Wild Cards Volume 5 - DOWN AND DIRTY
The fifth volume is divided into three distinct sections; the first takes place at the same time as the events in Aces Abroad - October 1986 to Apriil 1987, while the second and third parts take place during the months of May and June following the return of the junket.
There are also a total of THREE interlinking narratives running through this one; All The King's Horses (by George R.R. Martin) relates the Turtle's crisis of conscience in regards to life as the Turtle; Concerto for Siren & Seratonin (by Roger Zelazny) chronicles Croyd Crenson's life through two transformations; and, from the second section onwards, there is Blood Ties (by Melinda M. Snodgrass) which concerns Tachyon's efforts to deal with a) his grandson, Blaise, b) a gang war on the streets of Jokertown, and c) Croyd Crenson running amok.
Before all that, though, we get Only the Dead Know Jokertown (by John J. Miller) as Brennan returns to town under the alias of 'Cowboy', having undergone minor plastic surgery in order to infiltrate the Shadow Fists and get closer to Kien.
The first parts of All The King's Horses and Concerto for Siren & Seratonin follow, in which Tom Tudbury ponders life, and Croyd accepts a commission from the mafia to obtain some information, before we move onto Breakdown (by Leanne C. Harper) which sees the return of Bagabond and her friend, D.A. Rosemary Muldoon whose loyalties are torn between her office and her blood.
Following this are the second parts of All The King's Horses and Concerto for Siren & Seratonin, wherein Tom takes a shower, and Croyd and Demise meet for the first time to talk accountancy. Jesus Was an Ace (by Arthur Byron Cover) focusses on Gregg Hartmann's rival in the upcoming election, Reverand Leo Barnett as he samples love, life and death in Jokertown. The first section of the book comes to an end with the third parts of All The King's Horses and Concerto for Siren & Seratonin with Tom dealing with his past in preparation for the future, and Croyd asking to be put to sleep.
Tom begins May by getting a mask in All The King's Horses Part lV, while Tachyon discovers his limitations in trying to protect Jokertown from itself in Blood Ties Part l. Meanwhile, Croyd wakes up in a broom cupboard in the fourth part of Concerto for Siren & Seratonin and sets about completing his assignment for the family.
Next, we witness The Second Coming of Buddy Holley (by Edward Bryant) as Bagabond, Sewer Jack and his niece, Cordelia try to get a living legend to return to his roots for a benefit concert in Jokertown. Tachyon plays vigilante in the second part of Blood Ties, Tom welcomes June by going to the museum in All The King's Horses Part V, and Croyd ends his mission on a subtle note in Concerto for Siren & Seratonin Part V.
Hartmann shows his true colours in The Hue of a Mind (by Steven Leigh) when he has to take personal action in order to safeguard his political future, while Tachyon confronts evidence of a new outbreak of the Wild Card virus in Blood Ties Part lll. Jane Dow (Water Lily) meets Ti Malice and reaches the heights and plumbs the depths in Addicted to Love (by Pat Cadigan) before finally finding her place thanks to 'Typhoid Croyd', who is identified as the cause of the new outbreak.
Takedown (by Leanne C. Harper) sees Rosemary Muldoon experiencing family problems, while in Concerto for Siren & Seratonin Parts Vl & Vll, a paranoid Croyd makes a political statement and realises they really ARE after him, before finding a new friend. Blood Ties Parts lV & V continue with Tachyon struggling to find a way to apprehend this new threat to New York.
All The King's Horses Part Vl has Tom saying goodbye to his past in order to get ahead, and realises there's good and bad everywhere - but mostly bad - before Mortality (by Walter Jon Williams) which sees the return of the 'toaster', Modular Man, who has to change his way of thinking when he tries to capture Croyd. Blood Ties Part Vl has Brennan making an unscheduled visit to the Jokertown clinic and Tachyon comes face to face with his worst fears.
Croyd talks himself into a coma in the final part of Concerto for Siren & Seratonin, while "What Rough Beast..." (by Leanne C. Harper) has Rosemary saying goodbye to an old flame. Only The Dead Know Jokertown: Epilogue (by John J. Miller) sees Brennan talking to an empty room, before the last chapter of All The King's Horses wherein Tom pisses off an old rival and is rude to an old friend.
Anyone who has managed to get through the above synopsis will see that Down and Dirty contains a lot of chapters and therein lies its main fault. For all its entertainment value - and it is very entertaining - the fifth book in the series simply has too much going on to make for a really smooth read as volumes 2 and 3 were.
George R.R. Martin actually states in his afterword to the new edition that editing this one almost drove him mad. When the idea of a gang war proved too humdrum to the publishers, the 'Typhoid Croyd' storyline was proposed. Unfortunately, instead of replacing the previous plot, it was simply added to it, making the resulting book a bit of a mishmash. Besides which, who really cares which gang wins?
This is a pity as many of the stories are up there with the best of them. As usual, Zelazny's contribution, Concerto for Siren & Seratonin, is a stand-out as he focuses on how Croyd handles his chaotic lifestyle and demonstrates how dangerous he can be when cornered. We're also given an intriguing throwaway paragraph (which is never explained) in which he locks himself in a room to converse with a glass sculpture of a woman he calls Melanie. A substitute for a mother who was destroyed mentally by the effects of the virus on her family? Or simply a woman who is always there for him, day or night, and stays the same through the decades? One to ponder.
There's the Turtle's 'dark night of the soul' in All The King's Horses - reminiscient of countless four-colour storylines of years past - where he has to find out if he has the will or desire to carry on playing the hero for very little return, either spiritually or financially. We also get the welcome return of Modular Man in Mortality, who goes through some existential pains and gets to battle his own personal demons when he has to confront Croyd, the man who inadvertantly killed him in a previous life.
We also get the bizarre Second Coming of Buddy Holley which, frankly, confuses an already packed plot and could really have been saved for another volume. An interesting exchange takes place, however, when Croyd compliments Buddy by telling him that 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' is one the best rockers ever. It may have been deliberate but in our universe it was recorded by Bill Haley, not Buddy Holly. Also, Buddy and Sewer Jack come into contact with Croyd while he's a carrier for the virus but remain unaffected by the meeting.
In Breakdown, a cop mistakes Black Shadow for the Harlem Hammer - possibly an in-joke referring to the fact that in the original role-playing games that inspired Wild Cards (see Origins), Shad and the Hammer were brothers. Thankfully, this is the last we see of Rosemary Muldoon, Sewer Jack only makes brief appearances from here on in, and Bagabond's character in volume 14 is of a far more sympathetic nature.
In Jesus Was An Ace, Quasi shows his sci-fi knowledge by referring to his teleportations as 'jaunts' - Alfred Bester did it first in his classic "The Stars My Destination" from 1956.
Jane Dow: 'I've heard people say you're kind of honest, as well as kind of nuts.'
Croyd: 'They're half-right.'
Tachyon: 'What do I do with Blaise? He's the most important thing in my life and I'm neglecting him.'
Victoria Queen: 'The trouble with you, Tachyon, is that everything is the most important thing in your life.'
Tom Tudbury: 'I used to be a pretty smart kid, but somehow I got pretty dumb as I grew up. This double life shit is a crock.'
Werewolf gang member: 'Get up.'
Croyd: 'I am up. i'm a lot higher than you. And i'm up for anything.'
Kate: 'You're panicking.'
Modular Man: 'Am I? I suppose I am.'
Kate: 'The prospect of death, to misquote Samuel Johnson, is supposed to concentrate the mind wonderfully.'
Modular Man: 'I'll work at it... Okay. That's done.'
Kate: 'That was fast.'
Modular Man: 'One point six six six seconds.'