From the #1 New York Times bestseller, the third of a new generation of Wild Cards tales.
“Delicious...Everything I'd hoped for in a new Wild Cards book. The character interactions and plot twists have exactly the complexity, surprise, and unsentimental realism I'd expect out of a George R. R. Martin project.” Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible, on Inside Straight
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A Wild Cards Mosaic Novel
By George R. R. Martin
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 George R. R. Martin and The Wild Cards Trust
All rights reserved.
Thursday, November 26
Guit District The Sudd, Sudan The Caliphate of Arabia
From way up here it was all so clear.
Over here on the left were the Simba Brigades, the armed forces of the People's Paradise of Africa. They had foolishly deployed in an area, a couple square miles in extent, which were among the very few in the southern Sudanese papyrus swamp called the Sudd. They had armor, glittering dully in the sullen southern Sudan morning sun, dug in by bulldozers and concealed in clumps of brush and stands of trees: mostly Indian Vijayanta tanks and British-made Nigerian Mark IIIs, which were almost the same thing. They were enhanced unevenly by upgrades provided by the PPA's Chinese patrons.
Dug in alongside them were armored cars, light tanks, and several thousand mechanized infantry. They were long-term veterans of the war that had liberated and unified Central Africa, leavened by Nigerians trained to a fare-thee-well. Advised by Indian army officers, they had made a stab at catching their enemies debarking from the evanescent and nameless tributary or strand of the Nile onto ground where they could maneuver. Now with small arms and rockets they fought a desperate battle against superior numbers of Caliphate tanks and men.
Tank main guns cracked like thunder. Rockets sprang away, drawing lines of cottony white smoke behind them that settled and dissipated slowly in air so humid and heavy the flying man almost felt he could walk on it. Vehicles blossomed in sudden fire, the ripples of their fatal detonations propagating outward, the shock waves punching at the bare pale skin of the man's face. On columns of black smoke and red fire the smell of fuel combusting mounted upward, momentarily overcoming the hot reek of vegetation rotting in the endless swamps, the acrid stink of spent propellant giving way to the deceptive barbecue aroma of burning human flesh.
Up here was too high to hear the screams. Not that they carried far under the colossal head-crushing din of modern war.
The Caliphate forces rolled forward from barges guarded by Russian-made armored riverboats flying green banners that stirred like the shit-brown surface of the river in a sluggish breeze. Their fighting vehicles were mostly Russian made. Flat T-72s and a few more modern T-90s led the wave. Following came Echelons of BMP-2 and -3 personnel carriers with 30-millimeter machine cannon snarling from their turrets and laser-guided antitank missiles leaping away from rails mounted on the low turrets.
After the PPA's initial shatter of success, superior Caliphate numbers began to tell. Betrayed by their own fire, defending tanks and rocket nests were rapidly destroyed in turn. Adopting the classic Muslim crescent fighting formation, the attacking armor winged out to either side to envelop their foes. Then their infantry could dismount from the BMPs and dig them out and kill them. Despite spiking casualties the PPA's camouflage-clad black veterans held tenaciously and fought.
Up above the world so high, skimming in and out of a cloud in the sky, the man didn't much care if he was seen or not. It would be better if he wasn't, of course; it'd make for a better surprise. Not that surprise mattered. Not in the military sense. The people like ants down there on the green and murk-brown ground couldn't change what was about to happen.
But nobody looked. In a world where flying humans weren't unknown, they still weren't anything anybody, y'know, expected to see.
A roaring filled the sky, growing in the north. He heard it even above the anvils-of-the-gods racket of modern war. Looking around, the flying man saw two spots appear in the blue sky, just above the flat swamp horizon.
"My turn," he told the wind aloud. He dove.
They flashed past on his right: two Russian-made ground-attack SU-25s, as squat and unlovely as their NATO nickname of "Frogfoot." The PPA fighters, always deficient in combat aircraft — expensive to buy, crew, and maintain — had little answer except man-portable surface-to-air missiles, already arcing up from below and already chasing the dazzling foolish fires of the flares the Caliph's pilots seeded behind them. Even a single pair of attack planes, with Gatling cannon, antitank rockets, and armor-piercing bombs, could torch tanks like a kid with a magnifying glass plus ants.
