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Inside Straight
edited by George R.R. Martin
Tor, 384 pages

Inside Straight
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: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


'"Look, this isn't about who would be the best hero. It's about being good TV."'
Wild Cards is a series that I've been reading since it began, back in 1987. It's also a sequence of novels that I rank among my favourite bodies of work in SF. So it was with a high degree of enthusiasm that I received my advanced readers copy of Inside Straight. I was hoping for a ticket back to the rich and varied world, where I could catch up on the lives of long established characters, and meet a few worthy newcomers. The signs were good, as Death Draws Five, the last Wild Cards novel I'd read and reviewed, had shown considerable promise. Some long standing questions were addressed, and fine new characters introduced. The first inkling I had that the formula had altered came via publicity blurb informing me that Inside Straight represented a new beginning, introducing a whole new storyline with the next generation of characters. A radical departure like this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be done with a great deal of aplomb, and respect for what has gone before. In the plus column, Inside Straight introduces three or four credible new characters, there's a smattering of informative continuity with the established Wild Cards canon, and new blood in the pool of writing talent. In the minus column, most older characters and their chronology appear to have been consigned to history, except for cheesy cameo roles. Every effort now seems bent toward getting down with the kids. Obviously, there has been a meeting, and someone has decided this is where the future of the franchise lies. But for me, Wild Cards abandoning characters that made it great is the wrong way to go. It's marginally less appealing than the idea of Christopher Tolkien turfing out his old man's stuff, to write books about New Hobbits in the Hood.

Beginning a projected triad of volumes, Inside Straight has two interlaced themes, linked by one character's narrative. The first presents an ill-conceived pastiche of American Idol. Its premise is the ghastly idea of pitting teams of unknown aces, and jokers who might as well be aces, against one another to crown a new American Hero! A couple of dozen new faces are thrust at the reader, the majority of whom are clearly cardboard cut-outs. This leaves far less space for development of the important characters. As events progress contestants come to understand, each in their own way, that the notion of a TV show manufacturing a hero is the antithesis of genuine heroism. But by then, a great many pages have been wasted on fake challenges and swearfests. The second major plot thread deals with trouble brewing in the Middle-East -- yes folks, it's those pesky Arabs cast as the bad guys, again. Due to contrived circumstances this evolves into a conflict that embroils many American Hero contestants. There are good elements, such as the clever explanation for why John Fortune's ace power went out of control in the previous volume. Even if this does create unintentional parallels with a leading character from Narnia. Another well developed idea concerns the British Secret Service ace, Noel Matthews, and his unusual participation in both plot lines. I can say no more without spoiling a major surprise. I think this devious character was the work of Melinda M. Snodgrass. I must guess, as the Writers and Creators of the Wild Cards Consortium listing at the back of the book isn't letting on. Also among the better new characters are Lohengrin, a ghost-armoured German ace, created by George R.R. Martin, Rustbelt, a young American ace wrongly accused of racism, who is the brainchild of newcomer Ian Tregillis, and Drummer Boy, a hot-headed joker-ace rock star, invented by another newcomer, S.L. Farrell. One thing I found immensely irritating was the juvenile narrative from Jonathan 'Bugsy' Hive, which runs throughout the book. No doubt this was an attempt at being current, but to me it came across as Bevis goes blogging. Then there was the mysterious issue of Peregrine, who has obsessively protected her son, John Fortune, all of his life. Until he places himself in a war zone, with a real chance of getting killed, and then she does nothing. Presumably, because she's too busy working on the crappy TV show. Am I dissatisfied because I'm now older than the target audience? Nope. When I first read a Wild Cards novel, I was the same age at the kids Martin and Co. now have in their sights. Back then, what I got was better conceived, better written characters, and brilliant storytelling. Back then, young readers responded to high quality, in-depth characterisation and craftily concocted plots. Today, Inside Straight ends up creating a sub-standard Young Avengers style outfit. Only the future machinations of peripheral characters, and the hope that the past is not altogether consigned to the dustbin, are what will make me seek out the next volume.

In summary, Inside Straight is a fast and light read, that has its moments. It's just about worth adding to a collection. However, I believe that pushing the series in this direction at the expense of Wild Cards history is a serious error, and a colossal waste of valuable resources. It's also a great disappointment to discover that, more than 20 years on from its beginnings, who gets to write Wild Cards is still dependent on how well an applicant knows the editor, as opposed to who can generate the best ideas.

Copyright © 2008 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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