Wild Cards Volume I — Wild Cards


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First Published
1987 (softcover)
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Wild Cards is the first novel in the Wild Cards series edited by George R.R. Martin. It was first published in 1987 and was nominated for a Hugo Award in the following year. The novel contains ten short stories introducing the Wild Cards universe: an alternate Earth history in which an alien virus is released over the skies of New York City in 1946, transforming a few individuals into superhuman aces, and mutating many more into monstrous jokers. Applying unrelenting realism into superhero traditions, the novel imagines an altered 20th century in which superhumans interact with historical events. Wild Cards covers four decades, from 1946 to early 1986, and introduces most of the main characters and sets up plot threads that continue to play out over the course of the rest of the series. Besides the ten stories, there are also several interludes written by Martin, mimicking real newspaper articles, book excerpts, or magazine retrospectives presented in a in-world style.


The story starts in August of 1946, when an alien being nicknamed Dr. Tachyon arrives at a military base in White Sands warning mankind of a deadly virus developed by his own race. In September 15 of 1946, the alien virus is released over New York City. Jetboy, a veteran fighter pilot, sacrifices his own life trying to stop it and becomes a legend. The virus kills ten thousand people in the first days, and mutates many others. The earlier stories deal with the 1940s aces, among then the Sleeper, a man locked in perpetual transformation, and the Exotics for Democracy, the world's first superhero team, that rises to meteoric fame and later plummets to disastrous fall in 1950, when America starts to persecute the wild carders.

The later half of the book introduces several major protagonists and offers glimpses of important historical events of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963, America starts to accept wild carders again, and the Great and Powerful Turtle becomes the first public superhero of the new decade. In 1969, the pimp Fortunato gains the powers of dark magick and stumbles onto a sinister conspiracy. In 1970, shy nerd Mark Meadows becomes the greatest champion of the hippie movement when his wild card ability activates. In 1973, Bagabond and Sewer Jack are both made social outcasts by their superhuman powers and drift among the urban detritus of New York City. In 1976, Senator Gregg Hartmann tries to gain the nomination in the Democratic Presidential Convention, courting the support of the oppressed jokers, but the Senator hides a dark secret.

The last story is set in the present day (at the time of the book's publication) of 1986. It shows the harder-edged and crime-infested streets of New York in the eighties, and the arrival of Yeoman, the bow-and-arrow vigilante dedicated to a bloody vendetta. Interludes and subplots in the stories introduce several important locations in the Wild Cards universe. Jokertown, a bizarre neighbourhood in New York City for the human wrecks of the wild card virus. The Jokertown Clinic, where the repentant alien Dr. Tachyon treats the victims of the virus. And the Aces High restaurant, a chic, expensive establishment on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, where the aces and celebrities mingle.


Wild Cards contains the following short stories:

Story Author(s) Description
"Prologue" George R.R. Martin Introduces Dr. Tachyon and Xenovirus Takis-A.
"Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!" Howard Waldrop Introduces Jetboy and his failed attempt to prevent the release of Xenovirus Takis-A.
"The Sleeper" Roger Zelazny Introduces Croyd Crenson, "The Sleeper".
"Witness" Walter Jon Williams Introduces Golden Boy and the Four Aces.
"Degradation Rites" Melinda M. Snodgrass Details Dr. Tachyon's doomed love story with Blythe van Renssaeler
"Shell Games" George R.R. Martin Introduces The Great and Powerful Turtle.
"The Long, Dark Night of Fortunato" Lewis Shiner Introduces Fortunato and the Masonic conspiracy that will influence the plot of the next two books in the series.
"Transfigurations" Victor Milán Introduces Mark Meadows, aka Captain Trips.
"Down Deep" Edward Bryant
Leanne C. Harper
Introduces Rosemary Muldoon, "Sewer Jack" Robicheaux and Bagabond. Sets up the mob storyline that will come to fruition in later books.
"Strings" Stephen Leigh Introduces Puppetman and Gimli and sets up the political plot threads that will play out in later books.
"Comes a Hunter" John J. Miller Introduces Yeoman and Chrysalis and sets up the Asian gang plot threads.
"Epilogue: Third Generation" Lewis Shiner Introduces Kid Dinosaur.

In addition, there are several interludes (written by Martin) between stories that expand upon the background of the Wild Cards world and an appendix on "The Science of the Wild Card Virus" (written by Milán) that explains how Xenovirus Takis-A works. Both the interludes and the appendix take the form of excerpts from literature within the universe.


The reprint of this title in 2010 is sometimes referred to as the expanded edition. In addition to a revamped cover and the original text there are three additional new stories that have been added in to 'fill' gaps in the decade leaping chronology.

Martin's own blog of 30th April 2009 stated:

Longtime fans of the series may recall that the first book, WILD CARDS, was our historical volume, with stories that took us all the way from Dr. Tachyon's arrival on Earth in 1946 right up to the Wild Card "present," which back then was 1986. We had forty years to cover, and I like to think we covered it pretty well... but of course, there were gaps. Years and even decades of Wild Card history that we simply did not have the space to dramatize.

Tor's new edition will help rectify that. We're not just reprinting the original WILD CARDS, as it was first published; we're adding three brand-new, original, never-before-published stories set during some of the "lost years" we couldn't cover last time around. So this edition of WILD CARDS will be the director's cut, if you will, fortified and expanded with original content, extra fiber, and three news tales:
- Michael Cassutt will take us back to 1956 with, "Captain Cathode v the Secret Ace,"
- David D. Levine will visit 1960, to tell us about "Powers," and,
- Carrie Vaughn will show us 1981, as "Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan."

Story Author(s) Description
"Captain Cathode and the Secret Ace" Michael Cassutt Introduces Karl von Kampen.
"Powers" David D. Levine Introduces Stopwatch and the secretive government agency known as SCARE.
"Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan" Carrie Vaughn Introduces Wraith.

Reprint NotesEdit

  • Tor Books have published Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan on their website as a standalone short story. It can be found here.


Howard Waldrop wrote only one story for the entire series, but it is the single story that the Wild Cards premise is held together by. Waldrop created Jetboy is an homage to Airboy, an aviator hero in a comic book series published by Hillman Periodics. Howard Waldrop is a fan of the character.


  • Jetboy "I can't die yet. I haven't seen the Jolson story."
  • Dr. Tachyon "A rocket scientist. Excellent. I am a scientist myself."
  • Croyd Crenson "I wonder... If I do go to sleep, will I sleep a long time like before?”

Cover Gallery Edit

Wild Cards Series Novels
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Wild Cards Volume I:

Wild Cards (novel)

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Wild Cards Volume II:

Aces High (novel)