I have to admit that, other than being acquainted with the principal premise of the series, I'm not too familiar with its characters and major storylines. I remember reading two or three Wild Cards books circa 1990, but I wasn't too impressed with them at the time. Keep in mind that from the height of my 16 years of age, I considered myself a bit too "mature" for this super heroes and that kind of stuff.
Well, I'm now 33 years old and I'm not sure just how mature I am today.:p Maybe it's a case of regression, or could it be progression!?! In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed Inside Straight. The book does the job, on several levels. Mind you, this is not the sort of novel whose scope can rival with Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Jordan's The Wheel of Time, Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen, etc. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to this book than meets the eye. Naturally, I can't truly compare this newest volume to its predecessors. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that GRRM and his collaborators have hit this one out of the ballpark! And as it reads well as a stand-alone, it makes Inside Straight the perfect starting point for potential readers.
Some have voiced their worries about the lack of "big names" on message boards, fearing that it might make for an inferior product. Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean no disrespect, but George R. R. Martin's story isn't any better than that of Carrie Vaughn, Daniel Abraham, or Michael Cassutt. If anything, I firmly believe that, like me, after finishing Inside Straight readers will be intrigued and they'll wish to learn more about the works of Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, Ian Tregillis and S. L. Farrell. While no one really stands out from the rest of the pack, no one's star shines any less than the others.
As a mosaic novel, I was concerned about possible glitches in terms of continuity, consistency, chronology, style and tone. I was also worried about how the individual stories would fit and further the plot of the overall story arc. But the various plotlines are woven together almost seamlessly, and the entire cast of writers involved in the production of this book maintain an even style and tone throughout.
I love how the "reality tv/trash tv" angle was played. It was a lot of fun to read about American Hero, a Wild Cards tv show which is a blend of American Idol, Survivor, and Big Brother. They even have their Simon-like judge!
Still, there is a lot more to this new generation of Wild Cards than just a group of them competing for a million dollars. A crisis is brewing in the Middle East, and the assassination of the current Caliph leads to what could become a genocide. I was terribly afraid that the authors would fall in the same trap as most artists: Either take the far-Right approach, or go down the brown-nosing, ass-kissing, UN-loving, "there are no bad people on this planet, just misunderstandings" Leftist road -- both of them too black and white, and both of them inaccurate. I'm glad to report that the writers and editors understand that there are many nuances to be considered when one elects to tackle with the religious and political problems that are endemic to the Middle East and beyond. Hence, this particular plotline is written intelligently, taking into account both sides of the story.
With good characterization and way more depth than meets the eye, Inside Straight is hip, cool, fun and fresh. Fans of the Wild Cards series should flock back in droves, their numbers increased by new readers eager to learn more about all those aces and jokers.
Kudos to George R. R. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Michael Cassutt, Caroline Spector, John Jos. Miller, Daniel Abraham, Ian Tregillis, and S. L. Farrell for a job well-done! The franchise is in very good hands, which bodes extremely well for the future. I'll be lining up for the forthcoming Busted Flush.
To learn more about the Wild Cards series in general and Inside Straight in particular, check out http://www.wildcardsonline.com/ and http://www.wildcardsbooks.com/.
If Inside Straight is any indication, 2008 could be a terrific year for SFF fans!:-)
The final verdict: 8/10