Wild Cards Volume 11 - DEALER'S CHOICE
With this concluding chapter in the Rox trilogy, the reader is once again presented with a novel in the now standard 'mosaic' style. The entire tale takes place over a 48 hour period, from Friday, September 21st 1990 to Sunday, September 23rd.
The main characters this time around are:
Bloat, AKA The Outcast (by Stephen Leigh)
Modular Man (by Walter Jon Williams)
Billy Ray, AKA Carnifex (by John J. Miller)
Tom Tudbury, AKA The Great and Powerful Turtle (by George R.R. Martin)
Wyungare (by Edward Bryant)
Zelda, AKA The Bodysnatcher (created by Walton Simons, written by George R.R. Martin)
With the previous attempts to storm the Rox (in Jokertown Shuffle) a dismal failure, the powers that be decide to employ aces to do their dirty work for them and rid Ellis Island of Bloat and his jokers once and for all. In doing so, the Turtle finally meets his ideal women; Wyungare hitches a ride with Sewer Jack to the Rox, where Bloat continues to ignore reality by retreating into himself and arguing with his dreams.
Meanwhile, Billy Ray is assigned the task of assembling his own team of aces to tunnel their way into trouble; Modular Man finds the enemy is somewhat closer to home and meets Modular Woman; while the Bodysnatcher finally understands what Einstein was talikng about when she meets Pulse in the flesh.
The battle rages, aces fall, others get turned, some even triumph. Hartmann gets a helping hand from the Turtle in order to stay ahead of the pack; Wyungare keeps calm while trying to talk some sense into Bloat; Modular Man plays battleships; while Ray's team do battle with all manner of bad dreams in their quest to reach the wizard.
As the end fast approaches, Modular Man finds a way to beat himself; Ray battles an enemy he thought dead; Wyungare helps Bloat find himself; the Bodysnatcher finally sees the light; and the Turtle waves goodbye.
'This is it, folks,' proclaims the cover excitedly, 'The final days of the Rox,' - and it couldn't be more in keeping with the story's feel. An all-action extravaganza that more than makes up for the failings of the two previous instalments, this volume's account of Bloat's last stand is one of the cream toppings in the series. It offers the reader something that's been missing from the books up until now - an unashamed testosterone-fuelled spectacle of scraps and skirmishes, reminiscent of those double-sized comic-book blockbuster issues of yesteryear.
This is the one where Billy Ray finally comes into his own by developing some character - and becoming one of the more memorable leading men as a consequence - as he more or less takes charge of a 'Dirty Dozen' type mission to penetrate the Rox. It also hits him for the first time that his usual attitude of unswerving loyalty to anyone in authority might need to be reappraised once he sees how unstable his 'superior', George C. Battle really is. His actions during the climax ultimately reveal a certain amount of maturity emerging in his behaviour and as a result, the journey through the tunnels becomes the most absorbing of the sub-plots.
Of course, it's great to see the return of the 'toaster', as well. Things seem to be par for the course in Mod Man's life as the android becomes more human with each breath, while his mad creator seems to have lost touch with whatever humanity he may have had to begin with. But it's thanks to his defection to Bloat's camp, forced though it may be, that we get some top-notch clashes of the titans. Mod Man vs. Cyclone. Mod Man vs. Turtle. And of course, Mod Man vs. Snotman, again. Despite being one of the most indestructable aces on the planet, it seems like every time poor old Snotty appears he gets out-fought by anyone with the ability to think laterally.
Unfortunately for Mod Man, since he's fighting for the other side, he also has to work alongside one of the more unpleasant miscreants of late, the Bodysnatcher. Each volume seems to demand a total psycho somewhere in the cast, and this truly damaged individual - who basically wants to kill the world - fits the criteria to a tee.
And then there's the Turtle, who, by story's end, has finally proved why he's considered one of the most powerful aces around. His developing relationship with one of the Dannys is not before time either. Even Spider-Man had girlfriends, for crying out loud.
In this universe, Bruce Lee is alive and well, and apparently still making movies in the nineties, as Billy Ray makes clear when he asks Lazy Dragon's sister if she'd like to go and see his new flick. Billy also makes reference to a raid he made on a company on Long Island called Jack Stevenson Games - a not very subtle allusion to Steve Jackson Games, the publishers of the two GURPS Wild Cards role-playing books.
While preparing for the assault on Ellis Island, General Zappa takes to wearing the arab headdress he made famous in our reality on the cover to his album, 'Sheik Yerbouti.'
Herne the Huntsman's bizarre accent - which seems to be a weird amalgram of Scottish and some northern dialect - is labelled 'Manchesterian' when it should, of course, be 'Mancunian'. Also, no-one in England would ever use the word 'yonder' in a sentence.
The original title for this volume was 'Dealer Takes Six' - undoubtedly referring to the six main characters in the story. A variation of this has since been used for volume 17. Ironically, the title 'Dealer's Choice' is possibly the most apt of all the books since it is arguably the best in the series, while many of the other volumes feature titles with little relevance to the stories inside. 'One-Eyed Jacks' is fairly meaningless, for example, 'Aces High' should have replaced 'Jokers Wild' (since most of the book is actually set there), which in turn would have served as a better name for volume 9, rather than the desperate-sounding 'Jokertown Shuffle'. But then again, what's in a title anyway?
General Frank Zappa, Jr (commenting on the arrival of VP Dan Quayle): 'Hey, it's the man himself! Here with his backup band, it's the King of the Links, the Sultan of Suave, the Man a Heartbeat away from the Oval Office itself - here they are - Danny and the Dynamos!'
Cyndi: 'I know Modular Man, he's not doing this from choice. Maybe he's been jumped.'
TV Interviewer: 'How do you jump a machine?'
Cyndi: 'Are you kidding? How do you jump a human?'
Patchwork: 'They told me you were wounded.'
Modular Man: 'I lost a leg.'
Patchwork: 'How bad is it? You're not suffering the way a human would.'
Modular Man: 'Take my word for it. I'm not a happy individual.'
Cameo: 'You're bleeding.'
Billy Ray: 'Yeah, I do that a lot.'