Tuesday, 20 January 2009

‘Busted Flush’ – Edited by George R. R. Martin (Tor)


One of my News Year’s Resolutions is to finish reading all those books that I never got round to last year, I may have to take a leaf from Aidan’s book and do a ‘pile of shame’ post (I never got round to finishing ‘Toll the Hounds’, shame on me...) We’ll see how I get on...
First up is ‘Busted Flush’, the latest in the George R. R. Martin edited ‘Wild Cards’ series and one of those books that I’d been looking forward to for ages but hadn’t picked up until now. If you enjoyed ‘Inside Straight’ then I think you’ll get a lot out of this one...

Following the events of ‘Inside Straight’ (quick recap: a reality show for superheroes leads to super powered intervention in an international incident in Egypt) the UN have set up ‘The Committee’, a team of young ‘Aces’, to assist in trouble spots around the world. During the course of the book, ‘super powered UN intervention’ is required in stopping genocide in the Niger Delta, aiding a hurricane ravaged New Orleans (and where have all those zombies suddenly appeared from...?) and getting to the bottom of what caused a freak nuclear explosion in a small Texas town. The definition of ‘intervention’ will also be explored as Middle Eastern countries with-holding oil leads to armed confrontation.
While all this is happening, members of ‘The Committee’ will find out that life as a superhero isn’t as clear cut as it would first appear. Everyone is trying to use you for their own ends and this means that hard decisions will have to be made...

As a sequel to ‘Inside Straight’ it’s hard, in some respects, to judge ‘Busted Flush’ on its own merits and not to compare it to its predecessor. I found that I couldn’t avoid doing this and I ended up coming away with the feeling that ‘Busted Flush’ hadn’t quite met the high standards set by ‘Inside Straight’...
Whereas ‘Inside Straight’ came across as fairly tight plot wise (with one main plot and a couple of sub-plots driving the story), the plot for ‘Busted Flush’ branches out a lot more and I had problems with this. When several plot lines fit really tightly together it makes the one plot line that doesn’t stand out even more. This was very much the case with ‘Busted Flush’ where three plot lines worked really well together but one came across as only being in the book to introduce another ‘Ace’ for the next book. I can understand that not every mission is going to link with another but the fact that this one obviously didn’t at all made it feel a little... awkward when everything else dovetailed so perfectly.

There is no denying that super powers are a very cool thing, I’d be very surprised if anyone reading this wouldn’t want a superpower of their own (I know I would)! However, if you fill up a book with superheroes then you’ve got to be careful not to overdo it and end up with a book where the reader becomes blasé about all the amazing powers on display. I thought ‘Busted Flush’ fell down slightly here with what came across as a ‘How do we stop this super villain? Let’s introduce a hero who’s even more powerful!’ approach... Some of the tension was lost here as what we were left with were super powered confrontations so equally matched that they ended off in standoffs where not a lot actually happened... Thank goodness they tied off the ‘Little Fat Boy’ plotline when they did otherwise who knows what ultimately powerful Ace they would have had to introduce next!

Despite all this though, ‘Busted Flush’ is an enjoyable read where the plot races along and you are left with plenty to think about. Whereas ‘Inside Straight’ was all about the adrenaline burst and ‘feel good feeling’ of an impromptu mission successfully concluded, ‘Busted Flush’ is more about how repeated missions can become a ‘daily grind’ that gets you down. It’s interesting to see how certain Committee members react to the constant stress (Drummer Boy in particular) although perhaps certain others could have been examined a little more closely (Earth Witch who looked like she was in danger of burning out, it would have been interesting if the authors had decided to look at the dangers of overusing powers...)

Whereas ‘Inside Straight’ starts proceedings from a clean slate, ‘Busted Flush’ draws on the prior history of the ‘Wild Cards’ universe to flesh things out a bit. This is done gently, so as not to totally lose new readers, but I was left thinking that I would have got a bit more out of the book if I’d done some background reading beforehand...
The pace of the story doesn’t give you too much time to worry about this as the world seems to be in a constant state of crisis and ‘The Committee’ have their work cut out staying on top of it all. The machinations of various ‘covert agencies’ add an extra element of uncertainty to proceedings, especially when various characters don’t realise that they’re being used...
On top of all this, you have plenty of high octane ‘superhero smackdowns’ where things get very intense very quickly! The tension may not be there (as I mentioned earlier) but these events still make for one hell of a spectacle.

‘Busted Flush’ falls foul of the ‘difficult second album’ trap but still makes for a very entertaining read in the meantime. There’s plenty here for fans of the series to get into, I wasn’t so sure but there’s still enough here to leave me eager for the next book....

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

1 comment:

James B said...

Alright then I dares ya - what's the superpower that you want, then?

Ability to withstand work-induced tedium?
A heightened ability to ingest caffeine and Coca-cola?
The power to ignore dumb-ass questions at will? :)