After Westeros, a new TV epic from Game of Thrones author

Wild Cards, a 1940s superhero alien fantasy series to be adapted for television by George RR Martin’s co-creator

It is a sprawling fantasy featuring deformed humans, superheroes who can read minds and fly, and plot lines exploring issues such as bigotry and raw political ambition. Like the blockbuster TV hit Game of Thrones, it is also based in part on the work of the cult fantasy writer George RR Martin.

Now Hollywood is betting that a major TV adaptation of Wild Cards, a series of science fiction books grounded in gritty realism that Martin began writing 30 years ago, can emulate the extraordinary worldwide success of the HBO show. If it does, it will fulfil the dreams of Martin’s collaborator on Wild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass, who has struggled in vain for 12 years to interest film and television producers.

The US writer and editor was praised by executives, only to be given excuses about why the books were not for them. She refused to be bowed by rejection and her determination has finally paid off. She is now heading an ambitious TV adaption of the series backed by Universal Pictures.

The phenomenal global success of Game of Thrones got the industry’s attention, and Snodgrass has no doubt that it paved the way for the new show. She told the Observer: “It’s been crucial. The success of Game of Thrones and George have really helped. People now see the possibilities in this other major work.”

Author Melinda Snodgrass
Melinda Snodgrass has collaborated on Wild Cards with George RR Martin for 30 years. Photograph: Handout

Wild Cards imagines a world that was intentionally infected by an alien virus in 1946. Ninety per cent of those infected die. Of the remaining 10%, most are deformed (called Jokers) and 1% (called Aces) get superpowers, from flight to mind-reading, which they use for both good and evil.

The characters include the Sleeper, whose DNA-changing virus has enabled him to go without sleep for months on end. When he does sleep, he can wake up with a completely new face and new powers. Snodgrass said: “It is a superhero franchise, but it’s different in that it’s far more realistic than some superhero films, and grittier. If you die in the Wild Cards books, you don’t get to come back. We want death to have consequences.”

The books also offer analogies for our times. Through the Jokers, for example, they explore persecution and bigotry. “Entertainment works best when it reflects what’s happening in the real world and when it allows people to reflect on it, perhaps in a safer space where it doesn’t feel so charged,” said Snodgrass.

She added that some of the stories mirror real life: “It’s not just about superheroes fighting super villains. We have political thrillers, with one about an unfit candidate trying to obtain the highest office in the US, for example. Most of it is set in the US, but we try to look at world issues. Interestingly enough, one of our books predicted the rise of a caliphate before Isis actually arose.”

While Martin and Snodgrass have each written some of the books, they have built up a consortium of about 30 authors, all creating stories set in the same world.

The first book was published in 1986, 10 years before Martin’s first Game of Thrones book in 1996. Such is the series’ popularity that the 23rd volume will be released later this month, and Martin and Snodgrass are already working on the next three. Beyond publication worldwide, the books have inspired spin-off comics and games.

An announcement that Wild Cards is to be developed with Universal Cable Productions was made last week by Martin, who said that “there are thousands of stories to be told”.

As he has an exclusive development deal with HBO, he has handed Wild Cards to Snodgrass and producer Gregory Noveck: “They know and love the Wild Cards universe almost as well as I do,” he said.

They hope to begin shooting next year. “It is very exciting. George and I created Wild Cards, and then invited a bunch of writers to come play in the sandbox. Then it’s just grown and grown,” said Snodgrass. Her passion for fantasy and science fiction began as a child, lapping up books by JRR Tolkien and watching Star Trek. “I wanted to go to the stars.”

That passion never left her. She gave up a legal career to become a writer and was a story editor and executive script consultant on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like Martin, she lives in New Mexico, where she trains horses and rides them in competition. Her latest science fiction novel, The High Ground, has just been published by Titan Books.

She says she had always seen the screen potential of Wild Cards. The emphasis was always the emotional content, dialogue and “characters with whom people can identify and care about, even if you may hate them”.


Dalya Alberge

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Game of Thrones: the women of Westeros

Some women wield power in Game of Thrones, but life for all of them is insecure and terrifying, writes medieval historian Helen Castor

Helen Castor

31, Mar, 2014 @5:56 PM

Article image
After Game of Thrones, what's the next must-see fantasy epic?
The TV version of George RR Martin’s series has given many their first taste of the genre. Which books deserve the next big-budget take to sustain the spell?

Steven T Wright

21, May, 2019 @10:34 AM

Article image
Game of Thrones prequel: what can we learn from the first images?
The first stills from House of the Dragon, the new series within George RR Martin’s fantasy universe, promise more of the same but also a tease of something new

Stuart Heritage

05, May, 2021 @7:20 PM

Article image
Game of Thrones season seven trailer and premiere date revealed
An initial look at the penultimate season of HBO’s hit fantasy drama, which returns this summer, suggests dark times ahead

Guardian staff

10, Mar, 2017 @11:03 AM

Article image
Five ways Game of Thrones has improved on George RR Martin's books
George RR Martin fans should not worry that Game of Thrones might throw up spoilers for forthcoming books. The TV show has repeatedly shown that it can add to the literary experience

Ben Child

27, Mar, 2015 @11:34 AM

Article image
Game of Thrones creators to bring Liu Cixin’s sci-fi trilogy to Netflix
David Benioff and DB Weiss to adapt The Three-Body Problem and two sequels with Alexander Woo

Hannah J Davies

01, Sep, 2020 @2:29 PM

Article image
What's the next Game of Thrones? All the contenders for fantasy TV's crown
The saga of the Seven Kingdoms may be bowing out, but it has opened the floodgates. Here’s your guide to the next big heroes

Sarah Hughes

01, Apr, 2019 @2:43 PM

Article image
Original Game of Thrones pitch letter leaked online
Letter from George RR Martin to his agent reveals earliest plot ideas – which included a love triangle involving Arya Stark, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister

Alison Flood

06, Feb, 2015 @1:37 PM

Article image
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin misses last TV deadline for new book
Author says he feels he has failed his fans because new HBO TV series will be shown before its source material

David Barnett

02, Jan, 2016 @11:39 AM

More Game of Thrones! Faster! Fans create musical plea to author

Comedy music duo Paul and Storm pen song to encourage George RR Martin to get a move on with his Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series

David Barnett

27, Jun, 2012 @2:04 PM