by Walton Simons
The Jumper books, as they were originally conceived, are now perhaps more appropriately known as the Rox triad, a trilogy of books comprising One-Eyed Jacks, Jokertown Shuffle, and Dealer’s Choice. Repercussions of the Jumper storyline were also included in the Melinda Snodgrass solo novel, Double Solitaire.
After the fact, some of the authors, and perhaps George as well, referred to them informally as “those damned jumper books.” The jumpers were a group of body-swapping individuals who made their unpleasant presence felt during that part of the Wild Cards series.
Even one person with the Jumper power had the ability to wreak considerable havoc, but a group of jumpers opened a Pandora’s Box of plot possibilities that were dizzying, at least to me. I was lucky insofar as I kept my Mr. Nobody stories focused primarily on one Jumper, an annoying young Adonis named David, and the person who was responsible for creating the Jumpers, St. John Latham. More about Latham later.
I’ll digress at this point to explain how characters are created and developed in the Wild Card universe. Each writer pitches a new character, usually an ace but occasionally a joker or nat, to George with a basic outline. The first point to tackle is coming up with a power, hopefully one that hasn’t been used to death. In the case of Mr. Nobody I decided to make him a shape shifter who, of necessity, could also mimic voices. My inspiration for this was a Marvel character, the Chameleon, although the Chameleon used masks to imitate other people’s appearances. After that, a name is required (often very difficult for me) and a background history. All this has to pass muster with George or it’s back to square one. After having a character accepted, a writer pitches story ideas to George, which likewise have to be accepted before any work begins.
Having a character and storyline approved doesn’t really solidify a character for me. I don’t know them all that well until I start to write them. It takes awhile to get to know them. I was lucky with Demise, my first Wild Card character. By the time I finished the first draft of “If Looks Could Kill” I knew exactly who he was, so when it came time to do his storyline in Jokers Wild, putting him on the page was as easy as falling off a log. Jerry Strauss, aka Mr. Nobody, was a little more challenging in that regard.
Which brings me to one of the reasons I enjoyed working on the Jumper books. Yes, I did bury the lede. George let me do the interstitial for One-Eyed Jacks, the only time I’ve had that assignment. The interstitial allows the writer to develop their character’s own storyline while at the same time serving the needs of the other stories in the book, acting as a kind of connective tissue. A major plus is that the writer gets more wordage for the interstitial. Given that, I was really able to develop Jerry as a fully realized character. He was an emotional/psychological mess, not surprising since he spent a couple of decades as a giant ape. (How did he become a giant ape? That’s a question yet to be answered, but maybe someday it will be revealed). Jerry was also looking for love in all the wrong places and fancied himself a detective. Although his power to shapeshift was a help in that regard, he wasn’t a real gumshoe. Jerry had plenty of room to grow as a character in the Jumper books, which I quite enjoyed.
This brings me to my main reason for enjoying writing stories for the first two jumper books: the characters I got to play around with. At the head of that list is Jay Ackroyd, a bona-fide detective and an ace to boot. Jay is not a film noir hard-boiled detective. He’s very, very good at his job, and in addition, he has a wonderful, wry sense of humor. He’s at ease in almost any situation, and as a projecting teleport can literally make problems disappear. I had a ball writing Jay in my two Jumper stories. Ultimately, he took Jerry on as a junior partner in his detective agency, so I’ve been lucky to have him in most of my Mr. Nobody stories. If you’re interested in reading my earlier blog post about Jay, it’s available at
Another character I have an odd affection for is St. John “Loophole” Latham. A very good, and very crooked, lawyer, Latham is not entirely without appeal. He has a cool, matter-of-fact, somewhat hoity-toity demeanor, which is not unusual for a lawyer I suppose. He’s also a psychopath, which isn’t true of everyone who shares his profession. During the course of the first Jumper book, he is discovered to be the creator of the jumpers. This is by no means his first Wild Card rodeo. Latham had been knocking around the WC universe for quite a bit. He was instrumental in sending Demise searching for some stolen books in Jokers Wild. In fact, I couldn’t resist using him in my Tor.com Demise story. In Jokers Wild Demise ends up getting horribly injured while in Latham’s service. Come to think of it, that happens the second time around, too. Latham is Jerry’s chief antagonist in the Jumper books. He was responsible for considerable trauma to Jerry’s family and Mr. Nobody is looking for the big get-even. I tried to make their final confrontation memorable.
The Jumper books do have plenty of good stories, and if you read them I think you’ll agree. They weren’t all to my taste, but that’s always going to be the case. Some of them are a bit dark, maybe way dark, but that’s Wild Cards. It’s a YMMV world we live in.
I did pull a bit of a fast one, or I thought I did. The jumpers were destroyed. Well, almost. There was a jumper named Valerie who I intentionally left alive. To the best of my knowledge, that’s a plot thread that has never been snipped. It’s been decades since we last saw her. Maybe there’s a story there. Then again, maybe not. As much fun as I had, I think the jumpers had their day in the sun.