Superheroes are clearly super hot right now. So is the hit HBO television series Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels, which is hot off its extremely well-received sixth season.
“Hmm, if only there was a way to capitalize on the success of both these franchises…” one lonely television executive wondered wistfully.
Well, some wishes do come true. As it turns out, Universal Cable Productions has acquired the exclusive rights to adapt Martin’s Wild Cards series for television. What is Wild Cards, you ask? Well, to call it Game of Thrones with superheroes would be an unfair boiling-down of a truly unique and fantastic tapestry of heroic science fiction-y novels and short stories that Martin and his editing partner, sci-fi writer Melinda Snodgrass, have collected since the ’80s. Luckily for you, your resident science fiction BookTrib nerd guru has all the details you need to get up to speed on this series, which has a “year or two” before making its way onto the small screen (according to Martin).
The Wild Cards universe is a true attempt at seeing what the world would be like if superheroes actually existed. Essentially, the world begins in 1946, right at the end of World War II, when an airborne alien virus explodes over New York City. The “Wild Card” virus soon kills 90 percent of the human population; 9 percent of the survivors become genetically mutated into monsters called “Jokers,” while the remaining 1 percent, the “Aces,” develop super-human abilities. What follows is a series of stories in over 22 books that tell an alternate history after this watershed moment: instead of an African American Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s, for example, there’s a similar Civil Rights movement by the Jokers. Part Watchmen-esque historical retelling, part dystopian present, the vast cast of characters grapples with their brave new world through the decades. Even though these characters are technically “superheroes,” the series is gritty; the phrase “super hero” is avoided, and very few of the “Aces” are truly heroic.
Martin, in the role of “grandmaster,” gathered a whole bunch of his science fiction writer friends and delved into the game. Eventually, the group got way too into it, to the point where they decided to start writing stories based on their player characters. The result? A shared, anthologized universe of characters by famous science fiction authors with a common origin and lexicon. Bantam Books ordered the first triad of books from “the Wild Card Trust” in 1986. If you want to learn more about the background for the series, I recommend you check out the extremely thorough write up on the Wild Cards Online wiki.
Well, there isn’t a really public plan in terms of what stories and characters Universal Cable Productions, the division of NBC Universal responsible for Mr. Robot, plans on adapting (except for really cool, very tired characters). However, what’s for sure is that George R.R. Martin can’t be directly involved. Martin has an exclusivity clause with HBO, plus he needs the time to finish The Winds of Winter, the forthcoming A Song of Ice and Fire novel. That being said, his longtime editing partner Melinda Snodgrass is set to executive produce the project. This is pretty awesome news, because she has some television experience already (I mean, she wrote the TNG episode “Measure of a Man” and has therefore achieved the ultimate level of nerd-cred), and she’s been a part of the team since the very beginning.
The Books You Need:
So, enough with all this nerdgasm blathering. What are the books you should read to prep? Well, there are so many that it’s not really easy to tell you to go out and read all of them, so here are a few choice selections. Also, heads up, there’s a lot of sex and violence, so beware.
Wild Cards 1, The Wild Cards Trust (Tor, 2012)
The first volume of the Wild Cards series includes stories from Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner and George R.R. Martin, who also edited the entire series. There’s no better place to start than the beginning.
Inside Straight, The Wild Cards Trust (Tor, 2008)
This volume is the 18th of the series, these stories introduce new characters, new contributors and sets the story in the 21st century, complete with echoes of our current political issues and reality television headaches.
Lowball, The Wild Cards Trust (Tor, 2015)
The latest volume in the series, this mosaic novel follows the characters through a hard-boiled detective tint as they work as cops in a bizarre re-imagining of a New York City precinct called “Fort Freak.”
High Stakes, The Wild Cards Trust (Tor, August 30, 2016)
The forthcoming 23rd volume of the series follows the events of Lowball, where New York Aces are sent to Eastern Europe to keep a “vicious monster” from another dimension at bay from destroying the world.