About the Story
Wild Cards hit the stands for the first time in 1987 (the same year as Watchmen — it was a good year for superheroes). As an SF and comics fan, I snatched it up immediately. It was a “mosaic novel” — a shared-world anthology edited into a single, fairly coherent whole — that combined all the thrills of superhero comics with the depth of worldbuilding and character development possible only in novel-length prose. And with writers like Roger Zelazny, Howard Waldrop, and George R. R. Martin at the controls, how could it go wrong?
The universe of Wild Cards is an alternate history in which an alien virus is released into the world in 1946, a virus that transforms some of those it affects into “Aces” with superhuman powers and many of the rest into deformed “Jokers.” That first volume introduced the world and the characters through a series of stories giving an abbreviated history of this transformed world, beginning with the release of the virus and ending with the present day (1987). Subsequent volumes picked up from there, carrying the alternate history forward along in parallel with our real history. It was vivid, contemporary, groundbreaking. It was different.
I was a fan.
Flash forward to 2007. In the intervening years I became a writer, sold some stories, won some awards. Then I read in Locus that the Wild Cards series, which had been dormant for years, was about to be revived. With a freshly-awarded Hugo in my hands, I managed to find the temerity to query George about the possibility of playing in the Wild Cards sandbox. He very kindly explained that the first trilogy of revived books was already in progress but he’d keep me in mind for the future. “Be warned, though,” he said, “Wild Cards is not an easy gig.”
Two years passed. Then I met George at a Worldcon party and he gestured me out into the hall. We’re just starting up a new Wild Cards trilogy, he said; if you’re still interested, the thing to do is to pitch a character.
If I’m still interested. Ha.
I came up with several character sketches and sent them in. George smacked them down with brilliant, cogent observations about how they’re too obvious, too limited, too powerful, too similar to existing characters (he has every detail about the entire series in his head, I swear). Under George’s tutelage I combined two of them, rewrote, revised, expanded. Finally I came up with a character he liked: Tion James, aka The Recycler. Tion was accepted into the Wild Cards universe, and I officially became the 32nd member of the Wild Cards consortium. There was a fat contract describing the responsibilities and rewards of membership which I had to sign in blood.
But that’s only the beginning. Once you’re in the consortium, if you want to be published you have to earn it, by successfully pitching a story idea for the next book. And the first book to come down the pike after I joined was actualy two books: a reissue of Wild Cards Volume One with three new stories filling in missing bits of the alternate history, and a Jokertown police procedural called Fort Freak. As it happened, Tion didn’t really fit into either of them. So he remains on the shelf for now; perhaps he will appear in the next volume after that.
I wrote several pitches for both, but it was clear to both George and me that I was much more excited about Volume One. How could I not be? It was like an opportunity to write a new script for Star Trek: The Original Series… and to see it produced, with the young Shatner and Nimoy, and released on DVD right along with the original episodes. An amazing, overwhelming opportunity. Frightening, even.
Eventually my pitch for a story called “Powers,” featuring an entirely new character named Frank Majewski, was accepted with some modifications. I did a whale of a lot of research, into both our history and the Wild Cards universe. I wrote the story — actually a novelette. We went through a couple rounds of revisions.
Working on Wild Cards is probably the closest I’ll ever get to working in television: collaborative, high-pressure, hurry-up-and-wait, with an inexorable requirement to conform with the published history of the universe and characters. George is an amazing editor, with an almost frightening ability to find the one tiny point to push on that causes a whole structure to collapse into a new, more interesting shape. Working with him has been a revelation.
If you loved the series before, here’s your chance to get the Blu-Ray DVD of the first movie with never-before-seen footage by “eminent new writers like Hugo-winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.” And if you haven’t read it before, this is your chance to get in at the beginning.
Frank arrived home at 11:10 PM that evening. He slipped his key into the lock and opened the door as quietly as he could. But his wife was awake, in robe and slippers, gnawing her nails as she stared out the living room window. She turned to him as he entered, her round babushka face illuminated by relief that shaded immediately to anger. “Where were you?” she said, her voice strained.
“I’m sorry I’m so late, kochanie,” he said, and bent to kiss her cheek. “I got a new assignment today. I was so tied up in it that I forgot to call.” In fact, he had spent most of the day in the AQUATONE vault, where no phone line penetrated.
She hugged him tightly. “I was so worried about you, serduszko,” she whispered into his shoulder. “I was afraid that SCARE had found you.”
“Not today, kochanie.” He stroked her hair. “Not today. Our secret is safe… for now.”
Frank remembered every detail of the day that secret had manifested itself. It had been a fine spring day in 1952. Frank was crossing C street, obeying the WALK signal, when he glanced to his left and saw a green 1950 Packard bearing down on him. Frank was moments away from becoming a bloody pancake on the street.
Suddenly there was a rushing sound in his head and the car seemed to slow to a crawl.
Frank pushed himself backward, feeling as though he were wading through glue, unable to breathe. A moment later the car sped past. Frank stood shuddering in the street, wondering what had just happened, and ran a hand over his sweating head. It came back with hair stuck to it. He’d always known that he’d go bald, like his father, but hadn’t expected it to come on so quickly.
Another such incident occurred a few months later, when his wife’s favorite vase fell off a table, and another a month after that, when one of his nieces was threatened by a vicious dog. Frank hadn’t become a successful analyst by ignoring data, however unexpected or counterintuitive, and he soon became convinced that his experiences were not just subjective. He had developed an extraordinary ability.
But Tailgunner Joe McCarthy had just begun his hearings, claiming increasing numbers of secret aces infested the government, and negative feelings were beginning to build. Part of Frank’s job was to understand and predict political trends in other countries, and he could tell that the life of an ace in the government would shortly become extremely unpleasant. And though he’d been only eight years old when the Bolsheviks had taken over Russia, forcing his wealthy Polish-born parents to flee to the United States, he knew that being different from the mob in a difficult time could be fatal…
- Wild Cards I, revised edition, mosaic novel, November 2010
- edited by George R. R. Martin
- Brazilian Portuguese translation: Wild Cards: o começo de tudo, mosaic novel, May 2013
- Leya Brasil
- French translation, mosaic novel, (forthcoming)
- J'ai Lu