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Monday, February 23, 2009

“The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume III” edited by George Mann (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order HERE (US) + HERE (UK-March 2, 2009)

I like reading original sff anthologies, whether themed or not, and now is a great time for them with such titles being published like the Solaris SF/F line, Pyr’s Fast Forward books, Night Shade’s Eclipse volumes, and the indie Hadley Rille Ruins novels as well as numerous themed “standalone” books.

I’ve read the first two Solaris SF anthologies and liked them both, with the second volume being even better than the first, though volume one contained the story “Last Contact” by
Stephen Baxter which is as good and representative of why short fiction should be read in itself as any story out there.

On receiving an ARC of the third Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, I immediately put down everything I was reading at the time and rushed to finish the book. In short, the anthology is excellent, containing seven superb stories, three very good ones bordering on excellent, and five good ones that moved along nicely.

Placement of the stories in the book is done very well, offering balance and enough variation to keep the pages turning. If there is one thing I regretted though, it’s that some of the stories finished too quickly...

I’ll be reviewing each story individually, in they order they appear in the book:

1)Rescue Mission” by
Jack Skillingstead **** 1/2

A pilot of a drop ship lands on a strange planet populated by sentient trees; he needs to recover his humanity with the help of his co-pilot to escape... I liked the style and setting, but a little bit more background would have made this story perfect.

2)The Fixation” by
Alastair Reynolds ****

The story of two Iranian/Persian girls in parallel universes linked by a strange artifact... As usual, Reynold’s story is very dependable and features a great ending, but is a bit too short & predictable, and lacks the sense of wonder of his best stories or the depth of his longer novellas which deal with a similar topic.

3)Artifacts” by
Stephen Baxter *****

On par and thematically similar to “Last Contact”. Hard sf about the Multiverse, mind-boggling but humane at the same time. Highlight of the collection for pure hard sf by a master of such.

4)Necroflux Day” by
John Meaney *****

Returns to Tristopolis in the “Bone Song” days, but from the perspective of a young mixed-blood student, his archivist widowed father, and his Thanatos priest/teacher. All about the price of progress in Tristopolis. After I loved the Nulapeiron Trilogy, I was so-so on “Bone Song”, but this story made me want to return to that universe and read “Dark Blood”, the second novel set in Tristopolis. Highlight of the collection for world-building.

5)Providence” by
Paul Di Filippo *****

On a post-apocalyptic Earth, sentient machines rule, but their civilization is declining. Huge motorized Reddy K. leaves his comfy East Village, Manahttan pad and his hobot girlfriend for a dangerous wilderness trip to Providence, RI where local ruler Big Tube unearthed an huge cache of spiral and has some for sale—spiral being an immensely addictive robot fix although I will let you discover what spiral is by reading the story. Smart and funny though not quite a parody. Highlight of the anthology for humor.

6)Carnival Night” by
Warren Hammond ***

Not a fan of the KOP novels, though this one moved along nicely for me. Set on Koba, it's about the murder of a rich do-gooder tourist investigated by a disgraced policeman. The heroes of KOP make an appearance too. Good atmosphere, predictable mystery.

7) The Assistant” by
Ian Whates ***

Assistant janitor is more than meets the eye... This one had an interesting premise but did not quite work for me.

8) "Glitch" by
Scott Edelman **** 1/2

Prim S-Tr resists the attempts of her bonded partner X-ta to have “animal-like” human intimacy. Then things go out of control... Interesting, funny and dark at the same time. The style was a bit flat but otherwise very good.

9)One of Our Bastards is Missing” by
Paul Cornell ***** +

Out of all of the stories in a superb anthology, this was my favorite. Major Hamilton of the British Empire, keeper of the balance in this future steampunk with miracles setting, seethes as he watches Crown Princess Liz, his one time ladylove, getting married to a Swedish prince. But the naughty Kaiser has plans of his own for the wedding, so it's up to the Major to save the day. Just a superb adventure, I would love a novel in this setting. The story “Catherine Drewe” from
Pyr's Fast Forward 2—which is freely available online—is the first story with Hamilton and there he thwarts the Bear (Russian Empire) in nefarious doings on Mars. Highlight of the anthology for panache and just pure fun.

