Short Story Review: Discards by David D. Levine

discards_fullI didn’t have a review copy of a book that was coming out this week, so I needed to find something to read and review. That being said, Wild Cards is (hopefully) coming to television, the Olympics are currently happening in Brazil and David D. Levine’s novel, Arabella of Mars, came out last month. So I asked myself: why not review the Tor original: “Discards“?

For those who don’t know, Wild Cards is a shared universe edited primarily by George RR Martin of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fame. In 1946, an alien virus is unleashed over New York City, killing many, turning some into hideous freaks (known as “Jokers”) and giving just a lucky few useful superpowers (who are known as “Aces”). Its a realistic take on the superhero genre, like Watchmen, told through anthologies and mosaic novels.

“Discards” is the story of Tiago Gonçalves, a poor Brazilian teen who lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and picks through the landfill to find recyclables to sell. After recovering from an intense fever, he discovers he has caught the Wild Cards virus and his skin is now a patchwork of different skin colors, making him a joker. Thrown out of his home, he heads to the ghetto in Rio where the Jokers live, but finds himself on the street again when he refuses to work for the drug lords who dominate the city. While trying to survive, he learns that he has the power to draw organic material to himself. He quickly becomes one of the most efficient thieves in Rio, but when he decides to steal a rare strain of cocaine, he touches off a gang war that could get himself and many others killed.

I won’t give too much of the plot away because this is a short story, but I enjoyed “Discards”. Most of the Wild Cards stories I have read so far are set no later than the 1980s and the story had some modern references that I liked, such as a reality TV show for Aces. I also appreciated how Levine played with my expectations and took the story in different directions than those I expected. Plus, given a lot of the news that has come out ahead of the Olympics about the corruption, poverty and pollution in Brazil, I thought Levine did a good job capturing the less pleasant side of this year’s host country.

Admittedly this reminded me of a lot of the Wild Cards origin stories I have read so far. Tiago didn’t go out immediately and start saving lives with his powers (and will probably never entirely be committed to doing so). In fact, his first actions upon learning of his powers, even in our timeline, are completely criminal, which is par for a lot of Wild Cards origin stories. Admittedly, this does not make the story bad per se, but it was certainly a familiar formula. Granted it’s a formula I like, so why fix something that isn’t broken?

If you know nothing about the Wild Cards universe, “Discards” by David D. Levine is a good place to start (for one thing, it’s free). Check it out and then pick up a copy Wild Cards’ first volume. There is plenty of time before the adaptation gets made (if it ever does).

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