George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards – everything you need to know

Image for George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards – everything you need to know

George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards

You might have seen the news recently that Universal Cable Productions, the company behind Mr. Robot, has optioned the rights to Wild Cards. In case the name is new to you, it's a sprawling, linked series of anthologies, mosaic novels ("in which individual chapters or short stories share a common setting or set of characters with the aim of telling a linear story from beginning to end, with the individual chapters, however, refracting a plurality of viewpoints and styles", as Wikipedia will tell you) and solo books set in a fictional universe.

What is Wild Cards?

Wild Cards books

Glad you asked. The story kicks off on September 15, 1946, when an alien virus is unleashed in the skies above Manhattan. It's here that history divides from our own as the infection spreads rapidly around the world. 90 percent of people die horribly, while 9 percent were transformed into people creatures known as Jokers, inflicted with a variety of minor or crippling physical conditions. A lucky 1 percent developed superpowers and became the Aces.

We follow the stories of various heroes and villains. In a novel twist, the world changes right along with them. Instead of the usual stops, starts, reboots, refreshes and hyped events to reset the chronology, we see characters age, die, and change their views as this alt-world develops alongside our own.

Launched in 1987 (and pipped to the post in the 1988 Hugo Awards by a little title known as Watchmen), the series has so far run to 22 books and five short stories. A twenty-third tome is on the way this month. Comic books, role-playing games (fitting, since the stories spawned from games co-creator George R.R. Martin ran with many of the original authors) and audiobooks have followed.

And it's from Game Of Thrones' George R.R. Martin?

George R.R. Martin

Is there any other working in fantasy? Unlike his limb-chop-happy saga, it's one he created with Melinda Snodgrass and doesn't directly write everything himself. He tends to edit anthologies featuring writers from the worlds of fantasy, science fiction and beyond.

Other writers

Cherie PriestWriter Cherie Priest

The list has included Paul Cornell, Pat Cadigan, the late Roger Zelazny, Cherie Priest, Christopher Rowe and many, many, many more. There is a lot of material out there, folks.

Trivia note: In 1987, a young writer pitched Martin an idea for a character who exists in the world of dreams. Martin turned him down, concerned about his lack of credits. So the young man took his concept elsewhere, but sadly nothing is known about this Neil Gaiman fellow after that. We hope he's doing okay.


Wild Cards books

They might not be as well known as, say, Superman, Batman or even Deadpool, but there are many in the Wild Cards universe. Including...

Astronomer Leader of a cult comprised of Aces and some Jokers known as the Egyptian Freemasons with a plan to take over the world. His schemes were foiled and he burns with vengeful thoughts. Also, sand rash.

Black Shadow An Ace vigilante who can become invisible by absorbing light and incapacitate by extracting heat, giving them hypothermia. He can also cling to walls like a certain friendly neighbourhood Marvel hero, but can't do everything a spider can.

Captain Trips Dr. Mark Meadows, a renowned biochemist who also happens to be a burned-out hippie (think X-Men's Hank McCoy meets The Young Ones' Neil), who uses drugs to transform into other forms, each with their own abilities. Far out, man.

Deadhead He can extract the memories and knowledge by eating people's brains. Shockingly, the nature of his power has driven him nearly insane. He's also got terrible brain breath.

Dr. Tachyon A geneticist from the planet Takis, he has telepathic powers. He was a key member of the team that developed the original virus (which human doctors came to know as Xenovirus Takis-A) to enhance his caste's psionic powers to give them an advantage. He protested against his people testing it on humans, and travelled to Earth in its aftermath to work with the survivors. Oh, and romance several of the female inhabitants.

So what about Martin's Game Of Thrones book and series duties?

Game Of Thrones

Never fear. The writer has an overall deal with HBO, which means he won't be working on the Wild Cards series directly, the way he has on Thrones until more recently. That's not to say he won't be busy, though – the deal includes developing other TV series for the subscription network.

Was there previous development?

Wild Cards books

Yup. Back in 2011, the Wild Cards rights were optioned by Universal Pictures for its low-budget SyFy Films arm. The plan then was to produce a modestly-budgeted (but not small in scope) film to launch a regular series that could conceivably have evolved into a Marvel-style cinematic universe. But despite much ballyhoo back then, nothing seems to have happened, hence the new announcement. And the SyFy version wasn't even the first time that studios came a-sniffing. Martin has seen it optioned at least once before that.

The new tele-vision

Wild Cards books

The plan is for a TV-focused universe instead. "Development will begin immediately on what we hope will be the first of several interlocking series," Martin says in his latest post about the concept. Co-creator Snodgrass (herself a veteran of TV with writing credits that include Star Trek: The Next Generation) will be running the show with Gregory Noveck acting as executive producer. It's an ambitious idea, usually the purview of procedurals (America has a glut of shows set in Chicago following a variety of TV staple professions including police and firefighters), but more recently built by Marvel and Netflix with The Defenders.