Question about the Wild Cards novels.

I read a few of these a few years back. Thanks to another thread on them here, they came back to my mind, and yet another thread led me to a site with information on them.

My impression, from the ones I read way back then, was that the difference between Aces and Jokers was that the Aces got powers, while the Jokers simply got deformities.

But, that site listed several Jokers with fairly potent powers (eg: Bloat, The Oddity, and Herne), and a few Aces with distinct deformities (eg: Fortunado), so apparently I’m wrong.

So, what is the real difference? The type/extent of the deformities? The type/level of powers? Is it completely arbitrary when you have someone like Bloat or Herne?

Fortunado only had the bulging forehead after sex. It wasn’t permanent so I don’t classify him as “deformed”. I got the impression that aces had stronger powers while jokers had more extensive deformities and their powers weren’t as strong. Then along came Bloat, screwing up my perceptions. Disgustingly deformed and POW-ER-FUL. Even my SO tried to confuse me, using Peregrine. She’s a joker, he told me. She’s “deformed”, her wings can’t help her fly even though she thinks they can. She flies by telekinesis. Since her wings are permanent, however, she is a joker. One of the better looking ones, if you go by some of the descriptions, but still a joker.

All I really know is that it sucks they end at #12. Yeah, there are three more after in a new series but it’s just not the same.

As a proud card-carrying member of the Professional Sci-Fi Geeks of Earth (ok I just made that up) I feel qualified to answer your question.

However, to do so, I think it’s best to simply describe the premise; in doing so, I think the answer shall become clear.

Ok, so, dateline: Earth, sometime in the mid 1940’s. A human-looking alien who just dresses REALLY flamboyantly shows up out of nowhere telling folks that the world is about to be destroyed. Nobody, of course, believes a word of it.

Turns out his home planet has been working on a virus for reasons irrelevant to this discussion, and needed some ‘guinea pigs’ to test it on. Since they were virtually identical to humans, biologically speaking, Earth was the logical target. Hey, come on, it’s a big universe… it could happen! q;}

Anyway, the flashy dresser from paragraph three there decides this ain’t right, and tries to warn us. Too late, the virus is on it’s way… and then BOOM, the delivery device explodes over New York City, and the spores drift on the breeze. NY gets hit hardest, of course, but the jet stream and such carry spores all over earth.

The kicker is what the spores do, and I’m rather drastically oversimplifying this: They alter the DNA of the host/victim, seeking out the person’s deepest subconscious desires, and then ‘twisting’ their DNA in an effort to bring those desires to a reality.

Yeah, right.

Makes for a good story tho.

So, for example, there was a little kid who just LOVED dinosaurs (what little boy doesn’t?). When he got hit by spores, they picked up on that, and he got the superhero power to turn into a dinosaur. They called him “Kid Dinosaur”… because unfortunately, his mass remained the same. The amount of matter used to make a 12-year-old boy makes for a VERY small dinosaur, but he did it anyway.

Or to use my personal favorite of your examples there, Fortunato was all into tantric sex. When the virus hit him, he got all these sex-related superpowers… which he has to ‘charge up’ with a nice round of shaggin’ if he wants to go fight evil. And the big swollen forehead, which made it pretty obvious he wasn’t ‘normal’… but didn’t affect him much otherwise, so they called him an “Ace”.

The downside, of course, was those people who subconsciously hated themselves. These are the folks who turned into squids and piles of slime and hideous deformed things… the ‘jokers’.

The books described the results being something like: Of those people who were infected with the virus, 90% died; suddenly mutating into a methane-breathing creature, right there in the city, pretty much guarantees you’re not gonna make it. Of those who survived, 90% became ‘jokers’, with ‘hideous deformities’… these are the people with, say, a third arm growing out of their forehead. Not all that useful, but ugly, and not life-threatening. That leaves 10% of 10%, or 1% of those infected, who became “Aces”… a combination of minimal or no obvious deformities, and some useful power.

And even among those, there was some crossover.

Personally I really loved this series, and steal concepts from it all the time for my own use. q;}

Hope that answered yer question.

My impression from the books is that Joker-ness or Ace-ness is really just a matter of perception. The most telling example, as I recall, was Peregrine. Peregrine grew giant bird-like wings, which technically makes her a Joker. But, because she’s a beautiful woman with a great PR department (and because the wings give her the useful ability to fly), she’s generally considered an Ace.

So, as far as I can tell, there’s no clear line. It’s more a matter of how you promote yourself. Unless, of course, your deformity is truly extreme and hideous and comes with no benefits.

