Wild Cards, Water Lily, and Me

by Pat Cadigan

All y’all probably know the origin story behind Wild Cards—the game the writers were playing together, and George RR Martin selling a shared-world series of novels based on it.

I wasn’t there.

In the mid-1980s, when I unwittingly became one of the original cyberpunk writers, I was busy with a new baby and writing my first novel, Mindplayers. I was also still working full-time at Hallmark Cards, so I had a lot to do. Then George RR Martin invited me to the Wild Cards party.

I didn’t know anything about the game he and the others were playing. Role-playing games had never attracted me. I felt that I really didn’t need another identity in which I was doing everything wrong. I still feel this way. I’ve written a lot of sf about artificial reality and whole artificial reality worlds but when Second Life came along, I dipped my toe in and then ran like hell. To this day, I’m baffled as to where everyone finds time for a second life, or universe, or fantasy realm; I can barely keep up with my original life/universe/fantasy realm.

Fortunately, George wasn’t inviting me to play, just to write. By that time, my new baby wasn’t quite as new but I was writing my first novel and working full-time and common sense was telling me to say No, I’m completely unreliable unless you need your diapers changed. But I was all hopped up with youth and I figured, what the hell.

The first characters I tried to sell George on were the Mirror Twins—only one of them existed in the real world, the other was the first twin’s reflection. George said they weren’t science-fiction-y enough, so I went to plan B: Jane Dow (rhymes with low, not cow), aka Water Lily. George was working on putting together the second book—Aces High. I told him he should find a place in the second book where he needed a story to get the overall plot from one place to another, and I would write that story.

Now, there were giants in those days, one of them being Roger Zelazny. George was, and still is, no slouch but the additional attraction of being in the same shared world as Roger Zelazny made me change my unreliable ways. So I wrote the story and sent it to George—

(At this point, I will note that email as we know it now was only a twinkle in the cyberpunks’ eyes. Stories had to be printed out, put in envelopes, and mailed. Then letters went back and forth between editor and writer because cheap long-distance wasn’t universal then, either.)

—and George wrote me to tell me that Roger Zelazny had liked some of my secondary characters so much, he retro-fitted them into his story, which occurred earlier in the timeline than mine.

George had also told me we needed red shirts—characters whose ultimate purpose was to be killed. I went him one better and created a Joker who was completely red, from head to foot. After George killed him, I had to explain why I’d made him red. But hey, George was busy, too.

Water Lily was a departure for me, a strong woman in the making, who wasn’t already strong and street-smart. I liked the idea of making her a naïf, as opposed to someone wise beyond her years, who could already handle herself.

Which made her second outing, which occurred in book five, Down and Dirty, rather over-the-top. Jane Dow started out having a bad day and never had another good one. At the end of the story, I didn’t see how she could come back from what had happened to her, so she didn’t. Jane went to the island of Resolute in Canada to think things over, and she’s been there ever since.

Although I could be wrong about that. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised. There are all sorts of ways to be in exile; you don’t have to be all by yourself literally to be alone.

Every so often, I would sort of look in on Jane; she’d tell me she didn’t feel like talking. And I’ve been busy myself. The baby I had is in his early thirties. I spent many years caring for my elderly mother in London, where I live now with my husband, the Original Chis Fowler. Along the way, I won three Locus Awards, two Arthur C. Clarke Awards, a Hugo, and a Seiun. And terminal cancer.

Okay, I didn’t exactly win cancer but I’m winning at it. My oncologist told me I had two years…but that was in December 2014. I still have cancer, and it’s still terminal, but ‘terminal’ doesn’t mean ‘untreatable’—which, when you think about it, is pretty much a description of life itself.

Meanwhile, Jane Dow has been getting restless. I’m not sure what she’s been up to but I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear from her in the relatively near future. She’s not a naïf any more and it would be interesting to see what she has to say about the twenty-first century.