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Lowball: Wild Cards #22
edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass
Tor, 361 pages

Lowball: Wild Cards #22
George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin was born in 1948 in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Northwestern University, graduating with degrees in journalism. Martin refused active service: instead he served with VISTA, in Cook County, Illinois. In addition to his writing credits, Martin has served as Story Editor for Twilight Zone, and as Executive Story Consultant, Producer and Co-Supervising Producer for Beauty and the Beast, both on CBS. He also was Executive Producer for Doorways on CBS. At 21, he made his first pro sale to the magazine, Galaxy. Martin now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

George R.R. Martin Website
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SF Site Interview: George R.R. Martin
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"Wait!" Franny was laughing. "Your big villain is the world's scariest seventy-year-old woman? What does she do, whack you with her walker?"
Wild Cards, for those coming to this series via the editor's more celebrated works, is the longest running shared world superhero series, in book form. It has its own counterfactual history, some gritty and great characters, and decades of stories written in a mosaic form. This approach has allowed many talented writers to mingle their literary blood since the mid-80s. Over the years there have been changes of publisher, but the song remained the same. Until more recent times. In the case of book number 22, it's not that the work is without decent characterisation, or that it lacks dramatic tension. It's more like getting a fresh slice of the best pie you ever tasted, only to find that the bakers have messed up the recipe. So, what's the lowdown on Lowball?

More recent Wild Cards readers will be pleased to find a partly reconstituted Committee making an appearance, even though it comes across more like a super-powered episode of Friends. Older fans will be cheered slightly to see Father Squid and Croyd Crenson, plus cameos from Jube the walrus, and Carnifex, the Wild Card answer to Wolverine. Sadly, only one of them plays a significant part, and that is shamefully reduced to a plot device. But by far the biggest sin here is that much of Lowdown is little more than a police procedural. As if the writers are embarrassed to be writing about super-powered characters. Switching focus to Jokers and Deuces (the almost Ace powered denizens of Wild Cards history) is not a bad idea. Indeed, there are Jokers and Deuces fully deserving of time in the spotlight. However, when this backdrop plays second fiddle to the Nat police force, the central premise of Wild Cards is shot to pieces. Adding to the confusion is a boring subplot that winds up having almost nothing to do with the main theme. That theme concerns a Joker Fight Club, where kidnapped victims are made to fight to the death. Again, this bristles with possibility, and to be fair there are some exciting set piece scenes, and good individual character development. Unfortunately, these all lead to an ending that is abrupt as a car crash. It resolves very little, crudely terminates an interesting thread about a main player, with little hope of explanation, and then dusts its hands. Two of the more intriguing characters get clobbered with all the subtlety of Ben Grimm suffering a migraine, and Infamous Black Tongue, the main anti-hero of Lowdown, is left out on a limb. Okay, this is the middle book of a trilogy, but that's still no excuse for what happens. Especially in a book edited by a super famous author, and written by award winning contributors. That should be a winning team, but isn't. The writing here borders on insulting the classic era of Wild Cards.

Everything moves on, and there's nothing wrong with attempting to keep a series fresh and current. Yet the editors and writers seem to have forgotten that new characters replacing old favourites must be their equals. If new characters come across as less interesting, depth free and underpowered by comparison, then the brand is weakened. While reading this book I found myself remembering how, as a naive young writer, long before the Internet, I once wrote a fan letter to George R.R. Martin. I was dreaming of submitting my own Wild Card scenario, and thought all I needed to do was make it good enough in order to have it considered. George graciously replied, explaining how Wild Cards was an invitation only club, and being a previously successful writer was a prerequisite. This was fair enough, providing those writers were turning in good stories, full of vim and vigour. For many years they did, resulting in thrilling, complex, character rich novels. Now though, it seems as if some of those in the privileged position of being Wild Cards writers don't really understand what they're writing about, or have much enthusiasm for their task. If it's just a job to them, that's not nearly good enough. Wild Cards has been a success for much longer than Game of Thrones and great things could still be achieved in its current world. But only if there's a will to get back on track. The editors need to remember that quality story-telling, respect for the premise, and passion to write within that framework, should always trump individual fame. As things stand it pains me to see my all-time favourite series slowly bleeding out, and that no one with the power to save it has even noticed.

Copyright © 2015 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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