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I was given a copy of Wild Cards: Deuces Down recently as a gift. I don't think the person who gave it to me realized it was book 16 of a series (according to WildCards Online).

My question is this: Does the Wild Cards series need to be read in order? I was under the impression that it was more of a shared universe, with little connection between books.

Is this the case, or will reading this book before any of the others spoil other books for me? Will I find myself missing important plot points or not understanding what's going on?

In short, is there a suggested or recommended order for reading these, or can they be read (and fully comprehended/understood) in any order?

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Well, I only got thru the first 6 or 8 before I couldn't find the rest, but what I recall is that:

  • Yes; it's a shared world -- multiple authors wrote mostly independent stories
  • MOSTLY independent is the key word -- I'm not sure how they did it, but I got the feel of more of the sequential writing trick, where each writes a story, gives it to the next, who writes their own story (possibly related, possibly not) and passes it on.
  • Although many characters get killed off, quite a few last thru many of the books; each story CAN be read independently, but they make a lot more sense if you know the characters history. Character history, development, etc., all factor in.
  • The early stories seem based on alternate US history; it's not the same as ours, so knowing it will make some references easier to understand.
  • I haven't read them, but I think I remember the later books starting a new cycle/generation, making them a bit more independent of the earlier ones.

That being said, yeah, you CAN pick it up anywhere, and most stories give at least enough backstory and background to be read by themselves, but I would still suggest starting at the beginning, if you can.

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I've read the entire series, and I highly recommend reading them all in order! It's a shared world in the sense that each book is written by multiple authors. However, each book still builds upon the previous one. If you read out of order you're likely to not understand as well, feel less connected to the characters and trip over spoilers.

However, if you must read the books piecemeal, it's useful to know that the stories do tend to have a break in continuity whenever the series changed publisher. See the Wild Cards Wikipedia page for the full list of books by publisher.

So the first twelve books published by Bantam evolve continuously and have a lot of shared characters, with plots often spanning over several books. It starts with the Astronomer and finishes with Bloat and the Jumpers as far as I recall.

The next three published by Baen are hard to find, but worth reading. They form a 3-book plot about the Black Trump.

The ibooks pair of books I don't remember so well, but I think it was the John Fortune plotline. These two books stand together.

Finally, Tor rebooted the series with the American Hero plotline, with the last book in this series being High Stakes and more books planned.

I hope that helps!

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