The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Three. (ed George Mann, Solaris 2009.)

The third in the Solaris series hits the street just as the word on those streets is that the imprint has been put up for sale by Games Workshop, who want to concentrate on their core wargaming business.

I was somewhat disappointed in the second in the series after the solid start of the sequence. So what of #3? The front cover offers six Big (mostly British) Names, which augurs well.

Jack Skillingstead’s ‘Rescue Mission’ opens the volume to good effect. Out in deep space, a pilot is drawn in by the Siren call on a vegetation-covered planet. Said vegetation is keen to embrace him, and to keep him, and he is absorbed and immersed, and it only through the intervention of his shipmates (one human, one not) that he is able to make his escape.

Next up is Alastair Reynold’s ‘The Fixation’ which steps up the quality. A young researcher in an Earth just slightly different from ours – a Persian dominated world. She is working on an ancient artefact, a somewhat anomalous geared mechanism. There is a bigger project afoot elsewhere, where the artefact will be put into some hi-tech kit than can use ‘entropy exchange’ to link with other instances of the artefact in other quantum Earth’s. By in effect pinching a few atoms from each other instance, the artefact can be brought to a more complete state.

However, there are dangers inherent in this, and the true cost of trying to pinch from another reality are brought home.

Stephen Baxter’s ‘Artifact’ follows. It also looks at the idea of multiple universes, of quantum branes, and Baxter gives it a solid scientific base. As he often does to great effect, Baxter combines a human story with a boggling galactic backdrop, as the very nature of human mortality is addressed against the aeons of gravity waves.

John Meaney’s ‘Necroflux Day’ is evidently set in the alternate Earth of his ‘Bone Days’ and ‘Dark Blood’ novels. A young boy has to come to terms with his mixed-race heritage, with aliens of his father’s type starting to be at risk of being identified as a minority who can be blamed (for whatever the larger population feels is in need of blame). However, in coming to terms with himself the boy is able to find out more about the nature of society, and just what happens to those people who surrender the calcium in their bones.

I haven’t read as much of him of late, so seeing Paul Di Filippo’s ‘Providence’ in the contents listing was welcome, and the story itself is up to his usual standards. I have yet to see Pixar’s ‘Wall-E’, so cannot comment on the extent to with PDF is riffing off of that film, but suffice to say in a post-human world (a world without humans, as opposed to one with post-humans), the robots and automata which survive do in fact have a bizarre fetish for vinyl records, and Reddy K’s LCD’s light up with pleasure as he gets the opportunity to salvage a big pile of records. However, it’s not a safe trip to take possession of them, and he and a smaller companion have to face those of their kind who show human tendencies to rob, murder and disassemble. Gonzo fun.

Warren Hammond’s ‘Carnival Night’ comes after Necroflux Day. It features the cop of his ‘gritty, futuristic, detective novels’ ‘KOP’ and ‘ex-KOP’. It features a hard-drinking cop (doh!) who has to solve a murder.

Ian Whates’ ‘The Assistant’ features the leader of a night-duty time who come into offices to clear up after the staff have gone home. Clear up in terms of dealing with a number of types of intrusion to the premises and the IT.

Scott Edelman’s ‘Glitch’ is somewhat unsettling – in takes some very human emotions and explores them in the cold world of AIs. Substantiated in physical presences, S-tr and X-ta are a couple, but their relationship is in trouble as ‘she’ will not do ‘that thing’. We do not find out what ‘that thing’ is immediately, and when ‘he’ in effect commits suicide, ‘she’ is determined to find out what has been going on. It transpires that in this cold, robotic, post-human (as above, a world without humans), world, there are still human frailties and desires. In a dramatic and unsettling finale, ‘she’ finds herself in an underground club where the AI’s in their metallic humanion bodies, don outfits to make them look human, and act very, very human.

It’s the kind of warped things that ‘Futurama’ at its best does.

Paul Cornell’s ‘One of Our Bastards Is Missing’ does have more than a feel of a Dr. Who episode (Cornell writes Dr. Who novels amongst other things). Indeed, the story could easily be turned into an episode. In an alternate Earth, Victorian England-ish, a young Princess and her betrothed are hosting a ball when an Austrian guest close to her suddenly disappears into thin air. This isn’t as unusual as it might be, as the control of such things is fairly commonplace, although the palace security should have stopped it happening. It turns out in fact that there has been a double-bluff as not only has the Austrian disappeared into a local time anomaly, but he has taken the Princess with him, and put a doppelganger in her place. Palace security has to get the Princess back.

It’s an intriguing society created by Cornell, the second story in that setting, the first having been in Anders ‘Fast Forward #2’ : so if you enjoyed ‘Catherine Drew’ in that volume, you will enjoy this one.

Adam Roberts’ ‘Woodpunk’ is set in the forests around Chernobyl, where Gaia, accompanied by a rogue scientist, is seeking humans with which to redress the radioactive imbalance.

Jennifer Pelland’s ‘Minya’s Astral Angels’ is from an author new to me. She got a Nebula nomination for her story ‘Captive Girl’, which I’ve yet to read, but which I may well do so having read this one.

Minya is the daughter (one of many) of a wealthy businesswoman, who takes unkindly to her daugher getting too involved with the modified human clones which tend to the outside of spaceships and orbiting stations. She becomes intimately involved with the sexless and asexual and nonsexual creatures, and is willing to give of her own DNA to enable them to be able to claim human status.

Daniel Abraham’s ‘The Best Monkey’ is a strong science thriller – a struggling journo in new-media publishing finds his past catching up with him, as an old flame whose career has far outstripped his, is the target of investigative journalism. He has to face up to where his life has gone (or not) in dealing with his ex-lover, and he finds out just what she has lost in order to get where she has gotten.

A lighter tone comes with Ian Watson’s ‘Long Stay’ in which he posits a long-stay airport carpark that is so large it serves, and links to, both London Stansted and London Luton airports. As someone who has got to an airport carpark after a hectic overseas business trip and completely forgotten where the car is parked..

Tim Akers’ ‘A Soul Stitched to Iron’ is part of the setting of his ‘House of Veridon’ novel, which is/was forthcoming from Solaris Books. The story is a strong piece of world-building, providing a vivid and three-dimensional setting, as opposed to defaulting to a cod-fantasy vaguely medieval setting, with a couple of memorable scenes (an animated corpse supported by an external steampunk exo-skeleton being one; and a human embedded in an ancient, very ancient, giant).

A short to finish the volume, Ken MacLeod’s ‘iThink, Therefore I Am’ is a gadget manual for a gadget taken to the logical extreme.

Conclusion.

A strong collection, with only a very slight dip in the middle. Unlike the last volume, with this one I can see a couple of the stories vying for a place in one of the Year’s Best SF anthologies, and hopefully the imprint will find a buyer so that the pocket-sized series can continue.

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