Review: Aces Abroad

Aces Abroad by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Up until now, we’ve been very America-centric with the Wild Cards series. In fact, except for the first book, it sometimes seemed as if there were only cases in New York City. With this book, things are expanded out. Sometimes it’s because some of the spores dispersed over other countries (of course, not as strongly as they did in the USA). Other times, it’s because of births or other forms of generational transmission.

I’ve yet to come to full terms with the implications, but it’s interesting that this book seems to make the retcon that the expressions of the virus have something to do with the cultures of the victims and/or their self-conceptualization. I’m pretty sure (but maybe I’m wrong) that in the first three books it was presented as more or less random. It does allow the authors to have some very interesting Aces and Jokers around the world even if the possibility for caricature is there. I didn’t see anything egregious, but maybe because none of the countries were my country of origin?

The other interesting line that Wild Cards walks as it gets further along is that it’s KIND OF our world, but kind of NOT. Obviously the Wild Card virus changed some things – like JFK Airport being called Tomlin Airport. But Reagan still ends up president in the 80s and the Iran-Contra thing seems to be mentioned at one point. Yet we seem to have the success of the Guatemalen socialist revolution that failed in our timeline. (I think? I’m a little hazy on that part of history, even if the USA did have a hand in it) The last book presented that AIDS is still an issue. So it’s walking this interesting line where, for example, I don’t know whether or not to expect Greg Hartmann to actually run for president or not.

As to Hartmann (aka Puppetmaster) this is, in most ways, his book. Or, as we know from the future, his quartet. The plot that links all the short stories is that the WHO has sent a bunch of American Aces, Jokers, and political folks around the world to see how Jokers are treated around the world. This allows Puppetmaster to collect (or attempt to collect) puppets around the world. We get many glimpses into his mind and his battle with his alter-ego.

I will confess that my favorite parts were the excerpts from Xavier Desmond’s Journal. We’d seen him here and there in Jokertown before, but his chunks of the story were the glue that kept things together and kept me caring about the folks due to my sympathy for his plight. He provided a different perspective on the others, Aces and Jokers alike. Of course, his trust in Hartmann was heart-breaking.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and it was neat to see how the Wild Cards Braintrust decided to conceptualize how the virus would have changed things around the world. I am curious to see how this quartet resolves and how the world continues to evolve away from its origins. (Especially if it starts to move further from the 80s. I was quite young then and don’t relate to a lot of the references – even the Cold War barely registered to me as a youth). If you’ve been enjoying Wild Cars so far, I think you’d like it. It’s actually also not a bad jumping on point. Most of what you’d need to know is explained as background info or in flashbacks. You might miss a couple things like Golden Boy’s situation, but otherwise I think you could just jump in here and be caught up to what’s going on.

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