Deuces Down, edited by George R. R. Martin

Oh my God….  I haven’t seen this many possible suspects since the Democratic National Convention….
-Melissa Blackwood, a.k.a. Topper

Well, in many ways, the newest Wild Cards book has been a mixed bag.  It’s not really the book’s fault, though.

I was looking forward to the first wholly original Wild Cards novel in years the moment I found out about it.  A lot of time has passed since the last one, and I was hoping to see some old favorites again, or at least hints of what’s been happening in the interim.  There were a couple of loose ends from Black Trump that I wanted to see resolved.

Deuces Down doesn’t fulfill those hopes.  What it does do is once again take the reader on a trip through history, focusing on a specific batch of aces.  These are not the awesome aces like Fortunato, the Turtle, or Demise, though.  These center on the folks who ended up with less than impressive powers, which are hardly earthshaking, but still beat the odds of ending up a joker, or dead from the Black Queen.  (If these terms seem odd to you…why not read my review of the first Wild Cards trilogy?)  Like the original novel, and the book Card Sharks, Deuces Down takes us throughout Wild Card history, from the days after World War II to the near present (if not the actual present), and each story is a self contained story.  As such, we have a potential mixed bag stories to cover.

“Storming Space”, by Michael Cassutt, is the story of Cash Mitchell, an ace with the ability to lighten mass in proportion to his grip (often triggered by anger or other strong emotions).  He’s approached by a fellow named Tominbang to participate in a daring project-to make a flight to the moon!  I found this to be a nice story, which really centers on more of the human element than the powers element or the “to the moon” element.  I enjoyed the main character’s moral dilemmas as well, as he get approached by a local crime lord to sabotage the mission, even though he wants to participate in the mission!

John J. Miller, best known by Wild Cards readers as the creator of Yeoman, gives us a look back at 1969 and that year’s World Series…and the origin of the most loathed secret deuce of the present day-Tommy Downs in “Four Days in October”.  Tommy has a secret ace up his sleeve that he discovers-the ability to “smell” people infected with the Wild Card.  Tommy discovers that one of the players of the Brooklyn Dodgers is a secret ace!  The boy, working for The Weekly Gospel, decides to try to discover which player it is, and to expose him (for journalistic purposes, not nefarious ones!).  One of the rather interesting notes of Wild Card history is that one of the prominent players of the Dodgers is someone who took a very different turn in real life (but I won’t spoil that for anyone who doesn’t already know yet).

“Walking the Floor Over You” is written by Walton Simons (best known for Demise), and tells the story of a deuce whose power is to…well, become a puddle.  Bob Cortland runs a club in New York, and gets caught up in all kinds of things when an employee nearly gets kidnapped; it spirals into a blackout and the escape of the giant ape (which is a neat reference to Simons’s other character).  I have to give Simons credit for this one; it ain’t easy to find ways for puddling to work as a power, but he does it!  And I liked the banter between Bob and his fellow deuce, Carlotta DeSoto.

“A Face for the Cutting Room Floor” follows one of Melinda Snodgrass’s characters, Bradley Finn; he’s a centaur, and that makes him uniquely qualified to work as a cast member of Jason and the Argonauts.  Actually, casting jokers in this kind of movie makes a great deal of sense, since it cuts down the makeup budget!  Bradley finds himself dodging a fellow interested in making him a star of a somewhat less savory kind of movie, and becoming involved with a mystery involving Grace Kelley, who hasn’t aged a day.  It gives an iffy impression of Hollywood, though, as some of the things that go on in this story are rather cutthroat!  It’s an interesting look at the life of a joker who’ll become a respected member of the Jokertown Clinic in the future.

Daniel Abraham pens “Father Henry’s Little Miracle”, and it features Father Henry Obst, who fills in for Father Squid during the WHO world tour chronicled in the fourth book.  His deuce really doesn’t come into play in this story, except to establish what it is; the story involves Father Henry’s work during a mob war in New York.  It also features Demise, and the most interesting attempt to get around his killing power.  This one was more about saving souls than saving lives, but the two do not prove to be mutually exclusive.

Stephen Leigh covers a minor character in the Card Sharks books in “Promises”.  Gary Bushorn flew a pair of folks to Britain, and was lost in Ireland; he wasn’t really supposed to do that, though, and the authorities decide that instead of making a really public and unpleasant arrest in front of a number of jokers, they choose to make the entire town of Rathlin his prison.  Gary adapts to life in the town, but keeps trying to find a way to evade the authorities and escape back to the life he knew; it also has a fairly significant subplot as he becomes involved with a woman whose Wild Card is slowly killing her.  It’s actually rather touching.

My favorite of the batch, though, is “With a Flourish and a Flair” by Kevin Andrew Murphy.  This features an artist going by the handle of “Swash”, whose nails create ink that forms art.  He’s a bit involved in the goth culture, and becomes inadvertently involved with the ace Topper, whose hat has been stolen.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the hat is her ace “crutch”.  The pair try to follow the trail which leads to a goth club, with a feature band called “the Jokertown Boys”.  It also features a bunch of cameo appearances that many longtime readers will appreciate.

For the most part, Deuces Down can stand alone; the early stories certainly don’t require knowledge of the series, and even the later ones don’t truly depend on the original series.  While I was disappointed not to see the follow ups I’d hoped for, I found this book enjoyable, and certainly hope that the authors continue to write new Wild Cards books.

(2012 note: the funny thing about this review is that a site linking to the old Archive took a portion of this review and considered it a pan; clearly, they didn’t read the entire review.  My first time having my reviews taken out of context!)

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