Wild Cards: Deuces Down, ed. George R. R. Martin

Second paragraph of third story (“Walking the Floor Over You” by Walton Simons):

A lot of the customers were smoking, but Carlotta’s routine was doing the opposite. It wasn’t the material, and her delivery was spot on. Well, as good as it ever was, anyway.

The last of the books I got with the Zelazny Humble Bundle in early 2016, an anthology of vaguely linked stories in the Wild Cards series. I quite liked the first one, “Storming Space” by Michael Cassutt, about a secret space programme. None of the rest was particularly special, and one of them, “Promises”, by Stephen Leigh, really annoyed me.

“Promises” is set in Rathlin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland, and like the rest of the Wild Cards stories the background is that an alien virus has infected a small but significant proportion of humanity with superhuman (or just inconvenient) powers. The major infection was in New York in 1946 but it turns out that there was also a smaller infection in Belfast in 1962. The infected “jokers” have been isolated on Rathlin Island.

So, two points of detail. First of all, although it is made clear that Rathlin Island and Northern Ireland as a whole are still part of the UK in the 1990s (as in our own dear timeline), the local police in Northern Ireland are referred to as the “garda” (sic). As many of you know, the Garda Síochána are the police in the Republic; “garda” is not a viable Irish translation of either “Royal Ulster Constabulary” or “Police Service of Northern Ireland”. (That would be “póilíní”.)

Also, one of the protagonists talks casually about how she could have got an abortion in Belfast in 1962. I know we are in alternate history here, but I can’t see the late Brookeborough government suddenly legislating to overturn the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 even under alien attack.

On top of that the ebook is badly formatted, as is the case with other ebooks in the Humble Bundle published by the now defunct iBooks.

Deuces Down was republished by Tor.com in 2021 with more stories and a linking narrative, and reviews suggest that this has been a significant improvement. You can get the new version here.

This was both my top unread book acquired in 2016 and the sf book that had lingered longest on my unread shelves. Next on those piles respectively are The Face of Britain, by Simon Schama, and The Best of Ian McDonald.