Book Review: Solaris Rising (various writers)

I realise I am late in the day with this review. The Solaris series after all is now an annual event and this first one came out three years ago. I bought it in 2012 when it was on kindle daily deal and have only just got around to reading it now. The collection boasts such modern science fiction giants as Ian McDonald, Ken Macleod, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds so the question we all want an answer to is whether it lives up to that level of expectation.

I won’t summarise all of the stories here, just a handful of my favourites and most noteworthy. It’s an eclectic collection without a common theme to link them merely beyond having some big names and award winners.

Ian MacDonald (author of The Dervish House) is first up with a first person tale set at the end of the 21st century where China is exploiting the food resources of an unnamed African country. It’s told by a dead man observing the politically volatile situation in the country and how, despite being dead, he can do something about it thanks to a recent technological development.

My next favourite in the volume is Stephen Baxter’s Rock Day. Young Matthew wakes up in his quiet leafy Liverpool suburb to see the world around him deserted. There’s no power, no food and the neighbourhood is a mess; only the widower next door seems to be the only other person left in the city. When Matthew takes the dog out for a walk, he learns the truth of what happened to the world and to him.

Lavie Tidhar is known for producing some weird stuff, most notably a book about Osama Bin Laden that had critics either scratching their head in bemusement or lauding it as a work of pure artistic genius. In, The Lives And Deaths of Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary gets the same treatment. Revived after his death, he is moved to Lebanon where he can help sort out that conflict. Some social commentary if you know much about the man or the period.

I really enjoyed Ian Watson’s How we came back from Mars. It’s about a group of astronauts returned from the red planet by a flying saucer – the owners of which refuse to identify themselves. Instead of Arizona or Nevada, they end up on a film set in rural Spain and nobody will believe they are not actors. Lots of in-jokes about faked moon landings make this one of the quirkiest in the volume.

I really wanted to like Yestermorrow. Some time in 2013, a strange time anomaly takes place in the UK and people are no longer living their lives in a linear fashion. For example, I could wake up tomorrow and re-live a day from my past (you can’t go back to before the event “The Slip”, happened) but still have the memories of yesterday when I was 39. The day after, I may wake up on my 70th birthday etc. This is about a detective investigating a murder that took place moments before the victim was supposed to die in a suicide. The government tries to prevent further anomalies by telling people what will happen to them on any given day, including the day of their death. Interesting, but a little difficult to get into.

There’s some quality work from some big names but none of them truly stand out here. Most of the stories are just ok, some are good but not great and that’s quite disappointing considering.

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