Series of science fiction novels first published in 1986. All of the Wild Cards novels are edited by George R. R. Martin, but the authors vary from book to book. The Wild Card novels were a shared-world anthology: each author created some characters and wrote a chapter or two of the novel. Some of the authors who have written for the Wild Card books include: Edward Bryant, Pat Cadigan, Michael Cassutt, Chris Claremont, Arthur Byron Cover, Gail Gerstner-Miller, Leanne C. Harper, Stephen Leigh, George R. R. Martin, Victor Milan, John J. Miller, Laura J. Mixon, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Lewis Shiner, Walton Simons, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Howard Waldrop, Sage Walker, Walter Jon Williams, William F. Wu, and Roger Zelazny.

Back in 1945, not long after the end of World War II, an alien xenovirus was released on Earth. The Wild Card virus was designed to rewrite the human genetic code, but it rarely did its job well. Of the people exposed to the virus, 90% died horribly -- melting into puddles, burning to death, turning to stone, etc. This is called "drawing the Black Queen". Of the survivors, 90% of them were gruesomely mutated -- turning into a humanoid cockroach, growing eyes all over, growing six feet taller without adding enough extra muscle to allow you to move, producing mucus from every pore, etc. These survivors are called Jokers, and they are almost universally despised for their deformities. The remaining 10% of the survivors are called Aces -- they gain, for lack of a better word, superpowers. They are treated better than the Jokers, but they are still not trusted, because they have been genetically tainted. Luckily, the virus is not contagious -- the only ways to get it are to stumble onto some of the leftover spores of the virus or to be born to Wild Card parents, so most of the world's population has never been exposed to the Wild Card.

The world has a few comic-book elements in it -- some aces and jokers go out and fight crime (or commit crimes). Some of them wear costumes when they do so. But for the most part, things are a lot like they are in the real world. There are awfully few tolerant people in the world, and an awful lot of folks who hate and fear anything that is different from the status quo. A lot of the jokers live in New York City's Jokertown, a slum with corrupt and indifferent police and not much in the way of city services. Lots of "nats" (for "naturals") prowl around Jokertown, looking to either live the wild life or find someone helpless they can beat up for fun. The Wild Card is a huge political issue, with politicians proposing many solutions, from giving jokers and aces equal rights to forced sterilization to having all of them killed.

The Wild Card novels depict very grim and gritty superheroics. That means that even the most heroic characters are seriously flawed, all but the vilest villains are less than totally evil, and as soon as you pick out a favorite character, they're gonna get killed. Start reading from the first book, so you can enjoy the fireworks...

Just a few of the many, many (many!) characters in the series are:

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