Thanks, guys. So ‘arbitrary unless obvious’ it is. (And I’d forgotten Fortunado’s forehead was not permanent.)

And Peregrin always tripped me up, too.

I really need to find those books again.

Wait a minute and I’m going by memory. There was a story concerning the kid whose powers changed whenever he slept. Going from Joker to Ace and back again. In one story he becomes contagious and re-infects whomever he comes into contact with…Aces change in Jokers and visa-versa or they died.

I remember “snot-man” changing into a guy who had the power to reflect back other powers and the guy who created the robot changed into a plant creature and lots of other characters just died…such as the dwarf and the woman who killed Screamer.

Now I suppose one could say that those characters did have a sense of self-loathing and the re-infection finished them off, but I remember the dwarf as a hero and it certainly doesn’t explain what happened to snot-man; a true joker. In theory the re-infection should have finished him off, but instead gave him a new lease on life.

Just an observation…

You remember Gimli as a hero? … OK, I’m done being shocked. The reinfection was just as if it was a new infection. Most died, most of the survivors became jokers, the rest aces. IIRC, the Sleeper’s name was Croyd, and sometimes when he awoke, he just went back to sleep - he had no useful powers. I didn’t interpret at all the reinfection as being a smiting of the self-loathing; it was new with varying results, mostly bad but some good.

To the OP, I’m going to agree with Max Torque, the difference between jokers and aces was simply perception.

And I should say that I don’t have the books to refer to. Somewhere about 9 or 10 I developed a bad case of ennui towards them, and gave them (along with some other books) to a friend of mine. There’s this guy in Maryland, that, well, if his house gets broken into, and the only thing missing is a limited number of science fiction books?.. well, I don’t know who did it.

If I recall correctly Dylan “Herne” Hardesty isn’t entirely a joker; he only adopts his Herne aspect at night.

As to the rest: there’s a sort of middle ground, the joker-aces. Some aces have minor joker manifestations like Peregrine’s wings or Pesticide’s eyes, skin and antennae - Croyd says at one point that he often winds up with them after a change - but are still essentially shaped like people. This differentiates them from the likes of Troll, who despite his ace-level strength and toughness is still a joker because he’s been completely deformed.

I think the difference is that an ace has powers which are not a function of their physical form. Anyone with big enough wings and light enough bones can fly, for example, but only an ace can do so without those things.

It was established that the disease is partly psionic in nature; it can pick up on its hosts’ thoughts and desires, and act on them.

So the “trigger” would seem to be dependent on several factors:

  1. Moment of viral activation. The Wild Card virus, like lots of other viruses, inhabits a protein sheath, and only becomes active when outside that sheath. In short, you can inhale the “spores” and carry them around with you for quite some time before they activate, yes? This can be vital when you take the next thing into account…

  2. Thoughts/feelings at point of viral activation. It is established that at the moment of Kid Dinosaur’s viral activation, he was thoroughly indulging himself in his dinosaur obsession, reading about them, playing with toy dinos, etc. What might have happened if the virus triggered while he was depressed? Or was getting the snot beat out of him by a schoolyard bully? Or watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon? (I’ve often wondered about this in relation to the joker called Peanut, who seems, in the description of him, to VERY much resemble the Planters Peanuts mascot, Mr. Peanut…)

  3. Random Chance. 90% of the people infected die. Period. Some undergo catastrophic joker/ace abilities that end up being fatal (the Burning Woman being a fine example), and others simply croak. In short, there’s a ninety percent chance that when the virus jumps, you die… and another nine percent chance that you WON’T die, but will develop something fairly useless. One of the Turtle’s old school friends confesses that she developed the virus… but survived, and never showed ANY symptoms or powers. Others, like Crabcakes or Snotman… well… the less said about them, the better.

As to the difference between Jokers and Aces… well… it seems that society is more apt to make that distinction than the disease is. Peregrine, despite being… basically… a freak, is a celebrity, a well-known Ace, and the toast of the town. Troll, on the other hand, despite tremendous strength and bulletproof hide, is a Joker… because he’s eight feet tall, green, and warty.

Much of this is made in speculation about the Turtle, whom the Jokers claim as their own. Why else would a telekinetic fly around in a steel shell the size of a Buick, except to hide his deformities? Over time, he winds up being regarded as a “Joker Ace,” a Joker with powers he uses on society’s behalf, despite being rejected by society (which is particularly ironic when you consider the fact that the Turtle isn’t actually a Joker!)

The disease doesn’t make the call. We do.