Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Book Review: Solaris Rising

Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction [Paperback]Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction [Paperback]

I have fond memories of sci-fi shorts. Not the ones sported by Zapp Brannigan in Futurama. I mean short stories. I used to read a lot of sci-fi as a kid, it was one thing our local library was good for. So visiting my current haven of dead trees, I came away with... an anthology of sci-fi.

The classic format of the sci-fi anthology washes around in peaks and troughs, according to fashion and the availability of writing talent. Solaris is in again, with three editions (1.0, 1.5 and 2.0).

1.0, I'm tempted to say, is familiar territory from many an anthology since the sixties onward; a huge dollop of Apocalypse Past, Present and Future, frequently wrapped in the memes of Tales of the (Totally) Expected. Anthologies can be a bit hit-or-miss, but the joy of them is that another author will be along in a few pages with something different. And there is plenty of variety in this Solaris volume.


The beginning and end point of so many stories is the impending desctruction of man, the Earth or the Universe, plus or minus hubristic twist, sardonic writing style and latest bit of theoretical physics.

So you can enjoy Adam Roberts Shall I Tell You the Problem with Time Travel? and Stephen Baxter's Rock Day for what they are; timeless, workman-like tales with an emotional core. Ken MacLeod's The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three is more satiricial.

Moving with the scientific times, Paul di Filippo's Sweet Spots relies on chaos theory, while Dave Hutchinson's The Incredible Exploding Man is a little too evocative of Alan Moore's Watchmen to be successful (although I liked it a lot). The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara by Lavie Tidhar does a lively, if tasteless, turn on the whole cloning-thing but is more of an essay in possibilities than a story.

Ian McDonald's A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead is perhaps the smartest, most socially switched on, best structured and satisfying of this collection. I also liked Jack Skillingstead's Steel Lake since it is all emotion, all story and the sci-fi element is an all but redundant hook.

There's a chunk of self-regarding worthy failures in the second half. Mooncakes (Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom) is a rather too-worthy analysis of culture and ethnicity, for which the sci-fi is a paper-thin pretext. Returning to Apocalypse Future, At Play in the Fields by Steve Rasnic Tem is another of those man-screws-up-the-planet, the-Triffids-Shall-Inherit-the-Earth-tales. Quite. How We Came Back from Mars by Ian Watson is way too knowingly referential to Capricorn One to bother about. Whilst You Never Know by Pat Cadigan is an oddly pointless post-911 curio.

Back to some kind of form, I did like Yestermorrow, Richard Salter's Minority Report meets Time Traveller's Wife detective yarn, although it further demonstrates the impossibility of convincing time travel/precognition stories.
In Dreaming Towers, Silent Mansions, Jaine Fenn takes us on a 2001 wormhole adventure. I'd frame this as the antithesis of Event Horizon.

For the finale, Eternity's Children (Keith Brooke and Eric Brown), for all that it has a great title and good writing, is a standard, mournful, old-style space colony tale. For the Ages by Alastair Reynolds is an ambitious space mission gone wrong tale, any-era sci-fi but with some Dark Energy physics guff mashed in as a McGuffin.

The end tale, Return of the Mutant Worms (Peter F. Hamilton) is both in-joke and satire on the publishing industry. Somebody really should have excluded this smug self-indulgence, it's no way to end a good anthology.

Despite the fact that almost every piece evokes some other sci-fi book or movie, I may take a look at the other volumes in the Solaris Rising series; the solid precious highlights more than make up for the lack-lustre plated items. RC

Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction [Paperback]
Published by Solaris http://www.solarisbooks.com/
ISBN-10: 190799209X; ISBN-13: 978-1907992094

Contents:
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

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