Genre: Short Stories, Supernatural
Publisher: Harper Voyager/ Harper Collins
The end of World War II was meant to be a time of healing, perhaps even prosperity. But in the midst of the celebrations, an alien attack banishes humanity’s hope for a brighter tomorrow. Humanity is changed, and not necessarily entirely human anymore. The majority of those who came into contact with the virus died, drawing the Black Queen of a horrifying, painful death. Named for playing cards, the virus manifests in multiple ways. The lucky ones are aces, gifted with superhuman abilities but generally able to look human enough to keep a low profile if they want to.
The jokers, the majority of survivors, are less lucky, cursed with deformities both physical and psychological, unable to hide what they are from the increasingly violent normal humans. And though the years pass and life putters onwards, anti-joker groups keep fighting to keep their targets out of human society.
This is a fantastic premise, and certainly one with ties to the current political climate. The Wild Cards universe is an increasingly massive collection of stories and ideas, brought to life by a wealth of talented sci-fi writers under the editorial wing of the ever-iconic George R.R. Martin.
In the latest of the ‘Verse stories, ‘Mississippi Roll’, we find ourselves on board the embattled Natchez steamer as it journeys up the Mississipi on what might just be its most fateful voyage yet. Each story is interwoven, flowing into and out of the crowd of passengers and off into its own adventures and mishaps. The Natchez is in trouble, the kind of trouble that comes from all sides-from owners wanting to turn the historic vessel into a casino, to murder plots and even some governmental grudges. And that’s before you factor in a former captain’s overprotective spirit wandering the decks in his quest to protect his home.
It must be said, though: while most people recognise George R.R. Martin’s name because of ‘Game Of Thrones’ (and the abundance of sex and violence therein), The Wild Cards verse is incredibly different. If you’re looking for sex and violence, you’re probably gonna be disappointed here. ‘Mississippi Roll’ isn’t a thrill a minute so much as a slow to burn adventure, with time needed to understand the patterns formed by the interweaving of stories.
If you need constant thrills and chills, this might not be the book for you. But if you love your sci-fi political, with a good build up and compelling characters, you’re probably going to love ‘Mississippi Roll’.
‘Wild Cards’ is published by Harper Voyager, and is available through the publisher’s website, and through leading retailers.
Rating: 3 and a half stars
Review by Kylie Thompson