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Suicide Kings
edited by George R.R. Martin, assisted by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Tor, 448 pages

Suicide Kings
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
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Busted Flush
SF Site Review: Dreamsongs
SF Site Review: The Armageddon Rag
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones
SF Site Review: The Hedge Knight
SF Site Review: Windhaven
SF Site Review: A Storm of Swords
SF Site Interview: George R.R. Martin
SF Site Review: A Clash of Kings
SF Site Review: A Game of Thrones

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"Tom feared no one on Earth. But he lived in increasing terror of the hippie in his own head."
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Suicide Kings is actually book twenty in a broken sequence of novels, stretching back in time to the mid-80s. Luckily, readers who are not inclined to buy that many books in one go, could start with Inside Straight which begins the Committee trilogy, and culminates with this title. While just as much an ensemble novel as most of the previous publications in the Wild Cards universe, Suicide Kings departs from tradition by naming the writers up front, but not by chapter for their individual efforts. It's a move which I felt helped the story to flow well, and flow it certainly did, holding my interest throughout.

The main theme of the story opens with a dirty little war, between the PPA, (People's Paradise of Africa), and Caliphate of Arabia. The PPA is a despotic regime run by corrupt revolutionary siblings, Dr. Nshombo and his sister Alicia. Think Robert Mugabe, and Idi Amin in drag, for a fair idea of what these two are like. The Caliphate is under the leadership of Prince Siraj, who was installed earlier in this sequence via the meddling of British Ace Noel Matthews. As usual when one country interferes in the affairs of another, things haven't worked out quite as planned. Initially, the Caliphate has military superiority, but this is quickly countered with Ace power. Not only do the Nshombo's have the world's most powerful Ace, Tom 'Radical' Weathers working for them, they're also manufacturing new child Aces. It's a process whereby the children of the PPA are forcibly volunteered, and infected with the Wild Card virus. Most die, or become hideously deformed Jokers. A few survive, and have powers which are immediately put to work for the revolution. Concurrent with this thread, are two other themes. One features Michelle 'The Amazing Bubbles' LaFleur, who wakes from her year-long coma due to powerful dreams projected from a little girl, trapped in a pit of bodies in PPA-controlled Congo. The other theme also concerns the fate of a young African child, Lucien, who is the pen-pal of Wally 'Rustbelt' Gunderson. Rusty, as he is most often referred to, hasn't heard from his pal in a while, and persuades fellow Committee Ace Jerusha 'Gardener' Carter to accompany him on an unofficial mission into PPA territory, in order to determine Lucien's fate. All three threads include the clandestine activities of former Double Helix agent Noel Matthews, who has retired to family life, until circumstances force him to act. In particular, when a member of the committee attempts to embarrass him at a public function, by revealing his other Ace identities. Unfortunately, the revelation is made to someone in disguise, who is Matthews nemesis, and potentially the world's worst nightmare.

As might be expected, the main story is by far the most intricately plotted and best executed. It's also the most fun, and shows off the Wild Cards universe at its best. This is the kind of material which has kept me reading the series for over twenty years. The two other threads are a mixed bag. I enjoyed the character development of Rustbelt and Gardner, two of the lesser Ace and Joker/Ace's introduced very recently to the Wild Cards chronology. Because neither have been around long, the characterization needed to be strong in order to make readers care, and it certainly did the job. Less satisfying was the thread involving The Amazing Bubbles, along with the foul-mouthed Hoodoo Mama, and briefly, Bubbles lesbian lover, Ink. For me, the most interesting of the three is Ink, and she was woefully underused. Hoodoo Mamma, got more page count, but often came across as being just a sidekick. Try as I did, I still don't like the way The Amazing Bubbles is presented any more than I did when I first met her, and nothing done here leads me to believe things will improve. It's a dull character, promoted at the expense of better inventions. What did impress me was the way that the illustrious Wild Cards history is being bound in with the present, and outstanding issues resolved. The one big drawback with this, is that whenever characters with gravitas and plenty of prior appearances take the stage, they can easily eclipse any of the recent gang. Newer readers may have an entirely different perspective, but I doubt it. Quality always shines through, and what made those characters great in the first place still remains. An effort has been made to mature the formerly irritating character of Jonathan 'Bugsy' Hive, and to give depth to the best of the new Aces, Lohengrin. But one look at the closing credits, where the creators of all the characters are revealed, shows that the most memorable -- old and new -- are the inventions of the Wild Cards old guard writers. Quite why this should be I am unsure, as the quality of writing by the newer Wild Cards writers is very much up to standard. Perhaps this is editor George R.R. Martin's secret superpower.

Suicide Kings keeps the ball in constant motion, and is an immensely enjoyable read. The single serious negative, in my humble estimation, is the irreversible disposal of the wrong character among the newbies. That issue aside, my enthusiasm for the series remains undiminished. A new book, Fort Freak, which will follow the police of Jokertown, is already in planning, and long-time fans will be delighted to know that Tor books intend to re-release the first three Wild Cards titles, with the first containing three all-new short stories. In summary, Wild Cards is hands down the best text-based portrayal of superheroes ever done, and I can unreservedly recommend it to all fans of the genre.

Copyright © 2010 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 www.inkdigital.org.


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