Wild Cards Volume 19 - BUSTED FLUSH
Leading straight off from the events of Inside Straight, this time the Committee are faced with a whole new set of problems. First, the Caliphate in the Middle East bring the world to a halt by significantly raising the price of oil. Second, reports are coming in of more genocide, this time in Nigeria. And third, New Orleans faces possible destruction by hurricane. And if that isn't enough, there's the small matter of a nuclear explosion in Texas. Oh, and zombies, too.
Melinda M. Snodgrass assumes linking duties this time, and in Double Helix: To The Hungry Soul, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet she shows us Noel Matthews delivering a warning before getting changed for dinner. Bubbles makes a friend before heading home in Coulda (by Caroline Spector). Noel has a drink before bed in Double Helix: The Sword Shall Never Depart From Thy House, and Curveball and John Fortune catch up in Just Cause Part l (by Carrie Vaughn).
Noel goes to Texas to investigate the Big Bang in Double Helix: An Abomination of Desolation, while in Political Science 101 (by Ian Tregillis & Walton Simons), Genetrix meets a Little Fat Boy in need of a friend. Lilith pays Drummer Boy a visit in Double Helix: Better To Dwell In The Wilderness Than With A Contentious Woman, and in Just Cause Part ll a Committee dinner gets crashed by the new sheriff in town. Lilith writes a letter in Double Helix: His Enemies Shall Lick the Dust, and Cameo finds a new client in The Tears of Nepthys - The First Tear: Isis (by Kevin Andrew Murphy)
Volunteers of America (by Victor Milán) sees Tom Weathers continuing his never-ending revolution, while Noel compiles a list in Double Helix: For Nation Shall Rise Against Nation. Drummer Boy is short of breath in Dirge in a Major Key: Part l (by S.L Farrell), and in Double Helix: The Words of a Talebearer Are As Wounds, Lilith makes her report. Genetrix finally sees the light in Political Science 201, while Billy Ray discovers what's really important in Mortality's Strong Hand (by John Jos. Miller).
Noel receives conflicting orders in Double Helix: Make No Treaty With Them and Show Them No Mercy. Cameo and Bugsy get to know each other in The Tears of Nepthys - The Second Tear: Aliyah. Lilith shoots first and asks questions later in Double Helix: Ye Brutish Among The People, When Will Ye Be Wise, while Genetrix and Little Fat Boy meet Red Sonja in Political Science 301. The committee enlist the dead in The Tears of Nepthys - The Third Tear: Nick and Political Science 401 provides Genetrix and Little Fat Boy with all the fun of the fair.
Noel rejoins the human race in Double Helix: I Will Redeem Them From Death and in Won't Get Fooled Again (by Victor Milán), Tom Weather goes full-on. Double Helix: Until The Daybreak, And The Shadows Flee Away sees Noel, Genetrix and Little Fat Boy taking a breather and in Dirge In a Major Key: Part ll Drummer Boy and Rustbelt are attacked from an unexpected quarter. Curveball questions her role in Just Cause Part lll, Noel finds that which he thought lost in Double Helix: Go Up Into Gilead, And Take Balm, and Bubble and Hoodoo Mama find common ground in Woulda (by Caroline Spector).
Drummer Boy finally has enough in Dirge In a Major Key: Part lll and Noel and Lilith decide to simplify their life the hard way in Double Helix: I Will Tread Them In Mine Anger, And Trample Them In Mine Fury. Tom Weathers shows his colours in A Hard Rain Is A'Going To Fall (by Victor Milán), and in Double Helix: They have Sown The Wind, And They Shall Reap The Whirlwind, Noel prepares for the worst.
Finally, Bubbles does the right thing in Shoulda (by Caroline Spector, Curveball makes a decision in Just Cause Part lV, and Noel makes plans for the future in Double Helix: My Heart Waketh.
