Wild Cards Volume 8 - ONE-EYED JACKS
After two full-blown mosaic novels in volumes 6 and 7, we're back to the regular Wild Cards structure for volume 8. In this case, we follow the character of Jerry Strauss - once The Projectionist, now Mr Nobody - in a series of stories (all written by Walton Simons) that run through the core of the book as he becomes aware of a growing band of aces, called 'jumpers', who are beginning to make their presence felt in the city of New York. The first, Nobody's Girl starts us off by seeing how he's adapting to life (and a love-life) since the events of volume 4. Not very well it would seem.
Luck be a Lady (by Chris Claremont) introduces us to a new doctor hoping to join Tachyon's clinic, the tough Cody Havero, who gets into the spirit of things by taking it on herself to go underground in the search for a deadly ace preying on women.
Nobody Knows Me Like My Baby catches up with Jerry, before we join up with an ex of his, Veronica, in Horses (by Lewis Shiner), where the jumpers make their first unsettling appearance. Jerry plays detective in Mr Nobody Goes to Town as he seeks answers to a question posed in the last story.
Lazy Dragon makes a return in Snow Dragon (by William Wu) as he goes on an errand to reclaim a package for his Shadow Fist bosses and comes into contact with The Oddity. And we meet, for the first time, Bloat - the self-styled 'Governor of the Rox' on Ellis Island.
Jerry's back in Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, before we meet up again with Mark Meadows in Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (by Victor Milan), wherein Mark's role as parent becomes jeopardised by the reappearance of his troubled ex-wife Sunflower.
Jerry learns that You're Nobody Till Someone Loves You before we get to share a birthday with the three people that make up the Oddity in Sixteen Candles (by Steven Leigh).
Jerry follows the money in My Name is Nobody, and then we join Dr Tachyon and Cody in The Devil's Triangle (by Melinda Snodgrass) wherein it starts to become obvious - to the reader if not Dr Tachyon - that his grandson Blaise isn't going to follow in the footsteps of angels.
Jerry's says goodbye to a few people in Nobody's Home before we go to the other side of the tracks in Dead Heart Beating (by John J. Miller), wherein Shadow Fist underboss, Fadeout, finds he's got a head for business and lives up to his name when he goes to the movies.
And finally, we bid adieu - but not goodbye - to Jerry in Nobody Gets Out Alive as he finally learns the secret of the jumpers.
To get the obvious out of the way first: this is not one of the better volumes in the series. And while it's not without its little pleasures - few though they may be - this first volume in a new story arc certainly doesn't bode well for parts two and three. The main storyline itself, the discovery of a new kind of ace: the jumper, is fairly promising and unnerving (identity theft gone mad), but the actual tales themselves and the characters contained therein aren't really all that memorable.
Mark Meadows in Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing is one of the few exceptions, but even then this can't be counted as one of the better Cap'n Trips stories (although the resolution in the next volume almost makes up for it). But other than that we're left with a couple of bad guys, a joker, a female doctor (who's at least interesting), and an ex-hooker (who isn't). However, the saving grace is Jerry Strauss in the interstitial Nobody... stories, whose tales thoughout the book help the reader come away with the impression that the book was much more enjoyable than it actually is.
Despite his insecurities, Jerry's naivete and earnestness is a welcome change in a series that is pretty pessimistic at the best of times, and this volume is possibly the darkest so far, which is really saying something. And his general character arc - that of an emotionally retarded forty-five-year-old trying his hardest to catch up to his actual age - is well developed and highly satisfying.
The underlying theme of this volume seems to be the physical act of sex. There's certainly a lot of it - almost every character is either doing it, thinking about doing it, or remembering how they used to do it. Perhaps a little less sex and a little more thought would have made this one a little more memorable.
Apparently, the writers also weren't big fans of the Jumpers (which was an idea originally conceived by Chris Claremont) and according to Stephen Leigh, referred to this trilogy as 'those fucking jumper books'.
Pretorius (to Mark Meadows): 'Doctor, you are a big soft, inflated Bozo the Clown doll in the climate of today, Mr St. John motherfucking Latham is going to knock you all over the courtroom.'
Cody: 'God damn it, Tachyon, in maybe 20 or 30 years I'll have you past the guilt, out of the wallow of self-pity, and you'll have figured out when to shut up.'