Once upon a time, I was a member of the Science-Fiction Book Club
The Wild Cards series is a sort of alternative history of Earth, one that diverges from our own history slightly after World War II. The key event is the release of an alien virus into the atmosphere; a virus that radically alters a significant portion of the population of first New York City and eventually much of the world. Those affected by the Wild Card virus gain super-human abilities (Aces), become hideously deformed (Jokers), or die immediately (referred to as “drawing the Black Queen”).
Wild Cards is a collaborative universe, with stories written by George R.R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams (Dread Empire’s Fall), Melinda M. Snodgrass and Roger Zelazny (Chronicles of Amber), to name a few. The authors each created several characters that inhabited the Wild Cards universe, from Doctor Tachyon, the alien who brought the virus to Earth to Father Squid, the Joker priest, to Jack Braun, the Ace known as The Golden Boy (and later The Judas Ace).
The series spans seventeen volumes, but I only have the first thirteen. There was also a four-issue limited series comic book published by Marvel’s Epic imprint, which I own in its entirety, and a GURPS supplement, which I do not. Though I thought the comic book was a merely mediocre, I absolutely loved the novels. I’ve re-read most of them at least twice, and went through all thirteen volumes I own last year. The most recent installment, Death Draws Five was published just last month. Volumes fourteen through sixteen have proven to be somewhat difficult to find, but I’d certainly like to complete the set eventually.
A Storm of Swords is the third volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Since I’d enjoyed Martin’s collaborative work in the Wild Cards series so much, I thought I’d give his solo stuff a shot. Rather than jumping into the middle of the series, I went out and picked up a copy of the first volume, A Game of Thrones. I read the first few chapters and then something new and shiny caught my eye, so I set it aside. The novel (which weighs in at 800+ pages) sat on my shelf for several years, until I was looking for something to take to the hospital when it was time for Kyle to make his debut. In the week Laura and I spent running back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic, I managed to read about a quarter of A Game of Thrones, quickly learning that the point where I’d stopped reading years ago was the chapter immediately before the plot took a very interesting turn.
A Song of Ice and Fire puts the “epic” in “epic fantasy.” In the first volume, Martin is setting the pieces on the board, but it is very clear that the game is already well underway, and has been for quite some time. It’s a big game, too. Each chapter focuses on one character, and eight characters share the spotlight in A Game of Thrones. Six of the characters are from a single family, the seventh is a dwarf who is at one turn admirable and at another replusive, and the eighth isn’t even on the same continent as the others. All of these characters are involved in a “game of thrones,” attempting to prevent one faction or another from siezing control of the Seven Kingdoms, plotting to take the throne themselves, or even simply watching helplessly as the game is played out around them.
I finished A Game of Thrones just yesterday, and I’m itching to run out and buy the second volume, A Clash of Kings. The fourth volume, A Feast for Crows was released last year, but at about eight hundred pages per installment—not to mention dozens of other unread books on my shelves—I’ve got plenty of reading to keep me occupied until it is released as a paperback. Of course, between volumes two and four is A Storm of Swords, which I already own in hardcover and will probably purchase in paperback just to make the reading experience a little more enjoyable. I should keep that in mind the next time I’m tempted to join The Science Fiction Book Club again.