cover image Texas Hold’em

Texas Hold’em

Edited by George R.R. Martin. Tor, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9059-2

This 26th Wild Cards collaboration (following 2018’s Low Chicago) keeps the stakes low and the conflicts personal. In 1946, the release of the alien “wild card” virus transformed the world, killing most of its victims while transforming the survivors into superpowered aces and disfigured jokers. This entry focuses on the teen musicians of the Xavier Desmond High School Jazz Band, aka the Jokertown Mob, as they travel to San Antonio, Tex., for a competition. Several stories possess YA crossover appeal, with David Anthony Durham’s “Drop City” and Diana Rowland’s “Beats, Bugs, and Boys” featuring the teen protagonists as they tackle anti-joker bias, relationship drama, inter-band rivalries, and sabotaged performances. Meanwhile, their adult chaperones have their own problems: Caroline Spector’s “Bubbles and the Band Trip” and Max Gladstone’s “The Secret Life of Rubberband” see their heroes hunting ghosts and confronting religious bigots, while the late Victor Milán’s “Dust and the Darkness” deals with a detective hired to retrieve a missing musician. Overall, this collection feels less intense than previous volumes, with more comedic undertones to balance the seriousness, and less darkness in general. With its ensemble cast of returning favorites and intriguing newcomers, it’s a welcome change of pace, a satisfying palate cleanser before the series begins its next big arc. (Nov.)