Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Two by George Mann

(2008-03-23)

    

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two.

Published by Solaris Books, March 2008.

ISBN: 9781844165421

413 pages

 

Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit

 

In Volume One of this anthology series it was mentioned from the start that there was an avowed intention by Solaris Books to produce a yearly set of books that were not collections of stories already in the published magazines (Analog, Fantasy and SF Magazine, Interzone etc) but instead to produce a book which had new fiction worthy of a reader’s attention.

 

And so, a year after the first, we have a second book. In it we have the customary introduction by George Mann (where, this time, as well as examining the state of short story publishing, the mandate of producing a yearly anthology is re-emphasised) and fifteen tales of space, adventure and otherworldlyness.

 

The range of authors is pretty impressive. There are a sprinkling of increasingly well known authors published by Solaris – Eric Brown, Dan Abnett, Chris Roberson - as well as new-to-me authors – Dominic Green, Mary Robinette Kowal - some up and coming authors – Peter Watts, Kay Kenyon, Karl Schroeder, Brenda Cooper, David Louis Edelman – and two fairly well known names – Neal Asher (who was in the first collection and has two stories in this collection) and Michael Moorcock. The last name there for me (as readers of the Forums will know) is a particular thrill for me.

 

The book started weakly for me though. Paul Di Fillipo’s iCity was a story with a great idea but little to hang the idea on. The tale is basically that of rivalry between competitive architects in a sort-of Sim City writ real. The idea was good, the style good but the actual plot to me was weak and left something to be desired for me.

 

The second story, The Space Crawl Blues, was much better. Kay Kenyon’s tale was a story about the consequences of progress as normal spaceships and their pilots are left redundant to make way for instantaneous Quantum Transition – rather like Neal Asher’s runcible devices. This story was traditional and yet elegiac, with a nice twist at the end.

 

The third story was a Chris Roberson story. The Line of Dichotomy is one of his rapidly growing stories set in his future universe, dominated by the Mexicans and the Chinese. This stood out: a tale of guerrilla warfare on a hostile planet. Taut, suspenseful, fast moving, this one was worth the read.

 

The fourth tale was Fifty Dinosaurs by Robert Reed. I found this to be an odd one and very different from my experience of Robert’s work to date (which is usually big space opera). Part dream, partly psychedelic: think of a surreal combination of teen date movie and talking dinosaurs. Not sure I liked this one.

 

Neal Asher’s two stories about Mason’s Rats are collectively about a future farmer and his unusual working relationship with cyber-rats.  The first story, Black Rat, introduces Mason and his unusual relationship with the farm rats: the second, Autotractor, is a tale of workers against the might of agricultutal bureaucracy. Told with humour and not typical Asher fare, though for me these were weakened by not really highlighting Neal’s strengths. Amusing, though for me, not ‘prime Asher’.

 

Brenda Cooper’s rather more traditional tale, Blood Bonds, tells of siblings separated by distance, and what they will do to maintain their relationship. Pretty effective.

 

Peter Watts’s story, The Eyes of God, creates a disturbing picture of a future where people can be checked through airport security more quickly, but not necessarily in a way without consequences. Unsettling.

 

Eric Brown’s lengthy tale, Sunworld, was a fairly traditional rite of passage tale that wouldn’t have felt out of place in an older collection. I enjoyed it as far as it went but couldn’t help feeling there was something missing.

 

Mary Robinette Kowal’s tale, in contrast, was very short but effective. The tale Evil Robot Monkey gave an interestingly alternate view of primate uplift. The story makes an amusingly appropriate counterpoint to Planet of the Apes or Flowers for Algernon.

 

Shining Armour by Dominic Green is a tale of loyalty and heroism against the corporation, set in a future Japanese-style feudal society. Reminded me of High Noon or Kagemusha, but in an SF form. 

 

Similarly, Book, Theatre and Wheel was a science-fantasy tale of religion and book-banning in a historical, Witchfinder General-type setting. Very nicely done by Karl Schroeder, reminded me in part of Fahrenheit 451 as well as of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque series (without the length.)

 

David Louis Edelman’s story, Mathralon, is a tale of future redundancy, re-emphasised by the difficulties of communication across interplanetary distance. Very sharp and effective, with a lean style that leads the reader to consider: what if your life is based around the mining of one rare mineral? 

 

Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius tale, Modem Days, is the longest story in the collection, being over seventy pages in length. This is typical modern Moorcock: fractured, disconnected, the tale is the usual pattern of short vignettes, combined with real information and Multiverse alternatives, in order to examine topics as diverse as Christmas, Thatcherism, global warming, and consumerism, as well as the political machinations and consequences of Blair, Bush and Iraq.

 

As ever, the narrative is difficult to describe, their cumulative effect is what counts, with the splintered style showing wit, intelligence and charm, as well as a touch of the usual Moorcock subversion. This shows that Mike is still able to produce amusing, literate, intelligent, thought-provoking SF stuff (albeit with its connection to the current zeitgeist), and, if you can get your head around the style and accept that the story is not straightforward, is highly recommended. Perhaps most scarily, most of the snippets of news given to highlight the sections throughout are real.

 

Lastly, Dan Abnett’s very short coda is a pleasingly amusing means of concluding the collection. Point of Contact tells of humans’ first interaction with aliens. Or rather, it tells us what it was not. (It was not grey men, nor green, for example.) If you know your SF, you’ll love the references in this one. However, nothing much happens.

 

On balance this is a pretty fine collection, with (as perhaps to be expected with a work of this range) a few hits and misses along the way. In particular for me the hits were Kay Kenyon’s, Peter Watts’s, Chris Roberson’s and Michael Moorcock’s. Generally, though, the collection shows an interesting breadth across the SF spectrum, which can only highlight to some the broad nature of SF from the contemporary to the traditional.

 

For me, the more traditional style stories tended to work better, and if you like contemporary Moorcock, the book is worth it for that story alone (but please, bear in mind I am a fan.) It must also be said that as a sampler for new or unfamiliar authors (often the case for collections such as this) the anthology worked pretty well. Overall, there were few I really disliked, and some, such as the Roberson, were of sufficient quality to make me want to go and read more of their work.

 

Generally the good news is that there were many more hits than misses for me, and as a result this is a recommended collection, with the hope that Volume Three appears next year.

 

Solaris Books: www.solarisbooks.com

 

Rob reviewed the first volume of Solaris’ New Fantasy collection (link HERE)

 

 

 Mark Yon / Hobbit, March 2008

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