Except just before they passed him by the man flung his right arm out. A white beam flashed from his palm that made the flares look dim. It punched a neat hole through both aircraft.
They stumbled in yellow flames as fuel and munitions blew up, and fell like disgraced stars.
It was a Sign. A beat after the planes exploded a darkness came upon the land. Like a wave it mounted and rolled forward, across the overmatched PPA defenses toward the triumphantly advancing Muslim army.
The flying man laughed again. He imagined the green-flagged enemy below: confidence faltering, turning quickly to sheer existential terror. It must seem to them that their Allah had forsaken them in spades.
But the liberators hadn't won the battle. Not yet. Their night-vision gear was as helpless in this unnatural Dark as the Caliphate's. All the enemy need do was roll forward blind and they'd smash the defenders to jam in their holes. Time for Leucrotta to do his thing. And, of course, the flying man, who swatted multimillion-dollar aircraft like mosquitoes.
It was good to be an ace. And more: an ace with nearly the powers of a god. A god of retribution. A god of Revolution.
He was the Radical. And it was cool to be him.
Into the Darkness he dropped. It clutched him like the fingers of a man drowned in some cold ocean, enwrapped him in fog blacker than a banker's heart. But he could see: the girl had touched his eyes with her cool slim fingers. It was like threaded twilight that leached away all colors. To announce his advent he loosed a sunbeam, another. Two of the leading T-90s flared up in response. The turret of one rose up ten feet on a geyser of white fire as its ammo stores exploded. The massive turret dropped back, not entirely in place, so that the red glare of the hell unleashed within shown clearly even to eyes blinded by the Dark.
The Caliphate tankers were totally freaking. Most had stopped when they quit being able to see outside their armored monstrosities. Others continued to plunge on, crashing into each other or crushing smaller AFVs like roaches. A T-72 fired its main gun, torching a brother tank forty feet ahead. Despite the poison smoke that threatened to choke him, Tom threw back his golden head and laughed.
In terror Arab and Sudanese troops began to spill out of their personnel carriers. Some fell as more Caliphate gunners panicked and cut loose with machine guns. More tanks shot blindly. Others flared up like monster firework fountains.
Rockets buzzed past from behind him. The Darkness had walked among the front-line antitank pits and picked tanks and anointed their crews, too. They could see to slaughter blind foes.
Tom looked back toward the PPA lines. Through the murk surged a big four-footed form, a slope-backed high-shouldered avalanche of spotted fur and massive muscles. Saliva streamed from huge black jaws. It was a spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta. But not a normal animal: a giant, four feet high at the shoulders and four hundred pounds easy. It was a were, a shape-shifter. The third ace the PPA had brought to the battle.
Behind it ran a dozen naked men. Even as Tom watched, their dark, sweat-glistening bodies began to flow and change. They became leopards, four melanistic, the rest tawny and spotted.
No aces, these. The innermost circle of the mystic Leopard Society, who had in horrific secret rituals accepted the bite of Alicia Nshombo. Even their fellow Leopard Men — the PPA's shock troops and secret police — feared them.
The snarl of a twelve-cylinder diesel filled Tom's ears, driving out even the near continuous explosions. He sprang upward. For a moment he hung in orbit. The stars shone down. He lingered a heartbeat, enough to feel the sting of the naked sun and the pressing of his eyeballs and blood outward against the vacuum. He didn't explode in vacuum: no one did. It was just a single atmosphere's difference in pressure: deal.
Then he was back, hovering two meters above a T-90 whose driver had decided or been ordered to charge straight ahead toward the infidels, in hopes of escaping the blackness, or at least getting to grips with the foe. Heat belching from the topside vents of the 1,100-horsepower engine enveloped him like dragon's breath. He dropped to the deck behind the turret.
Squatting, Tom gripped. Grunting, he stood. He dead lifted the heavy turret right out of its ring. Spinning in place, he hurled it like a colossal discus toward a nearby T-72. It struck the side of its turret. A violent white flash momentarily obscured both as ammo stowed in both turrets went off.
