Solaris 2 being the third in the excellent Solaris Rising series.
Duh? I hear you query.
Well, after the excellent Solaris 1 back in 2011 (reviewed on Best SF here), someone came up with the wizzard wheeze of publishing Solaris 1.5, an e-book only title (reviewed on Best SF here), whilst we waited for the next print version.
Now that the whetting and the wheezing is over, I’m liking the cut of Solaris Rising 2 on editor Whates’ jib with his cunning plan to populate this volume with an entirely new set of authors to Solaris Rising 1, making it almost a complementary volume, rather than the next in a a linear series.
So what of the stories…?
Paul Cornell. Tom.
Entertaining take on (ahem) relationships between humans and aliens, through the bond between a human and a female of the aquatic Carviv race, which have arrived on Earth. The females are relatively close to us physiologically and psychologically, but the males are more like whales, which sets up an interesting three-way relationship.
Nancy Kress. More.
Cracking little story from Kress, who has been producing quality near-future socio-political stories for a l-o-n-g time (it’s over 20 yrs since ‘Beggars in Spain’!).
Here she looks at a father/daughter relationship that has been broken asunder, by the father’s creation of a technology that effectively keeps the have-nots away from the haves. Coming out of prison after a 15-year stretch, the revolutionary fires burn as bright in Caitlin as they ever have, but have dimmed in her former compatriots. She’s ready for another big, high-profile incident. Very big, and very personal.
James Lovegrove. Shall Inherit.
Following on from Nancy Kress’ ‘More’, Lovegrove provides another excellent father/child relationship. It’s a neat idea, as the autistic son fits the profile for an interstellar journey, and the trip to take the son to Heathrow Airport to meet the shuttle that will ensure his survival is a poignant one, due the relationship (or lack of it) between father and son.
Adrian Tchaikovsky. Feast and Famine.
Tchaikovsy is an author not previously known to me. From the author bio he appears to have a fantasy bent rather than an sf bent, but this story is pretty much hard SF out of somewhere like Analog. A spaceship crew is on a mission to solve a mystery.
Except it’s written quite well, and has some clever tweaks. There is a mystery to be solved, and a ship crew/AI combo has a role to play. The slight drawback is the kind of ‘would they really do that?’ that ruined Prometheus (spoiler : they find the missing spaceship, dead, including its crew, overwhelmed by a lichen on an asteroid. So what do they do? Land right next to the missing spaceship and send someone out to look at it…)
But the POV character is nicely drawn, isn’t a square-jawed hero, or a Clever Scientist who works out what is happening. So Tchaikovsky shows that whilst his name isn’t there, he can stand shouldersquare with those names that are on the cover.
Eugie Foster. Whatever Skin You Wear.
A neat story from Foster. She takes us only a few years into the future, when the real world is seen and experienced through the filter of technology, people and places made to look, and feel, quite different – giving the individual to appear to others exactly as they wish.
When the technology goes down for a few minutes – a vanishingly rare occurrence – people see each other as they really are : wrinkles and all.
There’s a twist in the tail with the story, or indeed, a couple of kinks in the tale as it were, as the kittenish love interest of the protagonist turns out to be quite, quite different in RL (Real Life). OMG WTF LOL I believe the youngsters say these days….
Neal Williamson. Pearl in the Shell.
A cautionary tale from Williamson, positing a future in which music has been ruined by an International Copyright Simplification Programme, which has determined that there are in fact only a finite number of truly unique melodies and lyrics. Which means that there’s nothing left to be written that won’t be identified as directly linked to a previous song.
The Victaz crew are in London, making their way through public transport, stealing music and ‘mashing it up’ to produce music with short clips – the only way to circumvent the copyright laws. Some nice touches throughout.
Nick Harkaway. The Time Gun.
Harkaway has fun (as does the reader) with this story of a ne’er-do-well who finds his attempt at a spot of thieving lends him in a whole heap of trouble. Heap of trouble as being bounced back to the beginning of time. This gives him the opportunity to reflect on the error of his ways, but the Butterfly Effect of travelling back in time has even more serious impact than in A Sound of Thunder.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch. When Thomas Jefferson Dined Alone.
Clearly prolific author has either mastered the techniques used in Nancy Kress’ ‘Beggars in Spain’ to go without sleep, else she’s cloned herself, as her output of late, just in SF, has been quite remarkable, let alone the variety of nom-de-plumes with which she peppers other genres.
Here she takes a look at the ghosts that supposably haunt The White House, taking a slightly different view on time travel – by seeing it through the eyes of academic research.
Robert Reed. Bonds.
