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Texas Hold'em
Wild Cards #19
Edited by George R.R. Martin
Tor, $27.99, 381 pp
Published: November 2018

This is the newest installment in the decades-long-running series called Wild Cards; this is either the 27th  or 31st 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.

I’ve called the last two books standalones but it appears that those two and this one have been branded The American Triad, for no discernable reason.  None of the three have any relationship to the other.  Personally, I think it a little deceptive, making me think it’s all about marketing rather than the storytelling – you know:  buy all three to read the full story.  I’m here to tell you that you do not need to do that and the only one really worth the price was “Low Chicago.”  This one, Texas Hold’em, was another mild disappointment to a diehard fan.  This book is a composite of seven stories that try to blend with each other – much like a Venn diagram – with varying results.  It is not as seamless a novel as earlier efforts were.

Michelle Pond, aka Bubbles, was introduced several books ago and she is an engaging character although not terribly dynamic or as conflicted as any good superhero should be.  She is trying to fit into a normal family dynamic with her adopted daughter, Adesina, and is currently engaged as a school chaperone to her daughter’s band trip.  She’d really rather be hunting a rogue ace or overthrowing a government.  Her daughter’s band is made up of all jokers and they do not get a warm welcome when they arrive in Austin, Texas for the competition.  All the usual intolerant religious nuts show up to protest.  She also has to deal with the usual teen angst and their tendency to ignore rules that are there for their own safety. 

Robin Rutiger, aka Rubberband, has a small story as he connects with an old Ace friend.  Robin is a school counselor, also corralled as a chaperone for the band trip.  His story concerns itself with a missing student and a ghost in the hotel.  It was supremely dull.

One new interesting character was introduced:  Lorianne from Louisiana who has an affinity and connection with mosquitos.  It was a fun exploration but without much substance. Her story is a bridge between her band of normal humans (no one knows she’s an Ace or Deuce, or whatever) and the all-Joker band.

Victor Milan offered up the most exciting installment but then he’s an old hand at this Wild Cards biz.  He introduces a couple of aces who are both looking for the missing girl from Rubberband’s story.  And Walton Simons, another long-time contributor, had a small installment with an old familiar character:  Jerry Creighton.  I love the Creighton character:  he has an Ace power to change his shape and he’s very old – I think he dates back to the 1960s, at least, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him.  He’s a private investigator and Bubbles calls him in to help figure out who is trying to sabotage the band competition.

There were a couple other minor little stories that aren’t even worth mentioning.

Over all, I have to say the story did not hang together well.  It felt like little stories stuck together with the Bubble story at the core.  Not impressed…  ~~ Catherine Book

P.S.  If you’re keeping count and wondering what Book #26 is – it is a UK-only published copy.  I will review that one as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

Contributing authors are:
David Anthony Durham
Max Gladstone
Victor Milan
Diana Rowland
Walton Simons
Caroline Spector
William F. Wu

For more books in this series click here
For more titles by George R R Martin click here

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