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Fort Freak
edited by George R.R. Martin
Tor, 463 pages

Fort Freak
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: A Dance with Dragons
SF Site Review: Suicide Kings
SF Site Review: Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
SF Site Review: Busted Flush
SF Site Review: Inside Straight
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

'Charlie swallowed. He felt inadequate enough without the joker detective mentioning his testicles. They were body-proportional for a hundred pound male rat.'
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Fort Freak is, technically, volume 21 of the most detailed and diverse super powers novelisation ever created. It is a sequence that has been running, with occasional breaks and changes of publisher, since the late 80s. This new work can be read as a stand-alone story, but readers just discovering Wild Cards via George R.R. Martin's currently high profile would not regret starting from the beginning. While much of the original series is currently out of print, old copies are still available, albeit sometimes quite expensively depending upon the rarity of the edition you want. Happily, the series has begun to be reprinted with volume 1: Wild Cards, and Volume 2: Aces High. The premise for the whole series is that in 1946 an alien virus is accidentally released into the atmosphere above New York. This virus has the power to instantly recompile human DNA and alter those afflicted. Most people are not affected. Around ninety percent of those who are susceptible die immediately. The remaining ten percent are divided into two groups, with a few rare exceptions who could be seen as having a foot in both camps. The vast majority of victims become what are known as Jokers; mutated and deformed, sometimes in minor or useful ways, but more often hideously. A tiny minority of those whose card has turned are dubbed Aces; people who still look human and are gifted with genuine, often spectacular superpowers. What makes this series so different, is that just because a character has deformities or superpowers, it doesn't change who they are on the inside. All those afflicted are written with a high degree of realism, complete with the full range of human foibles.

As is the case with the majority of Wild Card books, Fort Freak is a mosaic novel; multiple writers working to common themes, honed by an editor. After the wider world adventures of more recent Wild Card titles, this work sees a return to where it all began, and focuses on Manhattan's Fifth Precinct, the 'Fort Freak' of the title. So named because Joker and human cops work side by side along with a smattering of Aces, albeit those with minor league abilities. One officer, for example, can shape-shift into cat form and glean information from the local strays. For those of us who have been following this series for some considerable time, seeing Joker Town depicted again is a welcome return. As is the inclusion of the Sleeper Croyd Crenson, (who for newcomers is a long time fan favourite, unique in as much as he is sometimes an Ace and sometimes a Joker). There is also a major event in the life of the Joker known as the Oddity, and developments for some minor long established characters such as Father Squid and Charles Dutton. In addition, a handful of entirely new characters are introduced, including the Infamous Black Tongue, a half-snake half-man. Like the Oddity, IBT is technically a Joker, yet has abilities that might be seen as being on a par with some of the Aces. Noteworthy characters also in the mix are a beautiful Joker prostitute whose ability is to enhance sexual arousal, Leo 'Ramshead' Storgman a Joker cop close to retirement, and a British Ace with the often inconvenient and only partly controllable ability to mimic the powers of nearby Aces. The main plot stars the aforementioned Ramshead, working to crack an old murder case before he retires.

Intertwined with this is the story of two rogue cops, who murder a minor Ace, and the attempt to expose their corruption before they can eliminate the single witness. Sprinkled over these main themes is the mystery of how a series of seemingly impossible thefts are being accomplished, and by whom.

Over the years, there has been an enormous range of imagination and craftsmanship put into the Wild Cards world. At first by writers who were already well known, and more recently by hand-picked newcomers.

There have been ups and downs along the way, but generally the series remains among the very best. Fort Freak does not scale any new heights but manages to hold ground, and crucially, meld the old with the new.

This acknowledgment of what has gone before, and use of the splendid resource that is the Wild Cards past, helps to firm up the idea of a cohesive alternate history. There is even a trademark sly reference to a certain recently deceased superstar, who in this world was a Joker.

What I did not like, were the multiple references to the Wild Cards equivalent of American Idol, which as far as I am concerned was the most ill-conceived and poorly executed idea within this series. Also, the rather clichéd nature of the characters and crimes that formed the police elements of the story could -- and arguably should -- have been given a fresher spin. And I still want to see more of the (retired) Great and Powerful Turtle. These issues aside, Fort Freak is a fun read for new and old readers alike, and a worthy addition to the world of Wild Cards.

Copyright © 2012 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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