Ace in the Hole is the sixth volume in the Wild Cards shared universe series edited by George R. R. Martin. Like the third volume in the series, Jokers Wild, this volume uses the format of a mosaic novel, where several writers write individual story lines which were then edited together into one novel length story. Originally intended to be the third and final volume of the second "triad" of the seriesnote , the story ballooned in the writing and the book was split into two, with the seventh book in the series, Dead Man's Hand, containing the plotlines that did not fit into Ace in the Hole.
A year has passed since Gregg Hartmann and Leo Barnett announced their intention to run for President at the end of Down and Dirty. The 1988 Democratic Convention is in full swing as the various Democratic candidates gather in Atlanta, Georgia to vie for the coveted position as the Democratic Party's nominee. Following many years of inadequate recognition and inaction, the plight of the unfortunate victims of the Wild Card virus, the Jokers, now forms a large part of the Democratic campaign. Both Hartmann and Barnett base their campaigns around Jokers' rights — Hartmann for, and Barnett against.
What nobody suspects is that Hartmann is secretly the Ace known as Puppetman — a psychopath who can control a person's feelings after touching the person physically. Puppetman feeds on emotional misery, and he has left a long list of victims in his wake to appease the dark power within him. Hartmann is obsessed with gaining power, and as Puppetman, that is no difficult feat — after all, a politician shakes a lot of hands...
With this backdrop, numerous aces, jokers and "nats" (normal humans) converge on Atlanta to support or attempt to kill various candidates, lobby for more specific causes or just create and revel in chaos.
The main plots that make up this book are:
- Golden Boy's efforts to redeem himself by winning the nomination for Hartmann;
- Puppetman ensuring his victory by controlling all those around him;
- Mackie "Mack the Knife" Messer enacting Hartmann's brutal whims;
- Sara Morgenstern's desire to stop Hartmann, the man who killed her sister and controlled her mind;
- Demise seeking to fulfill an assassination contract against Hartmann; and
- Dr. Tachyon's lobbying for Hartmann while simultaneously dealing with ghosts from his past.
Ace in the Hole contains examples of the following tropes:
- The Alcoholic: Golden Boy, Tachyon, and Demise spend almost all of their free time drinking heavily. It's amazing they manage to get anything done.
- Alternate History: As usual, but especially notable here as the entire book focuses an alternate version of a real event, the 1988 Democratic National Convention that occurred a year before the book was written.
- The Atoner: Golden Boy is trying to make up for selling out his friends to HUAC years ago and sees getting Hartmann elected as his way of redeeming himself.
- Author Tract: The writers wear their politics on their sleeves for this book. Everyone treats Jesse Jackson like a saint and several characters complain about the Ronald Reagan presidency. Michael Dukakis, the person who was nominated at the convention in Real Life is practically a non-entity.
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Subverted; Fleur is blonde and sexy, but she's a Democrat. Her Democratic views, however, are what modern Americans would associate with the far-right Republican party, although they are not unheard of in Democratic circles.
- Bystander Syndrome: It's very obvious that Hiram is practically dying under the control of Ti Malice but everyone is too wrapped up in their own problems to care. Even Tachyon, who is a doctor and should notice the physical symptoms Hiram is going through.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The treatment of the Wild Card virus as compared to the AIDS epidemic and blaming the victim.
- Dropped a Bridge on Her: Chrysalis is killed off unceremoniously at the beginning of the book, with no closure given; the investigation is rather the focus of the next book in the series, Dead Man's Hand.
- Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Fleur tries to seduce Doctor Tachyon by sleeping with him. It does not work.
- Expy: Leo Barnett is one for both the Reverend Pat Robertson and Ronald Reagan.
- Fantastic Racism: Leo Barnett believes Jokers are being punished by god for their sinfulness.
- Hearing Voices: Hartmann starts to hear Gimli's voice and believes that he is somehow interfering with his Puppetman powers. It stops when Hartmann gets rid what he believes is the source of Gimli's resurrection, the fetus inside his wife Ellen.
- Humiliation Conga: Hartmann undergoes one of these at the end when Tachyon mind controls him into acting like he's crazy so he'll lose the election.
- Knight Templar: Leo Barnett.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: It goes both ways thanks to the Sadistic Choice. Nice job getting a madman elected Jack and Dr. Tachyon, nice job getting a fear mongering bigot elected Sara and Polyakov.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who plays a significant role in the book as a supporter of Joker rights. Ted Koppel and Connie Chung also show up to cover the convention.
- Sadistic Choice: They can support Hartmann, who is a champion of Joker rights and good causes but secretly a psychopath, or Leo Barnett, who is a anti-Joker religious fanatic.
- Sequel Hook: Blaise Tachyon and Polyakov disappear near the end of the book.
- Realpolitik: Everyone does it, especially Golden Boy, when it comes to collecting the delegates. Hartmann does it best because he can control minds.
- Ripped from the Headlines: This book, written in 1989, covers the 1988 Democratic National Convention. The Gary Hart Scandal is also referenced.
- Villainous Breakdown: Senator Hartmann is going through one of these during the first half of the convention as he tries to maintain his composure while Puppetman is screaming in his head.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Hartmann uses his wife's miscarriage (which he caused) for sympathy votes.
- You Have to Believe Me!: Journalist Sara Morgenstern's attempts to expose Hartmann consist of accusing Hartmann without any evidence then getting upset when no one believes her.