Wild Cards XII: Turn of the Cards (Wild Cards, 12) Paperback – November 9, 2021
"The Secret Stealers" by Jane Healey
A female American spy in Nazi-occupied France finds purpose behind enemy lines in a novel of unparalleled danger, love, and daring. | Learn more
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About the Author
- Publisher : Tor Books (November 9, 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250168171
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250168177
- Item Weight : 1.11 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.12 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,250,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Mark seeks refuge in a series of nations he believes will be friendly to a fringe socialist radical, but the modern world of the 1990's proves to be an even bigger socio-political mess than the 1960's was.
There is a lot of satire in the novel about the Reagan/Bush war on drugs. The DEA agents are incompetent, use drugs with alarming frequency, and seem to have an unlimited budget. They track Mark through Amsterdam, Italy, Greece, Iran, India, Turkey, and Vietnam. Along the way, however, Mark realizes the leftist regimes he used to support have not actually made the world a better place either:
"He wasn’t, in retrospect, sure what he’d expected to find in Amsterdam — a sort of Hippie Heaven on Earth, perhaps, with naked people chasing each other happily through the streets and screwing in the fountains to the tune of the Dead and the Lovin’ Spoonful, all seen through a blue-green scrim of pot smoke. The actuality was staid: a lot of neat reserved plump people who left their front curtains open so you could admire the crowded coziness of their living rooms — Bourgeois Paradise."
"India was not shaping up to be the way he’d imagined it. The gurus weren’t interested in you if you didn’t have your Gold Card. And riding into town at dawn two days ago on the Delhi Express from Amritsar, Mark had looked out the window to see the fields covered with hundreds and hundreds of locals, hunkering down for their morning constitutional. It looked like the whole cast of Gandhi taking a communal crap."
"The world was turning savage toward the wild cards, anyone could see that. Mark’s own flight, across space and across the Earth’s own tortured surface, was proof of that."
After three straight disappointing books, the Wild Cards series finally regains its footing with this strong (and underappreciated) solo novel from Victor Milan. Unfortunately, when this book was published in 1993, Georger R. R. Martin had already announced the series would be switching publishers. As a result, this book received little marketing push from Bantam; few people read it and it has never been republished to date.
In general, I am glad to see the books get out of New York City and examine global attitudes towards aces and jokers; there has not been enough of that since Aces Abroad. One storyline was particularly interesting: Mark and Croyd Crenson (this time in the form of a giant skink) join a platoon of the New Joker Brigade who have returned to Vietnam twenty years after the fall of Saigon, this time to serve and defend the ruling communist government.
Of course, the best part of any Captain Tripps story are his drug-fueled alter-egos:
- JJ Flash ("it a gas-gas-gas")
- Cosmic Traveler (“Say, you wouldn’t have a sister, would you? I don’t get out too often.”)
- Moonchild ("I live as I do and act as I do because I have sworn to. If I cause lasting harm, if I take life, I lose what powers I have.”)
- Aquarius (a sentient dolphin with "memories, incredibly sensual and rich, but incomprehensible, like watching a Kurosawa film in Japanese")
(Unfortunately, Starshine died in the climactic events of Double Solitaire.)
Mistral also returns in this entry. She is struggling with guilt over the fact she was jumped by Molly, who used her body to assassinate her father. (This introduces a plot hole, as it is never explained how Mistral and Molly were returned to their original bodies. The last time we saw Molly she had been captured by Turtle, but it was implied Molly jumped again into the body of a sailor on the Hudson River.)
New joker characters include Dreamer, Eraserhead, Eyeball, and The Mechanic. Carnifex and Crypt Kicker also have small returning roles, including a great fight between Carnifex and Moonchild.
The book benefits from its tight focus on a single point of view character, even though that character has four distinct personalities. The weakest scenes are those in the final act that attempt to bounce around to show a bunch of different political factions instead of staying focused on Mark's personal journey.
Mechanic provides information about a worldwide conspiracy against wild cards that is embedded in top levels of government agencies all over the globe. This sets up the coming conflict for the next triad. It also compels the normally pacifist Mark Meadows and his "friends" to lead a full scale revolution to drive the Russians and their puppet communist government out of South Vietnam once and for all. The book ends with Moonchild installed as president of this new separatist republic that she hopes will become a homeland to aces and joker refugees alike.
Next: The Card Sharks triad.
Mark doesn't find everything to his liking, and with the help of Belew, Croyd and others, decides to run some things on his own, or, rather, Moonchild does. When Moonchild falls for someone, will she lose her powers if she has sex?
Milan is one of these people who tries to come off as knowing a lot more about the world and how it works than he really does. He does this mostly by filling his stories with the sort of details that you could find by years of reading Soldier of Fortune magazine--if there is a gun in one of Milan's stories, you not only find out the make and model of the gun, but also which previous guns it was based upon--and assorted other tidbits. He also occasionally comes up with an effective line or two. Unfortunately, it is all in the service of a plot that serves mostly to emphasize the studly studliness of Milan's own personal Mary Sue (look it up on Wikipedia if you're not familiar with the term), J. Robert Belew.
J. Bob is a middle-aged soldier of fortune who makes love to college-age women like they've never been made love to before, tricks his straw-man opponents with a strategic gambit that would make the writers of Scooby-Doo would blush at, and has a plan for winning the Vietnam War, using about as many people as would fit in your living room. The spoiler ban forbids me from giving Milan's ridiculous plot away, but suffice it to say that it's based on the premise that the Vietnamese are a superstitious and cowardly lot. The saddest thing about all of this is that Mark Meadows, the only creation of Milan's that I can halfway stand, becomes a second banana in his own book.
The whole point of the Wild Cards books were to see how comic-book-style superpowers would realistically work in a world like our own, and in turn change that world. Thus, the worst parts of the entire series are those in which the writers' reach far exceed their grasp, with regards to political and social aspects. Thankfully, the mistakes of this book were somewhat corrected in later volumes.
It really hurts that it's part of this series. I've started reading the series recently, while waiting for the Winds of Winter.
The first 7 books were all good to the point I started wondering why this series hasn't taken off more. After the 8th book I knew why. Each book is worse than the previous. It's like the good authors went on vacation or the people behind the books simply ran out of steam.
I think they made a huge mistake with the series in that they did not create a basic plot that would be resolved on the last book, like Martin did with his Song of Ice and Fire series. There are subplots that span only 3 to 4 books, so they have to keep inventing new subplots all the time. However without a basic plot to hold all books together there is no incentive to the reader to stick to the series through bad books.