.”
“Jube: Four”: He starts workign with Chrysalis. Love the trope of no one believing honesty because the truth is too ridiculous.
“Unto the Sixth Generation: Epilogue”: Modman’s creator is robbed and somethin changes hands again.
“Winter’s Chill”: Of course this is GRRM’s entry. A more realistic version of what I think might have happened to Peter Parker or any other child superhero as they grew up. We catch up with The Turtle. Learn about some tragedy. Perhaps also a setup for future books with the concept of latent Wild Cards. And The Device once again changes hands. I think the cover on Good Reads makes more sense than the cover from the Tor re-release. (It’s a picture of Jube)
“Jube: Five”: Jube’s storyline crosses more directly with the antagonists from the first story now.
“Relative Difficulties”: That ship we learned about in the previous Jube chapter….now we deal with it. And so ends another chapter of Dr. Tachyon’s life. We learn a bit about Takisian culture and technology. The item shifts owners once again.
“With a little help from his friends”: a detective story with Dr. Tachyon. The mystery is solved, we encounter foes from a previous story. The main story of the anthology continues. With all I’ve learned about Tiamat from this book, I think I can guess what happens in the next Expanse book – the one that came out in March 2019 (Tiamat’s Wrath).
“Jube: Six”: Jube reflects on what has happened since the last Jube story while he heads towards a meeting.
“By lost ways”: A return to the antagonists of this book. An innocent young lady gets caught up in the antagonists’ plots. Overall a fun story. Although things got absurdly chaotic in the climax. I wonder if she’s the girl from the Tor re-release cover redesign. Frankly, given the novel’s focus, I think the Jubal cover is a better one.
“Mr. Koyama’s Comet”: A very fun short story that seems to have no relevance to the book until the final, fun twist. Although I was starting to see where it was going just before the twist.
“Half Past Dead”: Finally learn who’s playing The Green Arrow in town. Great mystery story, very pulpy. And I believe the main antagonist has now been dealt with.
“Jube: Seven”: Everything is completed.
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