Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review of Solaris Rising 1.5 ed. by. Ian Whates

The follow up to Ian Whates’ solid Solaris Rising anthology is, surprisingly, not Solaris Rising 2.  Something possible only in the modern era, Solaris decided to publish a mini-anthology e-book as both a bridge and precursor to the second entry.  Solaris Rising 1.5 (2012) is, as far as I know, the only anthology bearing a decimal.  Whates himself admitting it was a surprise affair, the overall quality of the stories belies mediocre preparation, and ultimately does not meet the standard set by the first volume.  The authors apparently contacted at short notice to see what they had available, the resulting rush means that not all of the nine stories are up to snuff.  There are a couple, however, which may be worth it.

The first story in Solaris Rising 1.5 is Adam Roberts’ “What Did Tessimond Tell You?”  A single concept stretched thin—almost to the point of snapping, the story is science fiction as it once was: a grand idea populated by two dimensional characters.  Roberts builds suspense admirably, and the ultimate payoff will cause every reader to pause and think.  But it is not enough to prevent proceedings from being an idea indelicately injected into the lives of standby characters.  Apparently part of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya Universe, “Two Sisters in Exile” is the story of a unfortunate incident between galactic adversaries.  When a Northerner mindship is accidentally killed, the Nam attempt to forestall vengeance by returning the metal corpse under a white flag.  Featuring a Vietnamese galactic empire filled with Vietnamese cooking (yet again), de Bodard is up to her old tricks on the surface.  But at the story’s core, the human elements (despite the death being a mindship) speak more to cultural relations and the ensuing difficulties, and as a result is one of the better stories in this mini-anthology.

After the first two offerings, the quality of Solaris Rising 1.5 lags through the middle.  “Another Apocalypse” by Gareth L. Powell has the voice of an innate storyteller (his imagery is comic book crisp).  The story told, however, entirely lacks depth or context. Perhaps a window into a larger universe he has created in other novels, as a standalone short it just doesn’t cohere. On the run in a futuristic flavela from a gang who wants their debt paid in blood or money, a young man is rescued by a space trader armed to the teeth.  Action ensues, and goes many places save anywhere with underlying purpose.  “The Second Civil War” by Mike Resnick, is, well, how to describe it… like a highschooler theorizing on what the US would be like were the Confederacy to have defeated the Union in the Civil War.  Napkin scribblings better, I’m hard-pressed to think how this back drawer material made its way into any anthology.  Thankfully, it is a scant few pages. (See Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee for a more effective civil war alternate history.)  “Charlotte” by Sarah Lotz can be summed up in an even shorter span: spider guard dog with melodrama.  No more, no less.  The oddest in the anthology, “The Gift” by Phillip Vine is the story of a writer in a hospital bed who makes a deal with the devil to acquire a certain something that will allow him to become the Next Big Thing, and one day the Great American Writer.  Relevant to today’s publishing, indeed one may need to lop off a part of their soul to get their first novel published, intentions thwarted by commercialism and big publishers.  (Vine’s story is a significantly better way to sound off at the state of publishing than Peter Hamilton’s story in Solaris Rising 1.)

Tanith Lee is a good writer, and the story she contributes to Solaris Rising 1.5 is well-written.  But it’s empty, oh so empty.  Alien contact reduced to a simple joke, Lee is apparently old enough not to give a damn.  “A New Arrival at the House of Love” by Paul Cornell is an obtuse romance of science fiction dimension: vis a vis, not your standard Jane Austen novel—though Cornell does reference the British belle of lettres.  Virtual fantasy, post-humanism, however you want to look at it, Cornell’s story is out there.  The best saved for last, “A Palazzo in the Stars” by Paul Di Filippo closes the anthology with an homage to H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon and a fantastical mid-19 th century imagination.  The story of an American artist hired by an eccentric Italian Duke to capture the images of a journey he plans to the moon, romance ensues with the Duke’s beautifully ugly daughter on their way to the superbly imagined palace of the moon.  Di Filippo’s pen sharper than usual (which is saying something in Di Filippo’s case), the images he concocts do indeed pay homage to yesteryear while injecting something fresh into the scene. Without this story, the anthology would essentially be a failure.

In the end, Solaris Rising 1.5 feels like an anthology just hoping to cash in quick—on luck, it would seem. A little money came available to Solaris, and they decided to whip together what is essentially half an anthology.  Not that the nine stories are spectacularly bad, but certainly Solaris did not get lucky and capture lightning in a bottle.  Di Filippo’s story is worth notice, Roberts and de Bodard’s can be read again, Vines and Cornell’s are fair, but the remainder are mindless, cutting-room-floor material.  Unless any of the writers are a particular favorite, the reader would be better off investing in the whole numbers of Solaris Rising.

The following is the table of contents for the anthology:

Bulding Bridges: An Introduction by Ian Whates
“What Did Tessimond Tell You?” by Adam Roberts
“Two Sisters in Exile” by Aliette de Bodard
“Another Apocalypse” by Gareth L. Powell
“The Second Civil War” by Mike Resnick
“Charlotte” by Sarah Lotz
“The Gift” by Phillip Vine
“IT” by Tanith Lee
“A New Arrival at the House of Love” by Paul Cornell
“A Palazzo in the Stars” by Paul Di Filippo

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