Inside Straight introduces us to a new generation of aces, including blogger Jonathan Hive, a wannabe journalist who can turn into a swarm of insects; Curveball, who can throw and then control objects before she makes them explode; The Amazing Bubbles, who can create irridescent bubbles that, again, explode; Earth Witch, who can shape and move earth; Rustbelt, an armored ace who can rapidly increase the oxidation rate of metals; and Drummer Boy, a joker/ace with six arms and the ability to create powerful sounds from tympanic membranes on his torso and in his throat.
We meet the aces in a nice little setup in the form of a television show called American Hero. Like most reality shows, American Hero has teams, challenges, and eliminations. Hosted by Peregrine, and judged by classic characters Digger Downs and others, American Hero introduces us to the new line of aces and lets us see them at their modern-day backbiting worst.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the Caliphate of the entire middle east has been assassinated, making way for new leadership. Remember, in the Wild Cards universe, there are most definitely some altered parts of history, and the Nur took over in Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad back in 1988 or so. This chain of events brings out the true hero in some of the "discards" from the American Hero show and they make their way to Egypt, where the forces commanded by the new Caliphate are slaying jokers by way of genocide.
Inside Straight is a nice addition to the Wild Cards universe, which had laid dormant for too long. It's a rich world with lots of stories to tell, and the creators obviously love to tell stories about their characters. The first time I read it I didn't care for the reality show aspect of it, primarily because I hate reality shows, but when I looked at it as a vehicle to introduce the new characters it made it much more tolerable. The characters start out extremely unlikable, but their actions in the end redeem them and win the reader over. The new book, Busted Flush, just came out and I look forward to that one as well.