10)Woodpunk” by
Adam Roberts ***

Mutated sentient forest asks for its rights from humanity; woodpunk indeed. The only minor disappointment of the anthology since I love
Adam Roberts’ work, but this one just did not click with me. Moved along nicely though and was well written, so not a complete waste.

11)Mynia's Astral Angels” by
Jennifer Pelland *****

In a corporate-dominated matriarchal universe, the Astral Angels—modified sexless human-based sentient beings with no rights as a species because they cannot reproduce and once used to terraform planets—are now passe since robots are cheaper and more efficient these days. Bt a daughter of the clan-matriarch falls in love with them and needs to find a way to save them from corporate “cost-cutting”. Semi-parody, but features absolutely stunning prose. This was the first story I ever read by Ms. Pelland and was so impressed by it that I immediately ordered her short story collection “Unwelcome Bodies”. Highlight of the anthology for style.

12)The Best Monkey” by
Daniel Abraham *****

Another superb story, this time about a mysterious corporation called Fifth Layer which dominates current tech with extraordinary inventions that are unorthodox and inelegant, but work. There is talk of the Roswell theory, namely that Fifth Layer is a front for secretive aliens, so older investigative reporter Jimmy is put on the case since a senior executive of Fifth Layer was his girlfriend thirty years ago. Highlight of the anthology for idea-based sf.

13)Long Stay” by
Ian Watson ***

Car “estates” and illicit parties in near-future England... Well written, but the subject matter left me cold.

14)A Soul Stitched to Iron” by
Tim Akers *****

In a fantasy-like story set in the city of Veridon, a young dispossessed nobleman affiliated with organized crime has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a former friend whose actions made the Council crack down on the underground. Marked by superb world-building and very good action, I am truly looking forward to Mr. Akers’ novel “Heart of Veridon” set for release August 2009. Highlight of the anthology for storytelling.

15)iThink, Therefore I Am” by
Ken MacLeod ***

Future gadget iThink and human will. Short and somewhat funny, but not up to the rest of the anthology or to the author’s other pieces like “Wolf 351” in the New Space Opera anthology.


Anonymous said...

Another excellent review, though as you said Liviu, we seem to have enjoyed different stories in this one. Still, always good to see what others think!

Liviu said...

For me an anthology/magazine is a success if at least one of these three happen:

- read it non-stop
- discover new writers
- have at least 2 preferable 3 mind-blowing stories

Solaris SF 3 had all of these which is very rare for me and I try lots and lots of anthologies and magazines since I like short fiction, though in "chunks" like in an anthology or a magazine not as standalone reads

Of recent anthologies only New Space Opera had all 3 - though it was more of a rediscovery of some writers for point 2 - while Galactic Empires had 1 and 3 in spades, but of course only established space opera masters

Anonymous said...

That criteria certainly makes sense, although for me the non-stop reading isn't as important, especially if there a couple of stories in a row that I didn't enjoy too much. But this one did have a few superb stories and new writers to me. Overall it was exactly what you should look for in an anthology :)

And you've reminded me to try and finish both New Space Opera and Galactic Empires (both of which I initially bought for the PFH stories). What I've read in both were great, but I was at a point when I was reading short stories infrequently. Time to dust them off...

Liviu said...

There are some magazines - some issues of Escape Velocity and GUD come to mind - that flow very well despite that none of the stories or any particular author stays in my mind for long. I still keep buying them just for that reason.

When I find stories I do not like that much, I just skip them - Solaris 2 comes to mind here where I loved most stories in the anthology, but there were two stories - and sadly the longest ones taking about 1/4-1/3 of the pages - that I just did not bother to read since I knew beforehand they were not for me - neither Jerry Cornelius nor C. Roberson future Aztec/China history interest me in the slightest.

But the rest of the stories were enough to make that a very successful volume, though this one beats it.

Blue Tyson said...

Yeah, nice work, and unlike Solaris, you actually listed the stories. :)

Alexander Field said...

Thanks for reviewing each story. I am now looking forward to reading Tim Akers novel as well!


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