Ian Whates (ed) – Solaris Rising 2

ianwhates-solarisrising2Having re-affirmed Solaris’ proud reputation for producing high quality science fiction anthologies in the first volume, Solaris Rising 2 is the next collection in this exciting series. Featuring stories by Allan Steele, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kim Lakin-Smith, Paul Cornell, Eugie Foster, Nick Harkaway, Nancy Kress, Kay Kenyon, James Lovegrove, Robert Reed, Mercurio D. Rivera, Norman Spinrad, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Liz Williams, Vandana Singh, Martin Sketchley, and more.

These stories are guaranteed to surprise, thrill and delight, and maintain our mission to demonstrate why science fiction remains the most exciting, varied and inspiring of all fiction genres. In Solaris Rising we showed both the quality and variety that modern SF can produce. In Solaris Rising 2, we’ll be taking that much, much further.

In 2011 Solaris revived the Solaris Book of New Science Fiction series with Solaris Rising. I greatly admired the book and really enjoyed it. In my conclusion to the review I said I hoped that the book would be a success so there would be more instalments in the series. Evidently it was, as here I am with a review for Solaris Rising 2. The collection of authors is quite different from the last one with some names I wouldn’t have expected in an SF setting, such as Adrian Tchaikovsky.   

There were two stories that didn’t really work for me, mostly due to their ending. Robert Reed’s Bonds started of interesting enough telling the story of a young man with serious mental issues who becomes a cult idol due to a spurious theory about the nature of the universe. I liked the tale but at one point the story turns from a tale about an elaborate con into something that might actually be true, at which point Reed lost me and by the ending the story just fell flat for me. Martin Sketchley’s The Circle of Least Confusion consisted of interesting concepts, lost me with the dual storylines and the contrived way of getting the gadget in the hands of the protagonist. I also had a hard time relating to the way Kate, the female main character, didn’t tell her partner she was pregnant when she found out. That’s a completely personal reaction though, as it’s completely opposite of my own experiences in that regard. The ending also felt rather abrupt and I was left with questions regarding the fate of the alien sniper, who featured in the story.

Even though this anthology is meant to show the variety and scope of SF, there are some themes that repeat, such as time travel, the malleability of history, and the interplay between humanity and technology. There is a nice mixture of earth-bound and off-world stories. But the stories I enjoyed most were almost all stories that dealt with human(oid) emotions – the misunderstandings that are possible due to lack of communication of emotions, intersection between the other and human emotion – and with history and its fragility, both literally and figuratively.

Paul Cornell’s Tom is a beautiful love story, not just of a man and a woman, albeit an alien one, but also of a father for his son, even if that son is completely unique. The complexity of parental love and the unconditionality of the nameless protagonist’s love for his boy definitely struck a chord with me. Neil Williamson’s Pearl in the Shell shows the development of music, of human connectivity through technology, and the creative process that is completely focused on finding something new, something that hasn’t been done before to avoid having to pay massive royalty fees to earlier creators. It’s taking the entertainment industry’s current attitude to copyrights to extreme and makes for an interesting narrative. When Thomas Jefferson Dined Alone by Kristine Katherine Rusch is a time travel story set in the world of academia, where history scholars are able to flies on the wall of their historical subjects and deals with not just the effects of these visits on our understanding of history, but also on history itself, when history seems to be changing incrementally and not in a way you’d expect. Mercurio D. Rivera’s Manmade is the story of the effects of gaining full emotional cognizance on artificial intelligence, it’s a futuristic, subverted Pinocchio story with robots instead of a wooden puppet. I loved the emotional depth of the story and the protagonist’s feeling of helplessness to help not just the boy who comes to her for help, but also her own son. Liz Williams’ The Lighthouse is almost an origin story and shows that history is always shaped by the ones who write it. Is the truth we learn from our narrator the truth? Or is it a fiction that has grown into truth over the ages? I liked the tone and ending of the story and the way it made me think about history.

Solaris Rising 2 is a wonderful second volume in the New Solaris Book of Science Fiction and with it I hope it gains a permanent place on the roster at Solaris. Looking at the recently announced addition of Jonathan Strahan’s The Best SFF of the Year to the Solaris stable of anthologies, in addition to the other anthology series they have running, it looks like Solaris is creating a strong position in the anthology business, so a permanent spot on the roster seems likely. Just as the first book in the series, Solaris Rising 2 is a great introduction to SF and some of its most talented authors.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.