Wild Cards Volume 10 - DOUBLE SOLITAIRE
The Jumper saga gets put on hold for this volume, as Tachyon and friends take a trip to the Takisian home planet in an effort to catch Blaise and force him to reverse the damage he inflicted on Tachyon in Jokertown Shuffle.
Although billed on the title page as "A Wild Cards Mosaic Novel", this is, in fact, a solo novel by Tachyon's creator, Melinda M. Snodgrass.
The main characters in this volume are:
Tachyon, AKA Tisianne
Mark Meadows, AKA Cap'n Trips
Jay Ackroyd, AKA Popinjay
Durg at' Morakh
The book follows on directly from the concluding pages of the last instalment, as Tachyon (who's no longer feeling himself at this point) and the Turtle try, but fail, to catch up to the Takis-bound spacecraft carrying Blaise, his Morakh killer, Durg, and the jumped body of a fellow Rox resident, Kelly Jenkins. Consequently, Tachyon (or Tisianne) has to make a 'deal with the devil' in order to obtain passage to Takis, and enlists Mark Meadows and Jay Ackroyd to act as bodyguards for the journey.
On arrival, Tisianne's cousin Zabb starts as he means to go on by breaking a contract and screwing his relatives; Tisianne welcomes some sisterly affection; Mark has to become somewhat less than a man in order to fulfil his duties, and Jay discovers how ruthless his employer can be. Meanwhile, Blaise and Durg organise a coup and Kelly gains an admirer.
As the threat of a global war becomes inevitable thanks to Blaise and his consigliere, combatants choose sides and enemies make deals. Jay finally finds someone who understands him 23 light years from home, and learns that it's rude to point; Mark remembers who the Network reminds him of, and is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in battle; Tisianne pays the hard way for all the womanising back on Earth and gets to see Zabb in a different light; Kelly gains a spouse who gives Black Widow spiders a bad name; Durg meets his true master; and Blaise comes to realise he can never be a true Takisian.
And so, with this volume, we get the 'space opera' instalment in the series, and one that is far more entertaining than might be expected from a story that focusses on Takis' premier whiner. Although, to be fair, Tachyon has pretty good reason to whine in this one. Ironically, while Snodgrass is a fine writer, the Tachyon character always seems to be a little more bearable when written by others, rather than the 'cry-baby' persona we get when his creator takes the mantle.
Double Solitaire is hardly the best entry in the series, but it is surprisingly enjoyable nevertheless. A definite plus for the tale is that two of the more engaging aces are also on board for the duration of the trip, with Jay's loquaciousness and glib exterior contrasting well with Mark's heart-on-his-sleeve guilelessness. Jay's moralistic attitude becomes a little wearing at times, as does Mark's sometimes unbelievable naivete, but that only adds to the depth of their respective characters.
Here, we finally get a close-up look at the planet at the centre of Earth's problems - and a truly screwed-up world it is too, with problems that may seem all-too familiar to us mudcrawlers. Among them, rigid class systems, elitism, bigotry, incestuous breeding programs, and a tendency to judge everyone on appearance. And while it's initially hard to believe an identical race of people could exist light years from our own, it's not too hard to believe that our planet may be the result of a colonisation program instigated by the Takisians many millennia ago. Hey, this is a fantasy series after all - imagination is everything.
Also seen up close for the first time are the representatives of the Network - apparently on furlough from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - the amusing intergalactic corporation that swallows up planets with unbreakable contracts and the power of the pen. Somewhat less amusing, but ultimately satisfying, is the final fate of one of the characters at tale's end thanks to the small print in one of those contracts.
And of course, with Blaise, we get the nastiest villain since the Astronomer's demise in Jokers Wild. A truly repugnant psycho who's depravity knows no limits, it's no surprise that he turns to politics - that last refuge of the scoundrel - in order to achieve his aims. But then again, if the citizens of earth decided they wanted payback for the germ warfare inflicted on them in 1946, they could not have picked a better instrument of revenge. 'Your people brought the Wild Card to Earth. Let this Blaise do his worst,' is the sympathetic response given by Fortunato - who seems to have learned little since entering a monastery - when Tachyon unwisely asks for help.
After this digression, the next volume returns to Earth for the concluding chapter in the Rox trilogy.
Tachyon: 'We are in what is commonly called in the spaceman business a catastrophic reentry. You must slow our rate of descent, Tommy, or we shall be cremated, or form a rather large crater somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard.'
Turtle: 'I can't. I've got nothing to grab hold of!'
Tachyon: 'There's a very large planet directly below us. Push against that.'
Jay Ackroyd: 'Okay, but I get time-and-a-half for other planets.'
'It was sort of depressing, Jay reflected, to discover that all the aliens in the universe seemed to be assholes.'
Mark Meadows: 'Like, take us to your leader, man.'