So we're now halfway through the Committee triad and this time the writers have come up with three major new threads, all needing to be dealt with simultaneously. Which, as can be seen from the above synopses, means a lot of chapters with every conributor's story (except John Jos. Miller's) being broken up into at least three sections. But thankfully, unlike the similarly structured Down and Dirty, the story never feels disjointed at all. And it's a pretty good story, too.
Melinda Snodgrass starts things off nicely by returning us to the conflicted world of the seemingly amoral, shapeshifting teleport, Double Helix, as he/she attempts to play everyone else off against each other while juggling a whole host of identities. Needless to say, this is one screwed up individual, even by Wild Cards standards. But no less fascinating for all that. And since he/she interacts with just about every other character in the tale at some point or other, he/she makes for a perfect linking device to hold the whole thing together. Satisfying character arc, too.
With Dirge in a Major Key, S.L. Farrell also gives us the return of Drummer Boy. But thankfully, a slightly more mature DB than the idiot we met in Inside Straight. He's still annoying almost everyone he meets, of course, and still pining for Curveball while screwing groupies on the side. But after a mission in the Middle East turns bloody and he sees who he's fighting and what he's fighting for, he becomes the only character to speak out against the Committee's dubious motives and make a stand.
Kevin Andrew Murphy's Tears of Nepthys chapters are also highly enjoyable, as it's always nice to see Cameo again. And this time she even gets to drop her ice-cool demeanor a little when she allows Jonathan Hive - now known as Bugsy - to get closer than most.
This volume also marks the return of two more characters familiar to the long-term reader. In John Jos. Miller's Mortality's Strong Hand, Wild cards' resident bad-ass, Billy Ray, makes a welcome appearance. Except now, he's somehow risen to become director of SCARE, and Midnight Angel's no longer taking his phone calls. Turns out there's a perfectly logical explanation for that, and it's fun watching both characters play against each other again as they move towards a potential reconciliation. Again, with each appearance Billy becomes wiser and more vulnerable with age, without losing the coarser aspects of his character that define him. Let's just hope this isn't the last we see of him. Same goes for the Midnight Angel.
And then there's the return of the Radical, AKA Tom Weathers, who's not quite the hero we remember. Although we were given a hint that all was not well with the guy's psyche way back in Black Trump, Victor Milán's three stories here up the ante even further. Let's face it, the character had a fairly loose grip on reality at the best of times, but by the end of this book he's pretty much psychotic, willing to waste an entire city just to make a point. All in all, it doesn't take too much imagination to figure out who'll be the main villain in the final volume.
Naturally, anybody coming into this without having read Inside Straight might wonder what the hell is going on, but for the long-term reader, this middle section of the triad is definitely business as usual with things hotting up in preparation for the final volume.
It seems that in the current Wild Cards version of Earth, America has another Kennedy in the White House. Also Harry Connick Jr is now the mayor of New Orleans.
Lady Black: 'You people do know the Middle East better than we do.'
Double Helix: 'You're quite right. We've been oppressing them and manipulating them for far longer.'
Billy Ray: 'Interesting. Not only are you incompetent fuckwits, you're also sadistic incompetent fuckwits.'
Dr Pendegrast: 'No one talks to me like that!'
Billy Ray: 'I'm not no one. I'm Billy Ray. I was spilling blood in service before you tortured your first rat in Psych 101.'
Bubbles: 'Is everyone all right?'
Bugsy: 'Apart from losing my legs, just peachy. You?'
Bubbles: 'I thought all your people were here. Damn it, you should have told me there were more out there.'
Hoodoo Mama: 'They didn't want to stay here. They don't like the zombies.'
Bubbles: 'Well, big points for them showing good taste in companions, but the Russian judge is going to have to give them a major reduction for stayng in New Orleans when there's - you know - a hurricane coming!'
Bugsy (to Lohengrin): 'Oh, dude, you've been sleeping with her. Except she's not a her. She's a him. Actually she's two hims. That's kind of gay.'