me and Wild Cards
November 23, 2010
Today is the official release day for the reissue of Wild Cards I, the very first Wild Cards shared-world anthology originally released in 1987.
I love this cover so much. It’s so evocative. And it’s also so clearly JETBOY! Hooray!
I followed the Wild Cards series almost but not quite from the beginning. The first one I read was Volume V, Down and Dirty (in keeping with my habit of picking up a series in the middle rather than the beginning). It grabbed hold, hooked me, reeled me in, and I was a fan forever more. George still speaks of this book with a tone of simmering antagonism, because of how difficult it was to edit. But I loved it. I picked it up because of this cover:
I’d never seen anything like it. No dragons, no aliens (well, unless you count Dr. Tachyon, but I didn’t know that from the cover), no half-naked women. It looked real and rooted. The book turned out to be the same — real and rooted. It really was New York City, but different. It was superheroes, but it wasn’t good guys v. bad guys, it was lots of likable, or at least sympathetic, people getting in over their heads. Who just happened to have superpowers. I’d never read anything like it.
It was 1989. I hunted down the first four books, then picked up the subsequent books as soon as they came out. I got the GURPS game. I ran fan club meetings at Starfest. I wrote George fan mail. (And he wrote back. When I started writing for Wild Cards, I pulled out the letter and we had a chuckle over it.)
I have a vivid memory of racing through the PSAT exam, which all high schoolers were required to take at the time, because we were allowed to read if we finished early, and I had a Wild Cards book sitting under my desk, just waiting.
In retrospect, I have to wonder how much impact Wild Cards had on my aesthetics — on the way I write and the things I write about. After all, every single one of my published novels takes place in a “real” world, a world that’s recognizable as our own. . .but different. Did I learn how to write alternate realities from Wild Cards? The idea that you take one moment in history, change it, and see what the world looks like forty years later? Say, returning dragons to the world after the atomic blasts of World War II (much like the alien virus infected the planet in 1946, in the Wild Cards world). Or imagining that werewolves and vampires are real, and instead of focusing on the magic bits of that, start a radio talk show on the subject…
It’s been a little surreal working on Wild Cards, meeting all the writers, using their characters. I find myself wondering what the behind-the-scenes process looked like on my beloved high school novels. Knowing now what it looks like with the current books — what gets left on the cutting room floor, for example — I know there must be hundreds of untold stories. Hundreds of directions the series could have taken and just didn’t. The fan in me wants to read every single one of them. The professional in me knows that the other Wild Cards writers would be horrified to hear me say that.
So, the return of Wild Cards I. It’s the original book, with three new stories. Including one of mine, “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan,” which tells the origin story of a character who becomes much more important later on. I am now retroactively a part of the series from the very beginning. (Who says time travel doesn’t exist?) The best part — I got to write a scene with Dr. Tachyon. Working on the new volumes means we’ve started with mostly a new slate of characters. My favorite characters from the early books — the Turtle, Dr. Tachyon, Croyd, Jay Ackroyd, Jack Braun — are retired or just gone. I’d never get a chance to write about them. But this story is set in 1981, and they’re all still around and in their primes. So I now have a canon Dr. Tachyon scene under my belt. And. . .the other main character in the story is very much a favorite, and I think I did him justice. To say any more would be a spoiler.