Ian Whates (ed.) – Solaris Rising 3

ianwhates-solarisrising3Following the exceptionally well received Solaris Rising 1, 1.5 (e-only) and 2, series editor Ian Whates brings even more best-selling and cutting-edge SF authors together for the latest extraordinary volume of new original ground-breaking stories.

These stories are guaranteed to surprise,thrill and delight, and continue our mission to demonstrate why science-fiction remains the most exciting, varied and inspiring of all fiction genres. In Solaris Rising 1 and 2 we showed both the quality and variety that modern science fiction can produce. In Solaris Rising 3, we’ll be taking SF into the outer reaches of the universe. Aliette de Bodard, Tony Ballantyne and Sean Williams are just three of the exciting names to appear.

Solaris Rising 3 is officially the fourth instalment in the reboot of the New Solaris Book of Science Fiction. This anthology series is one of my favourites. Whates finds a nice balance between easily accessible stories and the somewhat harder to parse, making the Solaris Rising series interesting to both relative new readers of SF and those more veteran readers. It is also the series that first made me realise that I might really like SF and short fiction after all, so I admittedly have a soft spot for it. 

And this latest instalment doesn’t disappoint, though there were a couple of stories that didn’t work for me. Most notably Ian Watson’s Faith Without Teeth, which as a story was fine and I enjoyed its visuals and the locations and era it invoked with its wall dividing a city, but after finishing the story and putting the book away to go about my day, I completely stalled on the anthology. It actually took me a couple of weeks to pick the book back up and read the rest of the stories, something that is really rare for me. The other is one that really should have worked for me with its mix of timelines and a love story at its heart is The Howl by Ian R. MacLeod and Martin Sketchley. But for some reason it didn’t click with me as I kept expecting it to and in a way it meant the story was brought down by the expectations it raised in me.

Of course there were also some stories that I enjoyed at the time of reading, but which have faded a bit from memory, so while they aren’t quite stories that left me “Meh”, they weren’t really memorable either. Unlike Cat Sparks’ Dark Harvest, Rachel Swirsky’s Endless, Julie E. Czerneda’s A Taste for Murder, and Benjamin Rosenbaum’s Fift & Shria, which were all stories I really enjoyed. But in the end they didn’t quite make the cut of stories that lingered and which I’ll talk about in a bit more detail.

Ken Liu – Homo Floresiensis
An author whose work never fails to entertain, Ken Liu’s story here certainly entertained me. It also proved to be a bit of a conundrum, because I had to wonder whether this is an SF story or not? Set in Indonesia in what seems to be the present day, there aren’t really any true SFnal elements. Yet for all intents and purposes, this was an Earth-bound first contact story. It is Star Trek’s Prime Directive translated to the field of anthropology and shows the ethical conundrum of interfering in a less advanced civilisation. I loved this story, not just for the narrative itself, but also for the way it made me think and consider its merits as an SF story.

Aliette de Bodard – The Frost on Jade Buds
De Bodard’s Xuya universe is fascinating and one I’ve enjoyed visiting on prior occasions. The Dai Viet and Galactic empires are such interesting cultures and the Mindships are just wonderful creations. But on top of the great setting, De Bodard also weaves a wonderfully complex tale of familial love and loyalty and questions whether while avoiding war is the correct thing to strive, but is it also always the right thing?

Gareth L. Powell – Red Lights, and Rain
This story you guys, this story was just plain, unadulterated fun. Yes, there are some deeper themes to it, but what comes to mind most is how fun it is. It’s Buffy meets Dexter set in Amsterdam. Enhanced super soldier from the future, a time travelling bounty hunter, and an ending that leaves you considering whether you misread the entire story the first time.

Laura Lam – They Swim Through Sunset Seas
When I saw Lam’s name in the line up, I was completely surprised. I know her writing from reading her two gaslight YA fantasy novels, Pantomime and Shadowplay. So to see an SF story from her was a surprise. But a very pleasant one as it turns out. They Swim Through Sunset Seas is a haunting story, one with definite horror overtones and which left me feeling slightly claustrophobic at times. I liked this original spin on a contained environment thriller/scary water monster mashup. Though as scary as the monsters and the situation were, at the same time, I felt empathy for the little Nyxi, the phrase Hungry for free made me feel so sorry for it. And it made me question whether the aggression the Nyxi display towards the humans wasn’t completely justified. How would we react if an alien race took one of our children so they could study it? Not much better I’d suspect.

Nina Allan – The Science of Chance
Nina Allen’s The Science of Chance was a great story, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why I enjoyed it so much, as there are plenty of things that bugged me, especially the rather abrupt ending and the why of the story. By that last I mean, the ending felt so unresolved that I felt lost on how to interpret the narrative: what was its goal? Was it more about the journey the protagonist takes or the mystery of it all? Yet despite this, I loved the story and was gripped by it both times I read it. I loved the slow connecting of the puzzle pieces and the way she put together a theory, implausible as it seems, it’s also the only one that fits all the clues.And the hints of time travel were so tantalising. Lastly, the little girl in the red coat waiting for her mum was such a strong visual and I kept picturing her standing there amidst the bustle of the busy station.

Once again Ian Whates has created a strong line up of stories in Solaris Rising 3, which made for an overall enjoyable read. There is something there for all SF fans and I think the series still makes a good stepping stone for those interested in getting into reading SF. Hopefully, Whates will be back with a Solaris Rising 4 next year.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • I have a copy of this one but I didn’t get a chance to read it before the release date, so it’s kind of languished back in the To Read pile since then. There are some fantastic authors in the collection, though, so I do want to make time to read it… eventually…