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Fort Freak (A Wild Cards novel book 21) edited by George RR Martin

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Fort Freak in the USA - or Buy Fort Freak in the UK

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pub: TOR. 463 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2570-9.

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Considering that the titles of the ‘Wild Cards’ books are named after poker hands, it seems odd that the latest and twenty-first book in the series is named after the slang for an American police station set in New York’s Jokertown. Then again, after the global shenanigans of recent novels, going back to the roots of where the alien virus first contaminated the Earth and how it affects the people today isn’t a bad place to go.

The opening pages goes back to the old practice of identifying the characters of the books but not their abilities although for new readers, I wish it also had determined the identification of what a nat, ace, joker and deuce was for those scratching heads and new to the series. For the record, a deuce is someone who has a useless extra ability. Then again, once into the book, some of this is disclosed although a shame that only the members of the police station are readily identified but maybe there would be no surprises by naming the felons wasn’t given or the creators names associated with them from a copyright pov.
As a story mosaic, the various writers story contributions are interwoven into the time frame and you follow the snippets of their lives along the way. This enables you to see different characters appearing but not doing very much in some places and a lot more in others as their own creators pick up their time-lines.

In many respects, this particular book has elements of many TV cop shows but with a ‘Wild Cards’ twist. Old cops like Detective Leo Storgman aka Ramshead, whose on the cover by the way, to rookie cop Francis Black who is a nat that is, totally human who has to earn his respect amongst the team. With Black, considering how much story was given to him at the beginning, it seems a shame that he doesn’t appear much afterwards.

What is great is seeing Father Squid and the Oddity again, as well as various other cameos from the earlier books. I often think that it was a mistake to introduce so many newly infected characters and forget the past but this is problematical where the writers who created them aren’t involved in the new books. There’s also a chance to have a look around the Jokertown Dime Museum again although it does make you wonder where the likes of the Turtle are these days. In many respects, you would think that one of the side-benefits of the Wild Cards virus would be to endow longer life.

One of the major sub-plots is the execution of Joe Twitch by two rogue cops, who are also determined to cut down any witnesses. As with all such basic police plots, this also takes a Wild Cards twist. This story interweaves with all the rest although I wish more evidence as to who orchestrated the execution was supplied in the story before springing the big reveal towards the end of the book.

The kidnapping and rescuing of Minal and Detective Michael Stevens’ young daughter by Mary Ann Mohanaj in the ‘Sanctury’ section seems at odds with what else she has written here and I suspect it’s more a problem with dealing with action sequences effectively but that’s a minor weakness. No doubt, the writers will get together and examine the flaws and sort such things out in the next book.

The same could be said for the end of the Black Tongue case and again, I’m surprised that no one wrote the side of the police officer involved who escaped. It isn’t like the ‘Wild Cards’ books authors haven’t shown the villain perspective and it isn’t like we didn’t know who did what, although I’m pleading spoiler and not saying here.

I’m treading lightly on some of the ground here because it would be too easy to give away too many spoilers. With ten authors stories locked around a central theme, it’s inevitable that some are going to be better than others. The common theme is that they all tend to be character writers first which probably explains the occasional problem in the action area. Probably the best thing is that four of the original series writers are back, even if it looks like they were just tying up some loose ends.

Despite some criticisms, ‘Fort Freak’ does deserve your attention, especially if you’re a ‘Wild Cards’ fan and can’t wait for the next book.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 36 votes in the sci-fi charts

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