Tom dropped to the ground on the first tank's far side. Still massive despite the loss of turret and gun, it heeled perceptibly toward him as the blast fronts from multiple explosions slammed into it. High-velocity fragments cracked like bullets overhead.
The driver's hatch fell open with a ring as the last remaining crewman sought to abandon ship. Suddenly a giant bristling shape hunched on the truncated tank's low-sloped bow armor plate. Sensing danger the driver, half out of his hatch, froze.
Then he screamed as Leucrotta's immense jaws slammed shut with a terrible crunch, biting the driver's face off the front of his skull.
Tom took in the situation. The whole Caliphate armored force milled in utter confusion. At least the parts that weren't burning. Leucrotta and the were-leopards ran freely and killed dismounted soldiers like rabbits. The Darkness-touched PPA gunners continued to pour fire and steel into their enemies. The whole Muslim army was finished as a coherent force; it was now a stampede seeking in all directions for an exit.
All that remained was to slaughter everything in reach. Tom Weathers really liked that part.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Michelle is lying on a beach letting the sun bake her.
The outline of a boy blocks out the sun. "Who are you?" she asks.
He opens his mouth, but words don't come out. Light and fire spew forth.
Michelle wants to run away, but she knows she can't escape. Fire and light and power surge into her. Her body expands, opening to the overwhelming force. The power goes on and on and then the weight is crushing her, bearing her down into the ground. The earth groans beneath her. And the power inside her is thick, overwhelming, brutal. It's running through her veins. It wants out.
It wants to bubble.
Just as she feels the bubbles start to flow, she hears Juliet.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this," Juliet says. She's sitting on the edge of the bed petting a small rabbit.
When did we end up in bed? Michelle wonders. And where did the bunny come from?
"Ink, you don't have to fucking be here all the time," says Joey. Joey is sitting on the other side of Michelle. A cold worm burrows into her stomach. Does Juliet know about that night with Joey in the hurricane?
"What else can I do?" A tear rolls down Juliet's cheek and Michelle reaches out to wipe it away. But her hand comes in contact not with Juliet's warm face, but with cold, rubbery flesh.
She jerks her hand back, but it connects with more dead skin.
"Jesus," she says. But Jesus isn't here. It's just her alone.
It's dark, but not impenetrable darkness. She's lying inside a tangle of corpses piled up on one another.
Is this another Behatu camp nightmare? But it doesn't feel right. The colors are wrong. The light is off. And, it smells. It smells like rotting flesh. She's never had a sense of smell in a dream before.
Michelle tries to turn over, but she can't feel her legs. Her arms are useless weight, too. The light filtering through the dead limbs around her is greenish. And the air is thick and humid.
Panic begins to crawl into her throat. She's alive, but no one knows it. No one knows she's here. "Help me!" she screams.
"You know, we're her parents, and if we say she's dead, she's dead." Mommy? What was she doing here?
"You people are even worse than Michelle said you were." What was Ink saying? Now they were all sitting on the bed in Juliet and Michelle's apartment. The sheets were a pretty floral pattern that Michelle bought because Ink liked flowers.
"I don't care if you and Michelle are involved in some sickening relationship," Daddy said. "We have rights."
"The fuck you do," said Hoodoo Mama.
Oh, God, Michelle thought. Joey will kill them.
"Best as I can tell, you fuckers have no cocksucking rights regarding Bubbles here 't'all. Selfish pieces of sticky brown ..."
"Joey!" Ink again.
"My goodness," her mother says. How could her mother's voice send a knife of pain through Michelle while at the same time she still wanted to curl up in her mother's arms?
But her mother is gone now. Michelle is back in the pile of bodies. Down in the twilight of dead flesh.
"Help me," she whispers.
A spider slides down a fine silk filament and dangles in front of her. It puts its front legs under its chin and studies her. Then it points up. Michelle rolls awkwardly onto her back to look in the direction its foot is pointing.
