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Low Chicago
Edited by George R.R. Martin
Tor, $27.99, 429 pp
Published: June 2018

This is the newest installment in the decades-long-running series called Wild Cards; this is either the 25th  or 29th book depending on whether you count the three ebooks and graphic novel.

For those of you who have not yet encountered Martin’s Wild Cards universe, here’s a brief background:  in the 1940s, some aliens decided to use Earth as a proving ground for a virus designed to create super-powered humans.  The virus was released over New York City and can have one of four effects:  mostly normal-appearing but super-powered known as Aces; mostly normal-appearing with a less-than-impressive superpower known as Deuces, a completely non-human, deformed appearance known as Jokers or death by drawing a Black Queen.  The stories have followed different groups of characters since the 1940s.  The series is unique in that each story is a composite done by several authors; it is not an anthology, it is a complete novel.

This is another standalone story as was the last one, Mississippi Roll but much, much better.  It has a terrific save-the-world plot that is so much more engaging than the last novel.  Lots of different characters in lots of different locales…and times.

The story starts with, appropriately, a poker game in an elegant Chicago hotel.  But this is a pretty high-powered poker game both for the players and their bodyguards and entourages.  There are more aces, deuces and jokers in a small room than you could shake a stick at.  A veritable powderkeg waiting for the match.

Some familiar faces are John Nighthawk, Croyd Crenson, Lilith, the notorious Golden Boy, and Charles Dutton.  Some nice new faces round out the cast such as Khan, a half-man/half-tiger; a young woman with some interesting attributes of a bunny rabbit, Marilyn Monroe’s love-child, and a young boy who can control birds.

While several people in the room are watching each other very, very carefully everyone is behaving well; until a waiter enters the room and all hell breaks loose.  Things happen so quickly not everyone even realizes there is a problem…until there is.  Nighthawk is quickest at discerning that things are not going well when the old waiter suddenly bulks up and attacks their host, a sleazy mobster.  He quickly covers his employer, Charles Dutton, and is standing next to the fussy little man Meek when Meek gets injured, suddenly spraying rainbows all over the room.  When all is quiet again, the only people remaining in the room are Dutton, Nighthawk and Meek.  Meek turns out to be Croyd Crenson whose power this time is time-teleportation.  But even he isn’t quite sure where – or when – he sent everyone.  This wouldn’t have been Nighthawk’s concern until a look outside the window reveals that the world outside their hotel is in chaos as alternate timelines clash.  They decide that they are seeing the results of several upheavals in the time line obviously caused by the missing people – wherever and whenever they might be.  The three realize they must find and retrieve all the missing people before they change history.  Fortunately, Croyd has the ability to sense the people he transported and he and Nighthawk take off on a trip through the history of Chicago.

Oh, this was just so very much fun.  A wonderful mélange of little stories occurring from the 1960s all the way back to prehistoric times.  Did you know that Hugh Hefner started his first Playboy Club in Chicago?  Here’s a take on why he decided to go with the bunny theme.  Chicago is known, of course, for the days of Al Capone and gangsters – we have to stop there for a time.  It was also the site of the World’s Fair in 1893; the same time as America’s first famous serial killer was discovered.  And then there was that fire started by Mrs. Leary’s cow…or so the story goes.

As Nighthawk and Croyd travel about locating the missing people they discover that while many are relieved and delighted that they are to be rescued; not everyone wants to go home.  They are also on a timer – at some point Croyd will be too tired to stay awake and we all know what happens when he finally sleeps:  he changes his power.

I loved each little story and I really liked the final climax which was so very appropriate.  This is the Wild Card story I’ve been waiting for after the last disappointment.  It is a standalone so don’t expect a multi-book story arc.  One of the side benefits of time traveling was the chance to see, albeit at a distance, some old favorites who have since left the series:  The Turtle, The Radical, Father Squid, Chrysalis and someone who looks an awful lot like Jube, the walrus who sells newspapers in New York.

It was a well-constructed plot and each smaller story was well-plotted; the whole thing coming together quite well.  Wild Cards isn’t usually about character development or world-building; it’s always been more about plot and this one doesn’t change that formula.  It’s a wallow for anyone addicted to comicbook heroes and villains – as I am.   ~~ Catherine Book

Contributing authors are:
Saladin Ahmed
Paul Cornell
Marko Kloos
John Jos. Miller
Mary Anne Mohanraj
Kevin Andrew Murphy
Christopher Rowe
Melinda Snodgrass

For other titles in the series click here
For other titles by George R.R. Martin click here

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