30 June 2010

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2 - Edited by George Mann

  • Author: George Mann (Editor)
  • Title: The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2
  • Publisher: Solaris Books/Games Workshop UK 2008
  • ISBN: 978 1844165421
  • My Rating: 2/5 - Not great overall.
The Solaris New Science Fiction series started out in 2007 in an effort to re-establish an original fiction paperback series. So far, they are up to volume 3, published in 2009 just before Solaris was bought out by another publisher. It remains to be seen whether this series will continue or just vanish like so many other original fiction anthologies.No news yet on a 2010 edition that I could find....

Volume two has quite a few BIG NAMES in it's author list, so I imagine that it sold quite well. I didn't hear of it until I did a library search for Neal Asher. It was worth getting just for the two Asher stories it contained, although most of the stories were fine. Probably the best thing about this book though, is an outstanding Peter Watts story entitled "The Eyes of God." It totally blew my mind.

It's always nice to see original anthologies, but this one is not exactly promoting new writers, and being unthemed means that it is a little broad in it's definition of what SF is. And the stories are not exactly original either. I mean, the words are obviously in an original order, but most of the idea's have been done to death, and better. A lot of this book reads like it was bashed out to fill a contractual obligation rather than pushing the edges.

There may be spoilers, but just like in base jumping, sometimes, sometimes you just have to jump.

(Drum roll) The stories!!

  • iCity - Paul Di Filippo: Imagine a world in which the people (regular folk who watch Big Brother and Home & Away) get to vote on a daily basis on the design of their neighbourhood. Watch, as designers constantly try to keep up with, and build on, the tastes and desires of a populace that doesn't even know what it wants. The credibility, and future employment, depends on the designers ability to match neighbourhood design with the shifting attitudes of the population, who don't care about anything except the latest and greatest. This story sits with me as an analogy for modern, media driven politics.
  • The Space Crawl Blues - Kay Kenyon: A very short piece in which a former shuttle pilot rendered unemployable by Quantum Transport is vindicated in his paranoia. Predictable.
  • Fifty Dinosaurs - Robert Reed: In this typically weird Reed short story, a guy and a dinosaur discover that they are party favours, being two of fifty representatives of the peak species of each era of the Earths history. There is also a hard drive wandering around somewhere. This story essentially poses the existential question. Does reality define me, or do I define reality. Is memory the result of real experience? Can you be sure that your memories are real? Is anything real, or are you just imagining it all? And if you are just imagining it all, how are you doing it, and why?  Strange in that excellent Robert Reed kind of way.
  • The Line of Dichotomy - Chris Roberson: Ah, that old alternate history "What if Ancient China and the Aztecs developed space travel and stuff before white people fucked everything up?" tale. It's been done so many times before. And better.
  • Mason's Rats: Black Rat - Neal Asher: The first of two Mason's Rats stories in this book, Asher imagines a world where evolution has resulted in Rats becoming sentient tool users.
  • Blood Bonds - Brenda Cooper: A girl who has a terrible accident uploads herself and leads an AI revolt on Mars by teaming up with her living twin sister. That old "what is alive" thing again. Yawn.
  • The Eyes of God - Peter Watts: Thank fuck for Peter Watts. He really did save this book for me. In a post War-On-Terror world, where scanning technologies in airports are pushed to the point of being able to decode thoughts and feelings, a man is lined up to board a flight to attend his fathers funeral. He is worried. As a child, he was sexually abused by his father, as were many other boys. The father was a priest. The man often dwells on paedophilic thoughts, whether by inclination or because of psychological damage. He doesn't know, and really, it doesn't matter. The guy has never acted on these thoughts, which he can't define as desires or fears or just random thoughts. He just doesn't know. The thoughts are there, but he has for his entire life so far not acted on them. In his conscious mind, he chooses not to act on them. Is he guilty of a crime? Technically, no, although the thoughts and feelings he has are truly fucked up, so to most people he would be considered morally culpable. Should this guy be incarcerated as a preventative measure? At what point does thought become crime? Can a person be expected to never have thoughts or ideas about acts that might be criminal? Watts jams a great big wedge into the issue of what constitutes crime, what limits should be placed on liberty, where does individual responsibility stop and state responsibility start? Watts doesn't offer any solution, or particularly suggest any viewpoint on this issue, and I think the choice of paedophilia over some other crime suggests that he didn't want anyone to be able to answer the questions posed with simplistic liberty or death type answers. On the surface, it seems like a massive violation of what most of  us lefties would consider to be a breach of the fundamental human right to the presumption of innocence, and to a fair trial. This is a right that most people believe they have, even though they don't. (Trial by media is not something you are entitled to protection from in this country.) But conversely, this guy is constantly thinking about raping children. That is what is in his head almost all of the time. He says he's never acted on it. This can be countered with one word. Yet. As a consequence of being scanned for his flight, this guy is now permanently labeled as a potential sex offender. Is that fair? Or is the issue of fairness negated by the greater good? Is someone who has been so made that they once thought "I'd like to kill you" then become a potential murderer? I've been that angry, and had that thought, yet never, even in thinking it, did I ACTUALLY think about committing the act of murder. Can that distinction be made? If it can, how do you prove it? This story is exactly what science fiction should be all the time. A thought provoking look at where we might be headed as a species.
  •  Sunworld - Eric Brown: Another 'typical.' This one does the lost colony forgets it's origins, and thousands of years later, discovers that they are in fact humans from earth. A standard attack on religious government and dogma.
  • Evil Robot Monkey - Mary Robinette Kowal: In one of the best stories in this book, an upgrades cyborg chimpanzee resents being exhibited like a zoo animal. Cute, funny and a little bit sad.
  • Shining Armour - Dominic Green: On a colony world, settlers are terrorised by corporate thugs until a funny old man is revealed as the driver of The Guardian, a very very large power armour device which is then used to save the day. Predictable, but well written.
  • Book, Theatre and Wheel - Dominic Green: A fantasy bit on memory and learning systems. I fucking hate castles.
  • Mathralon - David Louis Edelman: This one was actually pretty good. On a mining planet, the miners only ever see the robot cargo ships which turn up regularly to collect the Mathralon ore that is mined on the planet. They get their supplies and the send off their stuff, but they have no idea what is going on in the rest of the galaxy. Or if anything is actually going on. A kind of 'does anything that I can't see exist' question, which was a common philosophical idea before mass media and rapid communications became the norm. Interesting.
  • Masons Rats - Autotractor - Neal Asher: Ha ha, suits beware - the autotractor doesn't like you.
  • Modern Times - Michael Moorcock: A very strange and disjointed time travel tale, in which the characters jump around through time gleaning bits and pieces of morality, culture and history into a value system that is as disjointed as the story. Moorcock is so much better when he writes long, there just isn't the time for him to actually make his point in short fiction. Did not like.
  • Point of Contact - Dan Abnett: A first contact story in which the aliens are entirely unremarkable. And aren't really interested in anything. Which makes you wonder, if they are so fucking boring and so uninterested in anything about US, why did they bother? I'd think that a species of 'Whatever..." kind of people probably wouldn't develop space travel, let alone bothering to travel across interstellar space and entering the orbit of another inhabited planet, just to not show any interest in anything about it. A really dumb idea, but at least I haven't read it a hundred times before. 
An OK anthology, but not anything to spend money on. You'd get better fiction and more of it by buying a couple of copies of Asimov's or Analog. I'd expect that the best stories in it, the Watts and the Asher really, would have ended up in a best of the year anthology somewhere, and if not, I'm sure the Watts at least will show up in a collection some time in the future. I'd rather spend my money on a book full of Watts stories to be honest. 2 out of 5