Peering over the edge of the pit is a leopard. Its eyes glow phosphorescent yellow. Cold sweat breaks out on Michelle's brow. Her fear is coppery in her mouth. Another leopard joins the first. Soon the entire edge of the pit is rimmed with them.
The leopards exchange glances, occasionally yawning, revealing sharp, ivory-colored teeth. Then they begin to growl. Low guttural sounds like they're talking to each other.
Her heart is pounding. They must know she's down here. They must know she's alive. They must smell the fear on her. She can smell it herself now, along with the heavy feral odor of the cats. Tears burn her eyes. She tries to blink them away, but they slip out and slide down her cheeks, leaving an itchy trail.
What the hell? Michelle thinks. I'm the Amazing Bubbles. I don't lie in a pit crying because some damn leopards are looking at me like I'm lunch. They can't do anything to me.
And she tries to bubble, but she can't. No hands, she thinks. If I had hands, I could bubble.
"You're not so fucking special, Michelle," Joey says. "And zombies are not disgusting."
Michelle looks down at herself. She's turned a greyish color and her clothes are in tatters. Black mold is growing on her skin. She holds her hand up in front of her face. At least now she has a hand. Bones peek out between the rotted parts of her fingers.
"This is so wrong," she says.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Jerusha Carter gazed Out over a mile-wide expanse of open water. White egrets floated overhead like quick, noisy clouds; blue herons waded in the nearby shallows, and an alligator's tail sluiced through the brackish water not far from her boat.
The scene wasn't entirely idyllic; the sun was merciless, drawing wet circles under her armpits and beading her forehead. Midges, mosquitoes, and huge black flies tormented her. The muck had managed to overtop her high boots and slither down both legs. A storm front was coming in from the Gulf: thunderheads white above and slate grey below piled on the horizon, and the mutter of distant thunder grumbled in the afternoon heat.
The Barataria Basin was a marsh south of the city of New Orleans, one of the several such natural buffers for the city and St. Bernard Parish in the event of a hurricane. It was Jerusha's job to help restore it. Once, she'd been told, before the levees had been built, this entire area had been marshland, not a lake. Since the 1930s, the area around New Orleans had lost two thousand square miles of coastal wetlands. According to the experts who had briefed Jerusha, for every 2.7 miles of wetland, hurricane storm surge could be reduced by one foot. Therefore, to protect the city from future disasters, it was vital that the wetlands be restored.
Excerpted from Suicide Kings by George R. R. Martin. Copyright © 2009 George R. R. Martin and The Wild Cards Trust. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
George R.R. Martin is the author of the acclaimed, internationally bestselling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, adapted into the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. He is also the editor and contributor to the Wild Cards series, including the novels Suicide Kings and Fort Freak, among other bestsellers. He has won multiple science fiction and fantasy awards, including four Hugos, two Nebulas, six Locus Awards, the Bram Stoker, the World Fantasy Award, the Daedelus, the Balrog, and the Daikon (the Japanese Hugo). Martin has been writing ever since he was a child, when he sold monster stories to neighborhood children for pennies, and then in high school he wrote fiction for comic fanzines. His first professional sale was to Galaxy magazine, when he was 21. He has been a full-time writer since 1979. Martin has bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
- Santa Fe, NM
- Date of Birth:
- September 20, 1948
- Place of Birth:
- Bayonne, NJ
- B.S., Northwestern University, 1970; M.S., Northwestern University, 1971
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Suicide king was a little different than the rest of the books in this series. What makes these books great is the multitude of different stories in each book. This book focuses mainly on redemption. Washing the characters hands of there past. 3 of my favorite charachter in the new series are followed thru the book. Lilith, Rustbelt and Bubbles as the try to shuffle the cards of there lives. Some of the books in this series go so far into politics and the rules of the world as to make the stories mundane. This book really didn't. It took a break from most of the main storyline which I thought was refreshing. This book still holds true to the Wild card series but gives you this idea. Heroes don't always kill the bad guy. Sometimes they kill the bad guy and everyone around the bad guy. It took the idea of PTSD and gave it a super hero tilt. What do they do after the smoke clears? What do they do after the fights over?
