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Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction" edited by Ian Whates (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Solaris Website
Official Ian Whates Website
Order Solaris Rising HERE
Read FBC Review of The Solaris Book of SF 3
Read FBC Review of The Solaris Book of New Fantasy

INTRODUCTION: After a period of flourishing in 2007-2009 it seemed that the original sf anthology went on the back-burner these past two years when the main three lines - Solaris Book of SF, The New Space Opera and Fast Forward - have not appeared with new editions. So I was very excited to see the announcement of Solaris Rising and when I saw the stellar lineup, it became a buy and read on publication at the end of October.

Here is the table contents while below I will talk about the stories in the order I read them rather than in the way they are arranged in the anthology. As 2010 and especially 2011 have been years when I read considerably less short fiction than usual, I wanted to make sure I won't get bogged down again so I went straight to my favorite writers, while leaving for a more cursory read the ones I had very little expectation based on past experience with their style.

Introduction, Ian Whates
A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead, Ian McDonald
The Incredible Exploding Man, Dave Hutchinson
Sweet Spots, Paul di Filippo
The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three, Ken MacLeod
The One that Got Away, Tricia Sullivan
Rock Day, Stephen Baxter
Eluna, Stephen Palmer
Shall I Tell You the Problem with Time Travel? Adam Roberts
The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara, Lavie Tidhar
Steel Lake, Jack Skillingstead
Mooncakes, Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom
At Play in the Fields, Steve Rasnic Tem
How We Came Back from Mars, Ian Watson
You Never Know, Pat Cadigan
Yestermorrow, Richard Salter
Dreaming Towers, Silent Mansions, Jaine Fenn
Eternity’s Children, Keith Brooke and Eric Brown
For the Ages, Alastair Reynolds
Return of the Mutant Worms, Peter F. Hamilton

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I first read the Peter Hamilton story which is the last and while short and not really sf, it works very well as a self-parody - famous writer that penned the hugely popular and quite explicit sf door stopper series Day's Twilight (!) gets in trouble over a long ago magazine submitted story - and the Adam Roberts story which features another crazy explanation of a sf trope, this time the paradoxes of time travel and has the expected superb prose and characters, while not much later I also read the Alastair Reynolds story which contained the author's trademark serious cosmological stuff interspersed with human interest that has made him the leading hard sf voice of our time. This story reminded me how much I missed a Reynolds novel for almost two years now as Terminal World has been published in early 2010.

In addition to the trio above, the stories by Eric Brown/Keith Brooke and Jaine Fenn respectively were also excellent. A world that offers essential immortality to the rest of the human race at a price for its human inhabitants and an expedition into the alien unknown that turns out to involve deep human motivations coupled with great prose and characters added these two stories to the A++ top tier ones of the anthology.

Overall I would say that Adam Roberts Shall I Tell You the Problem with Time Travel? is my favorite story of the anthology, but all of these five are stories that reminded me again why I love science fiction in the short form too!

In the next tier of interesting stories that I greatly enjoyed and for which the style worked well are: Rock Day by Stephen Baxter, Eluna by Stephen Palmer, Sweet Spots by Paul di Filippo and Yestermorrow by Richard Salter. Another familiar author theme - the end of the world from sfnal not supernatural reasons from S. Baxter, a bittersweet coming of age story in the author's far future biotech milieu from S. Palmer, the usual partly funny, partly serious offering that P. di Filippo is known for and a vigorous tale of time travel/near future end of the world (sort of!) by new author for me Richard Salter were all stories that are recommended and add to the reasons Solaris Rising was a big success for me.

The stories by Ian Watson How We Came Back from Mars, Ken McLeod, The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three and Steve Rasnic Tem, At Play in the Fields were ok but at least in the Watson and McLeod case far from their best and more of a filler/by the numbers stuff; still both are excellent writers and even their filler is decent so while the take on big government conspiracies that are featured in both did not quite gel, they were still quite readable. At Play in the Fields which features aliens and advanced biotech was quite interesting but it was too short on its own and it also stopped short of feeling complete.

Of the rest of the stories, five were from authors I tried several times and their prose never worked for me (Dave Hutchinson, Jack Skillingstead, Tricia Sullivan, Mike Resnick here in collaboration with Laurie Tom, not that it helped anyway and Pat Cadigan) and while I read all just to do my duty, I have to say that I completely forgot them almost before finishing them as the magic of writing that makes one recall what a story is about simply was not there for me. However if you are a fan of any of these authors, you may have a different opinion so give them a try!

Finally, two disappointments from authors I generally enjoy: A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead, Ian McDonald is a sfnal zombie story and as such it bored me to no end, while The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara, Lavie Tidhar is a story that talks about a communist murderer...

Overall Solaris Rising (A+, highly recommended) is a very strong eclectic anthology with something to please any lover of contemporary sf.



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