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Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book Of Science Fiction edited by Ian Whates

01/01/2012. Contributed by Patrick Mahon

Buy Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book Of Science Fiction edited in the USA - or Buy Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book Of Science Fiction edited in the UK

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pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 325 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907992-08-7).

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‘Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book Of Science Fiction’ is an anthology of nineteen SF short stories, edited by the multi-talented writer and editor Ian Whates. It features new stories by many award-winning luminaries in the field, including Alastair Reynolds, Pat Cadigan, Peter F. Hamilton and Tricia Sullivan to name but four.

Solaris previously published three anthologies of SF short stories between 2007 and 2009, each edited by George Mann. These were well-received, not least for being anthologies of new, as opposed to reprinted, short stories. I reviewed the third volume in that series for SFCrowsnest back in November 2009 and rated it very highly. Then Solaris was sold to a different publisher and the series went south. Now it appears to have been resurrected under the direction of award-winning editor Ian Whates. So what’s the verdict on this new volume?
It’s worth stressing up-front, as Whates does in his brief introduction to the volume, that there is no overarching theme to the anthology. Instead, Whates intends the stories to illustrate the diversity of the SF field at present. I think the book does this brilliantly. The stories are extremely varied and there should be something for everyone in here. For myself, I enjoyed all but a couple of the nineteen tales. I’ll pick a few highlights below.

My favourite story in the anthology was Richard Salter’s time-travel tale, ‘Yestermorrow’. On 20 February 2013, The Slip happened. From then on, everyone lives their lives out of order. Each day at midnight, each person’s individual timeline slips to a random new day between The Slip and the day of their death. People live their lives knowing much of what will happen in their futures and, in particular, the date and mode of their own death. Craig Carter is a cop in Brighton, trying to find a serial killer who follows his victims in the moments before their allotted deaths and kills them in a different way from what has been foretold. The crimes are thought to remain unsolved but Carter has only a few more days to live and is determined to catch the killer before he himself dies. Can he change the timelines and bring the criminal to justice? I enjoyed this story immensely. Salter takes an interesting idea and executes it with style, providing a strong lead character, genuine conflict, lots of depth and a great ending.

‘How We Came Back From Mars’ by the ever-fresh Ian Watson is a brilliantly funny conspiracy story about the first astronauts to go to Mars. At the end of an otherwise successful mission, their ascent engine fails, stranding them on the surface of the red planet. Condemned to suffocation within a few days when their air supply runs out, they prepare themselves, send their final messages home and sign off for the final time as tragic heroes. However, to their great surprise an alien ship appears from nowhere, lands alongside and rescues them. The aliens transport them back to Earth in a matter of hours and drop them just outside a Spanish holiday resort that resembles a mini-version of Hollywood. This is where their problems start, as no-one believes that they are the genuine astronauts. Instead, they’re accused of tastelessly cashing in on the tragedy. Recalling what happened in the 1970s film ‘Capricorn One’, they also start to worry that it may be more convenient for the US Government to make them disappear than to admit that aliens exist. So what should they do next? Go public or hide? Watson produces a hilarious take on the first Mars mission that is laugh out loud funny and yet thought-provoking at the same time.

Keith Brooke and Eric Brown have jointly penned the fascinating far-future tale ‘Eternity’s Children’. Ed Loftus, a man who is over two hundred years old, returns to the planet of Karenia, seventh planet in the 31 Cygni double star system, on business. The planet’s plants are the unique source of the miracle cure to ageing that almost all of humanity now uses. However, Omega-Gen, Ed’s employers, have finally perfected an artificial alternative and will be closing down their operations on the planet over the next two years. The night before announcing Omega-Gen’s devastating plans at a board meeting, Ed, unable to sleep, goes for a midnight stroll and meets the local alien species, the Yanth. This brief meeting and what the Yanth tell him make Ed question his priorities. Is near immortality all it’s cracked up to be? Are the Karenians, with the limited lifespan and basic agricultural existence that they have chosen to adopt, really as backwards as they at first appeared? Which is more important, longevity or love? This is an excellent piece of classic SF, illustrating contrasted visions for the future of humanity which are rooted in deeply sympathetic characters. The story is gentle yet thoughtful and lingered in my mind long after I had finished reading.

That’s just a few highlights. I also enjoyed Alastair Reynolds’ thoughtful far-future story ‘For the Ages’, about a space mission sent to write the laws of cosmology on the surface of a planet outside the galaxy for the benefit of future civilisations who, due to cosmic expansion, would be unable to work those laws out for themselves. In ‘The Lives And Deaths Of Che Guevara’, Lavie Tidhar tells an intriguing tale of Che Guevara’s body being cloned after his death, with the clones turning up in war zones every few years, continuing the revolutionary’s support for underdogs everywhere. Jack Skillingstead’s ‘Steel Lake’ weaves a touching story of a broken father-son relationship that is rescued when the father accidentally enters the hallucinatory world of his son’s latest drug habit. The anthology ends with ‘Return Of The Mutant Worms’, a short but hilarious piece by Peter F. Hamilton, showing what happens when a successful literary author, who wrote SF potboilers in his youth, is contacted by the editor of a failing SF magazine who has found one of the author’s early works and wants to publish it, threatening the imminent launch of the author’s newest masterwork.

As is only to be expected in an anthology of nineteen stories, there were a couple that didn’t really work for me. Ken MacLeod’s ‘The Best Science Fiction Of The Year Three’ follows several SF writers living in Paris three years after some sort of major political revolution. Beyond that, though, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what the story is about, as I found it all rather obscure. ‘Eluna’ by Stephen Palmer is a coming-of-age story set in a far future version of humanity. However, as with MacLeod’s story, I found it difficult to work out what was going on here and ended up confused rather than enlightened. Nonetheless, other readers may react to these stories more positively than I did.

‘Solaris Rising’ is chock-full of enjoyable and interesting new SF stories. I found them to be diverse, entertaining and, for those who don’t already know the authors, a great introduction to their work. Ian Whates has crafted a strong anthology which, for me, is a more than worthy successor to Solaris’ earlier series. The publishers are to be congratulated on resurrecting the idea of anthologies of new short SF stories. I hope ‘Solaris Rising’ is the first of many.

Patrick Mahon

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