All the characters you have grown attached to and a good story that takes you on a great ride. Very good effort from all the authors!
I started reading this series in the early 90's and this book is a outstanding read. This series is one of my favorite book collections. I believe this book is one of the best of the recent books.
Suicide Kings By George R.R. Martin A great piece of editing Magic… Melinda Snodgrass I bow to your ability to seamlessly blend the story. As a Mosaic novel, many who look into the series may wonder that this book has so many authors. It is due to the dedication of the authors, the commitment to the consortium rules and ideals that create a seamless piece. Even knowing the various authors for a while I could not pull out any individual writing style… Suicide Kings is the final third in the trilogy of the Wild Card version of American Hero. The book shows the final development of the new batch of characters, and through growth, sacrifice and loss have learned to live beyond the bounds of their Wild Card gifts and abilities or liabilities. The book in general is a dark story looking into child soldiers in Africa and the destruction of society within by corrupt and ruthless rulers. The Wild Card virus again has been put to its original use, as a weapon, inflicted on hapless children of war torn Africa for the twisted policies of corrupt and destructive leaders. Mark Meadows (Tom Weathers) is a key feature in the story. Looking through his eyes at the destruction that his desires and dreams caused and inflicted on millions around the world shows how the ideals of changing the system, may be corrupted by the excess of human need. His path from innocent idealist, to heartbreaking helplessness shows how ideals can be overdone, and bring destruction in their zeal. Michelle Pond (Amazing Bubbles) recovers from her heroic sacrifice to stave New Orleans from a nuclear bomb. What brings her back is the dream of the destruction and violence of child soldiers in Africa. Her powers are put to the test when facing Tom Weathers, and the last of the “friends”. Wally Gunderson (Rustbelt) is an idealistic hero, he would strive beyond his capacity to move stand or fight for someone else. The book looks at his quest to find balance with his selfless nature, and learning to love others. It is the final development of his character. Jonathan Tipton-Clarke (Bugsy) one of the first American hero characters learns to let go of the past, by learning to risk what he has for something better. He learns the value of the past to teach us, but also the value of letting go those ties that bind us. There are many more sub-plots and stories that could be used as discussion pieces in the Wild Card fan club for years. A great book, congratulations for continuing this remarkable series, and inspiring so many to the broad scope of human nature, and possibility.
The People's Paradise of Africa (PPA) and Caliphate of Arabia meet in a battle that will determine whose vision of despotic rule in Africa will dominate. Whereas Prince Siraj has the superior military, the PPA leaders, siblings Dr. Nshombo and Alicia, own the Wild Aces though one key Wild Card Tom "Radical" Weathers increasingly is losing mental control of right from wrong. Even after his side wins the fight, the Radical gleefully continues his slaughter of enemy soldiers. Nshombo and Alicia believe they must eliminate Radical , who has gone insane with a berserker blood craving. In the United States, Wally "Rustbelt" Gunderson worries about his friend Lucien being caught up in the war. He begs Jerusha "Gardener" Carter to accompany him when he sneaks into the war zone to rescue Lucien. At the same time Michelle "Amazing Bubbles" LaFleur comes out of her coma with help from a dream girl needing help to escape from a mass grave. Michelle and zombie Hoodoo Mama travel to Africa to rescue the dream girl who may not be real. As Prince Siraj blackmails Noel "Double Helix" Matthews to help him with a counter attack; the Wild Aces converge in Africa for a final confrontation. The latest collaboration (see Busted Flushes and Inside Straight) is a royal flush in international fantasy that grips readers from the opening war in the Sudan until the final climax occurs. Much more than just what is described above happens in the action-packed thriller as the authors somehow keep their cast of a zillion superheroes and supervillains unique from one another. Fans will believe George R.R. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass and the other contributors have dealt the audience a royal flush straight with this terrific look at those with extraordinary powers, who for the most part want acceptance not fear from the NT (like a combo Watchmen and X-Men). Harriet Klausner
Does this mean that George Martin has the audacity to publish another new book before he finishes the Ice and Fire Series which has been hanging fire for years now?