Intriguing story from Reed. The narrator describes the rise to fame of an autistic young man, whose fame comes through a pseudo-science that becomes globally popular. He posits that there are ‘bonds’ between people stronger and more real than those of which we normally peak. The narrator himself is an individual similarly estranged from most of society, saving for a few dozen contacts with shared interests. When the pseudo-science appears to be supported by ‘real’ science, the narrator is given food for though.
Intriguing in the sense of needing to mull this one over for a couple of days to work it out!
Allen Steele. Ticking.
After a plethora of zombie and vampire stories of late, nice to see a somewhat different post-apocalyptic story.
It’s an interesting apocalypse in that it’s primarily based around most technology stopping, except for robots, which seem to be re-programmed to kill humans. Exactly what has happened, and why, is found out through a multi-perspective story (which does something rarely done in most multi-perspective stories) – and the ticking to which the title refers is a key…
Kim Lakin-Smith. Before Hope.
With a solid background of economic and political systems across a distant planetary system, a fuel trucker visits a client with his new apprentice. All is not as it seems, and he has hopes for Hope (the apprentice) – with a similar background, will she have similar political beliefs?
Kay Kenyon. The Spires of Greme.
Kenyon’s ‘Castoff World’ was one of the stronger stories in the anthology ‘Shine’, and this story is equally as good, and shares some similarities. The earlier story features a post-something world with a floating recycling mat on which a young woman and her grandfather live. This features, quite vividly, a world where eco-terrorists/freedom fighters have given the world the opportunity to fight the human menace, and humanity is reduced to living in small enclaves in mobile spires (I’m thinking Howl’s Moving Castle), treading carefully over a forest that can fight back.
Sark Highspire is a young woman whose life is mapped out for her – she is to be transferred to a neighbouring spire as a bride, to ensure DNA is spread across the spires. There’s dramatic action, heroism and sacrifice in a few short pages.
Mercurio D. Rivera. Manmade.
The title refers to processes that enable AIs to instantiate themselves in human form, and thus add the dimension of human emotions to their lives. One such is not happy, having made the transition, and the story discusses (the majority of it is dialogue) some of the ethical issues, and reveals the reason why the now-human AI feels the need to revert. It’s a little sketchy, and explaining everything so clearly in the dialogue failed to grab this reader.
Martin Sketchley. The Circle of Least Confusion.
A story that didn’t really grab me, perhaps as it flipped between three different perspectives – a young married couple on Earth, their relationship not at a good place, find that coming across some alien technology that enables them to see some possible futures for them, is a catalyst in resolving their relationship. We see both his and her perspectives and thought-processes, and also the alien who has been using the tech in combat on a far-off planet, and it lacks a bit of depth and subtlety.
Norman Sprinrad. Far Distant Suns.
A dispatch from a xeno-scientist, explaining his reason for ignoring the directive not to make planetfall on the first planet with intelligent life humanity discovers. To find out his reason, you’re going to have to seek out the story! The ‘story’ draws on history and theory and some primeval human stuff, and is a good one.
Liz Williams. The Lighthouse.
Great read from Williams. The story is set up quickly, and intrigues. The protagonist is born of her mother, the sole inhabitant of a solitary lighthouse on a coast of a remote, otherwise uninhabited planet. The mother relates the galactic battle that is raging, and the reason for their isolation, but when the time comes for her mother to die and for her to take her place, there is a visit, and more is explained.
Martin McGrath. The First Dance.
Touching, salutary tale about the a potential future where copyright is king, and where, rather than issuing takedown notices for videos on YouTube, copyright owners are able to take our very memories, where those memories contain their copyright. An elderly man visits someone who can help him have one last moment of reflection – the first dance with his wife. It’s a touching and human take on what might be…
Mike Allen. Still Live With Skull.
If it’s a still life, it’s one done by Salvador Dali!
With all manner of things possible with body modification, and I mean all things, this is a complex, dense story of flight, with layers within layers, of who is what, or why, or when. Not easy to describe, especially if it’s a fortnight since you read it, but the feeling of reading the story sticks in the mind if not the plot detail!
Vandana Singh. With Fate Conspire.
A strong ending to a strong volume. A layered story, with a post-climactic change India under water, a woman from a poor background who has abilities that the authorities are wishing to use in order to get out of the mess, those abilities which enable her to peek into the past, a past which informs the future. The story is mostly internal to her : her thoughts, dreams, nightmares, hopes. Not a story with a simple storyline, and it’s ambiguous, and all the better for it.
Borrow from your public library (if you have one!), go to your local bookstore, or if you absolutely must, purchase from the Mega Tax Avoidance Corporation : amazon.com : book | kindle amazon.co.uk : book | kindle
Another excellent collection from Whates and from Solaris, with only a couple of weaker stories. May this editor/publisher combo live long and prosper.