Monday, November 4, 2019

Naked, Stoned, and Stabbed, by Bradley Denton

★★★★★ Exciting, Moving, and an Homage to the Music of The Who

(Superhero Thriller; Wild Cards) In an alternate 2018, A teenage roadie at a Who concert risks his life by using his sonic ability to try to save lives when a fire engulfs the building. (16,860 words; Time: 56m)

This is set in the Wild Cards universe, which diverged from ours in 1946, but to appreciate this story you really only need to be familiar with the premise (i.e. you need to know what “Jokers,” “Aces,” and “Nats” are). If you’re not already a Who fan, I strongly suggest listening to “Bargain,” by The Who while following along with the lyrics before reading the story.

"," by (edited by George R.R. Martin), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.594 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Seventeen-year-old Freddie “Amplifier” Fullerton is a roadie for the rock band The Who, still playing even though they’re in their 70s. Freddie has a gift, courtesy of the Wild Card Virus: when he receives a physical injury, he blasts it back out his mouth as a hugely amplified sound wave. The process leaves him with some residual damage, and he can really hurt himself if he tries to stifle the sonic blast, so it’s not clear just how safe his ability really is at high levels, although he routinely uses it at low levels to enhance the concerts. (I.e. he generates an unamplified scream for “Won’t Be Fooled Again” by The Who.)

During an engagement in New York City, a fire breaks out in the concert, and although the band can escape out the back, most of the audience is trapped, so Freddie decides to try to use his ability to blow holes in the walls so people can escape. It’s not enough by itself, but working in concert with other Jokers and Aces, particularly Bubbles, Morpho Girl, and Segway. In the process, he discovers this was arson, part of a plot to incite Nats (people without super powers) to kill Jokers (people deformed by the Wild Card virus).

The story develops Freddie into a sensitive, caring person who really wants to help people, even at cost to himself. Freddie earns his superpowers, and we root for him without reservation.

But the action-packed task of saving the crowd is only part of Freddie’s challenge: Bubbles is his half-sister, even though they’ve never met, and he simultaneously hungers to meet her and fears she’d just reject him. (He’s mixed-race, grew up poor, etc.) Even after working with Bubbles and her daughter, he’s still too shy to let them know who he really is; Bubbles figures it out, and, to her credit, embraces him as part of her family. So ultimately Freddie earns his new family too.

Readers following the series will be interested to see more of Bubbles and Morpho Girl. In particular, they won’t be surprised that Bubbles has anger issues.

Con: Although this story is probably as good a way as any to get into the series, to really be up on everything, you need to read a few million words of Wild Cards stories.

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Bradley Denton Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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