By Matteo Barbagallo
When GRRM gave me the opportunity to write an article for this blog, three different moods appeared on my face in the span of 5 minutes: pride, panic, and pressure. I call them the three P’s of despair (these 3 P’s will be also my justification for the length of this article. Follow me until the end of it and you will see why). As a consequence of that, I noted down the wrong submission date with a 10-day delay. I was lucky enough, or Fortunato as we would say in Italy, to have already written a longer essay on Wild Cards and the element of desire within the series.
When Valentine’s day arrived, I thought it was the perfect chance to start editing it for the blog. However, the more I started cutting it into shorter pieces, the harder I was wondering what kind of novelty and bright points a man of academia like me could bring into this den of literature titans. So, I decided to do what I can do best: show you, through literature, how many Wild Cards characters seem to follow the path of some of the greatest stories in the history of mankind, in being driven by sexuality in a broader sense and how that desire has worked as a double-edged sword for most of those who have experienced it.
I will not make a list of all the works in which sexuality has played the leading role, but I will definitely mention one which can easily become a first example of this point: The Iliad. For those who might have not read it nor heard of it, this epic poem written by Homer almost 3000 years ago, narrates the famous events of the War of Troy at the end of which heroes like Achilles, Patroclus and Hector tragically meet their ends. Why does this happen, however? The reason is simple: one young prince’s sexual drive. Paris, prince of Troy, after having elected Aphrodite the most beautiful goddess in the Pantheon, receives as a gift from her the love of the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen. What Aphrodite did not mention was that Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. Needless to say, when Menelaus found out that his wife had been kidnapped, the biggest war in the history of Greek literature was born. For the desire of a single man, thousands died.
This is just one among many examples that could be made, from Romeo and Juliet to The Great Gatsby, from the Divine Comedy to Spiderman (yes, Spiderman is indeed part of what we can call great literature), in which desire is nothing less than a highway to hell. It was indeed Shakespeare who wrote in Romeo and Juliet “These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey is loathsome in his own deliciousness and in the taste confounds the appetite.”
What, however, does desire, or the virus itself, create in Wild Cards?
Opposites. Life and Death.
Like in the works that I have just mentioned, many characters in Wild Cards, whether them being aces, jokers, deuces or nats, find out how much their power comes at a big cost. I call this group of people “those who have drawn the sexy queen” because those powers they have discovered living within themselves become the ultimate cause of their tragic ends. This is indeed the fate that some like Fortunato and Loophole/Prime follow in their stories. I would like to focus on the first one’s arc for this short piece just because his life and death are completely revolving around sexual powers.
Fortunato, a “manager of geishas” whom we first encounter in Wild Cards I through the pen of Lewis Shiner, is according to Dr. Tachyon is the strongest ace in the world. When he turns 29, Fortunato discovers that through tantric sex he can acquire immense powers, from psionic to psychic abilities. Through sexuality, and therefore the energy of life itself, Fortunato becomes the nemesis of one of the greatest characters in the saga: The Astronomer, a villain who gets his vast arsenal of psychic powers from the death of his victims, usually young women.
While on one hand Fortunato wins the battle against the Astronomer only after having had with Peregrine the best sexual encounter of his life, which brought him to a deeper state of meditation and Buddhist enlightenment, it is certainly due to this augmented power that Fortunato dies. In fact, after the intercourse had with Fortunato, Peregrine gives birth to a boy named John Fortune, whose powers for most of the narration seem to follow a path of instability. After having come back from a monastery in Japan, Fortunato uses all of his power to turn his son, who was going to burn everything like supernova, into a nat. As consequence of this great effort, shortly after Fortunato dies. The peak of his power brought him to the grave.
What is interesting to highlight here is that this is the second time that Fortunato dies, but only the first one he cannot survive. In order to ascend and become stronger than the Astronomer, Fortunato reaches a state of meditation where he literally dies and reincarnates at the same time, leaving the reader for a second with the impression that he might have died for good.
What I have found curious, however, is that Fortunato’s second death seems to be more related to some sort of retaliation by Fate, because when John Fortune comes to the world, Fortunato doesn’t remain there to take care of the embodiment of his sexuality: he leaves for a monastery in Japan to cut all the ties he had with the material world. In a way, this death is the consequence of Fortunato’s lack of respect for his own power, because as his desire and sexuality produced power for him, he should have taken care of the product of his sexuality.
While Fortunato might seem the only big example to make when talking about sexuality in Wild Cards, I can assure you that there could be an entire book dedicated to solely explore this topic within the series. Edward Latham, a.k.a. Loophole/Prime, with his group of Jumpers or Roulette with his deadly orgasms come to mind, but there are others like Genetrix, Ti Malice, Succubus and Alicia Nshombo which could be further analyzed. All of them, regardless of their larger or shorter presence in the books, are part of the group of those who have drawn the sexy queen: cursed to slow death by their own sexual powers.
At the end of this article, I am utterly surprised by myself: I feared I would have not been capable of cutting a 10000 words essay and focus it on one character out of 5. This lockdown must have given me the superpower of summarization, which still needs a lot of sharpening in order to avoid writing mistakes that I hope GRRM will forgive. After all, it’s all the three P’s fault.
Stay safe! This virus is no sexy queen, just a vile, black one but we will overcome it.