Friday, October 22, 2010

Busted Flush (edited by George R.R. Martin)

I loved the first series of Wild Cards books, a series of anthology/mosaic books edited by George R.R. Martin and published in the late 80s and early 90s. Being a big fan of superheroes, the idea of dark tales about people who gain powers (Aces), or bizarre disfigurements (Jokers), due to an alien virus released in Earth's atmosphere sounded brilliant. And generally it was. The Wild Card series is probably in my top five series of books, together with the Discworld, Dragonlance, Dresden Files (hmm, series starting with 'D' seem a favourite) books.

However, this new series - and especially Busted Flush, the second in the trilogy - seems to have lost some of the magic. The Wild Cards series was always an attempt at doing superheroes realistically. Often that meant sacrificing brightly-coloured, exciting action and replacing it with personal conflicts peppered with sex and violence. Which is fine if you have intriguing characters. And that's the problem here. Most of the main characters are just not that interesting once you get past the initial introduction. There are some exceptions - Cameo springs to mind and even Hoodoo Mama - but these tends to be relegated to the background. Even Billy Ray (aka Carnifex), now a SCARE agent, is more intriguing that some of the main characters.

Story-wise, it's an odd modern day tale of superheroes getting involved in political conflicts. The first book in this new series - Inside Straight - introduced this next generation of aces as contestants on the reality TV show American Heroes (a superpowered version of American Idol). This was interesting and a reflection of the modern day's fixation on these overhyped talent shows. At the end of the last book, some of those superpowered contestants were formed into a UN superteam with the (frankly boring) name of the Committee. This second book sees this Committee in action.

To be honest, I got lost and my interest waned somewhere in the middle of the book. Part of the team went to Africa to help fight against - or was it for? (and that's part of the confusing bit) - the newly formed PPA (People's Paradise of Africa) as well as assisting in New Orleans to stop the Katrina-like hurricane-inflicted destruction. Some interesting tit-bits are introduced - the Radical reappears fighting for the PPA and the cliched idea of armies of voodoo zombies in New Orleans seemed intriguing and potentially fun. But that potential of aces battling legions of zombies didn't really surface. A pity.

After dragging its feet for much of the book, the action picks up towards the end as ace fights ace, agencies betray the characters and one or two twists are uncovered. It perhaps comes a little too late though. Although this book was far from one of the highlights of series and struggles from being the middle book in a trilogy, it's still a mildly interesting read. And it won't stop me from reading the third book in this trilogy - Suicide Kings - nor future Wild Card books such as the forthcoming Fort Freak. So, recommended - but only for fans of the Wild Card series.

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