Solaris Rising: The New Solaris book of Science Fiction edited by Ian Whates
I am not entirely sure how one is supposed to review a short story collection. I have found that very rarely is a collection categorically ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ There’s always at least a few stinkers in any great anthology, and always at least one or two great stories in any weak anthology. This book, and the series that it belongs to, is chiefly notable for attracting a group of writers who make up the core of the post-millenial renaissance in space opera: Ken Macleod, Peter F. Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds. There are also stories from authors who are currently hot such as Paul di Filippo* and Ian McDonald, whose work has been poppping up constantly in my reading lately. A few older, master storytellers step in as well, including Stephen Baxter and Mike Resnick.
Based on the Solaris imprint, I was definitely expecting a heavy space-opera emphasis, but there was really only one story that fit soundly in that sub-genre, “For the Ages” by Alastair Reynolds. Not surprisingly, it was my favorite of the collection, dealing as it did with such highly Reynoldsian themes as deep-time and genuine speculation on how interstellar travel would have to operate. The basic premise is that humans realize the dark energy fueled expansion of the universe will, several tens of billions of years hence, will eventually push all galaxies outside of the local group completely out of sight over the universal horizon, forever hiding evidence of the Big Bang from our light cone. Seeking to enlighten whatever future alien races may occupy the Local Group, we embark on a mission to record a complete account of astrophysics on the diamond surface of a planet orbiting a super-stable pulsar. The only problem with creating an account of all knowledge meant to last forever? It always requires a few revisions before it’s even done.
Other stories in the collection mostly take place on earth, and many take place either in the present or the recent past, highlighting a definite trend in sci-fi away from futuristic speculation and towards re-examining the fantastical scientific advances all around us. Kind of a sci-fi equivalent of Magical Realism, I suppose. Some of the stories I really loved in the book were “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara,” by Lavie Tidhar, postulating a world in which the 20th century was shaped more than anything by numerous secret clones of the engimatic socialist revolutionary; “Yestermorrow” by Richard Salter, in which a slip in space time causes all people to experience their lives out of order — and a whole new bureaucratic apparatus arises to make sure things still happen in the right order; and “How We Came Back from Mars,” in which some stranded astronauts learn that sometimes even the most out-there conspiracy theory is less strange than the truth.
*CORRECTION 11/08/2013: An earlier version of this post mis-identified Mr. Di Fillippo as the author of the Windup Girl. That book is by Paolo Bacigalupi. Paul di Filippo is best known as the author of short story collections including The Steampunk Trilogy and Ribofunk. Thank you to Mr. di Filippo himself for identifying the error.