Ian Whates (ed.) – Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction

Solaris Rising presents nineteen stories of the very highest calibre from some of the most accomplished authors in the genre, proving just how varied and dynamic science fiction can be. From strange goings on in the present to explorations of bizarre futures, from drug-induced tragedy to time-hopping serial killers, from crucial choices in deepest space to a ravaged Earth under alien thrall, from gritty other worlds to surreal other realms, Solaris Rising delivers a broad spectrum of experiences and excitements, showcasing the genre at its very best.

Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction has a very exciting line-up of contributors. It’s the perfect way to get a taste of some of today’s most exciting SF voices. The only ones from this collection I’ve read work from before are Eric Brown and Peter F. Hamilton. So for this relative SF newbie this anthology was quite a treat and a great way to expand my acquaintance with today’s SF writers.

Before I get to some of the separate stories, I wanted to touch on what reading this anthology made me discover. Thus far the SF I’ve read has mostly been either military SF or SF with a more Urban flavour, such as Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland and Marianne de Pierres’ Parrish Plessis series. I’ve read Eric Brown’s Kéthani, Peter F. Hamilton’s Misspent Youth and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (for which I still need to write a review) and those three would all fit in the more traditional SF category, I think. But what all of the SF I’ve read has in common, is that it’s more about the people than the technology. None of them are what I’d call Hard SF, by which I mean that even a straight up Humanities student such as myself, who doesn’t have a lot of natural aptitude for the Sciences, can understand and enjoy it. In reading this anthology that was what became clear to me. I really do prefer the stories that focus more on people, whether people dealing with the future, people interacting with aliens, or people just being people. And I learned that, as the flap text says, SF is a very broad church; there are as many forms as there are stories.

Solaris Rising is a very strong collection of stories. Out of the nineteen of them in the book, there was only one real dud for me. And honestly, I’m still not sure I “get” the story and whether that might not be the reason I didn’t like it. The story that has me so confused is Pat Cadigan’s You Never Know. I actually still don’t know what happened. I know it’s about this guy who works in a thrift shop style store, who has a favourite customer visit him almost every day, who gets a camera security system installed and then you’ve lost me. There’s something about wave functions and … voom … that went right over my head! Which is a shame, because stylistically, I quite enjoyed Ms Cadigan’s writing.

The remaining eighteen stories were very enjoyable, with about six really standing out for me. The first is A Smart-Mannered Uprising of the Dead by Ian McDonald, which is also the first story in the book. The reason the story fascinated me is that it resonated with an article I’d read about mapping the Republic of Letters by Stanford University – which of course now I can’t find any more, but here’s a link to the project  – that referred to said Republic as the Facebook of the Eighteenth Century.  So to start off with, there was something outside of the text to hook me into it. But then I discovered that the story was wonderful in and of itself. I loved the idea of the dearly departed still commenting on our lives from their virtual hereafter and taking action to put people in their place. I also liked the final twist, the reveal of what had really happened. This was my first time reading anything by Ian McDonald and it won’t be my last!

The second of my favourite stories is Sweet Spots by Paul di Filippo. It’s a story about learning that there are consequences to your actions and taking responsibility for your choices. Even if this was a short story, the main character showed real growth and I truly enjoyed this one. Next up is Rock Day by Stephen Baxter. Matt’s, the main character’s, story is such a sweet, touching story, a boy and his dog. I loved the way this turned out. At first I thought it was a bit like a rapture story with all the people raptured and some people left behind, but the twist it had was masterful and had me sighing in satisfaction. Ian Watson’s How We Came Back From Mars was another favourite. I loved the play on the eternal conspiracy theories surrounding the moon landing and the way the crew were both spared and still lost their lives was played out very well. Another well-thought out conceit was the one central to Richard Salter’s Yestermorrow, in which each person gets a number of allotted days to live but these days aren’t consequential, they jump around in their lives. At first was a little confusing to wrap my head around, but once I got used to the concept, I thought the story was amazing. It was so cleverly done and I loved the interplay between the main character’s job – he’s a detective solving a case – and what we get to see of his private life, the problems this day-jumping causes in his marriage.

My final favourite is Eternity’s Children, a collaboration between Eric Brown and Keith Brooke. I loved this bitter sweet tale of a world about to be left behind, almost a final contact story as it were. Eric Brown is one of the two authors in this anthology I’ve read before and I expected to enjoy this tale, but it wasn’t what I’d expected from having read Kéthani. The latter surely has aliens in it, but they’re distant, mysterious beings and the novel is focused on Earth. While this collaboration featured a far flung planet, colonised by humans, where they peacefully co-exist with the native species, even having to go as far as to be adapted to the inimical plant life to survive. It was a beautiful and sad story and I loved the ending.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you’re of a mind to dip your toes into Science Fiction, then this is a perfect starting point. At the same time, I think this is also a rewarding read for SF aficionados, if only to be treated to stories by some of their favourites. From Mr Whates’ foreword, I gather that this is a reboot of the previous The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction series; hopefully this first volume of the new iteration will be a great success and Solaris will decide to publish more volumes in the future, as I’d certainly be back for more. Solaris Rising is one anthology anyone with an interest in SF shouldn’t miss!

This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.

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