My life in outer space

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction – George Mann (Ed) – (2007)

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas
Bioship – Neal Asher
C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout
The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove
Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo
If at First… – Peter F Hamilton
A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts
Last Contact – Stephen Baxter
Cages – Ian Watson
Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold
Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo
Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss
The Accord – Keith Brooke
The Wedding Party – Simon Ings
Third Person – Tony Ballantyne
The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

Solaris is a new SF imprint, making an enterprising splash with an anthology of newly commissioned material from the great and good of the SF world.

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas starts us off with a story from Punktown featuring a character who also features in a novel shortly to be published by Solaris. Bearing this in mind, I was setting myself up to be disappointed, but was genuinely impressed by this story of a shapeshifter war veteran whose face has frozen as one of his victims from his time in the war (with blue-skinned people from an alternate reality).
Very dark. Quite Gothic. China Mieville likes it.

Bioship – Neal Asher

A rather weak tale from Asher about sexual rivalry on board a sentient ship (a sea-vessel not a spaceship).
It features the genetically modified lip-tentacled humans (I presume) that we met in the novel ‘Brass Man.’

C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout

One of the crew of a trading vessel docks at a city composed of three linked asteroids where he has a regular date with a security guard. However, the man is also on a pilgrimage to find his mother; one of the blind slaves who built the station for The Proctor.
Very moving. Well-paced. Atmospheric.

The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove

An excellent tale from Lovegrove about an escaped logovirus which alters the speech centres of the brain. This particular virus, the Bowdler strain, makes it impossible for people to swear. It comes out as gibberish. It is up to the scientist in charge and the military to get the situation resolved.
See also ‘The Isolinguals’

Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo

Set in a world where on can have one’s own personal Jesus, rather like an i-pod, giving one advice in one’s ear. Is it all just too good to be true?
The voice of God was discovered when the first quantum computers went online and now everyone has their own godPod through which they can talk to Jesus whenever they wish. The world is a peaceful and contented place.
Our hero, however, has his doubts as to how happy he actually is.

If at First… – Peter F Hamilton

Hamilton’s story, in contrast to the previous two, is a fairly simple idea, but told ingeniously. Narrated by the policeman who investigated the original case, it slowly becomes clear to us that his history is a different one to our own.
It turns out that a man has been stalking a multi-millionaire businessman because he suspects that he has a time-machine and has been passing information to his younger self.
Things, however, are not quite as simple as that.

A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts

A religious cult (Roberts seems keen on his religious fanatics) settles on a world 2700 light years from Earth and, following the teachings of Shad, are composed of two thousand and forty-eight people, half male, half female, who will pair off and produce one child per couple in every generation until the birth of the final child; The Unique, and thus install Grace into the Universe.
Grace, the cult believes, travels backwards through time and will therefore reach Earth at the time of Christ’s birth.
It’s no more bonkers than any other religious theories, and Roberts writes so damn well that the characters’ convictions come across startlingly powerfully.

Last Contact – Stephen Baxter

What does one do when one knows that the world will end on a specific date, and ironically, just when SETI is beginning to receive messages from the stars?
A mother and her daughter come to terms with the discovery of the Big Rip, which is destroying the universe by degrees and will deal with the earth on October 14. Perversely, SETI – with which the mother is involved – has begun receiving messages from super-civilisations across the cosmos. The mother has her own ideas as to what these messages may be.

Cages – Ian Watson

Watson has made a name for himself by taking absurd premises and carving exquisite short pieces from them, like beautifully wrought ivory figures.
Here, earth has been invaded by Hoops, which hang in the air and disgorge giant bee-like aliens (The Harrow) who attach irremovable cages to various parts of people’s bodies. An intelligence agent is sent to a festival where some musical reactionaries are planning to transmit some of the bees’ remixed sounds back through the hoops in order to provoke them into some kind of dialogue.
As with all Watson’s work, it’s a brilliantly dense piece of writing, full of complex ‘stuff’ and surely deserves a larger format to explore more global and personal ramifications.
The concept of ‘cages’ of course, works on different levels in this story, some obvious, some more subtle.

Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold

In this post-modern parody, Resnick and Gerrold show us the life of a writer based on an amalgam I suspect, of PK Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs. A tale full of SF devices, clichés and in-jokes and featuring an attack on a whole plethora of SF writers, thinly disguised, including the two authors themselves. They even manage to sneak in AE van Vogt’s famous Sevagram.

Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo

A brilliant bit of character-driven drama in which an African couple and their young son, working on mars, have to temporarily take in some Land Ethic Nomads. They believe that Man should live nowhere but Earth and are trying to persuade Mars settlers to return.
When they leave, it appears that one of them, Valkini, has sabotaged their nuclear plant since their radiation monitors are showing high levels.

Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss

A prose-poem-ish piece from Aldiss in which four ladies (and a fifth) visit a dictator. The horsemen are, it appears, too exhausted by their labours to appear at this juncture.

The Accord – Keith Brooke

Tish and her husband run a bar on a strange and beautiful world. They are happy until a mysterious stranger turns up, pursued by three other mysterious strangers, intent on his capture. She becomes infatuated with the stranger and is determined to discover who or what he is.

The Wedding Party – Simon Ings

Simon Ings often reads like Ian Watson a serious acid downer.
In a future Europe, a man goes to extraordinary and somewhat surgical lengths to smuggle his African lovers into the UK.
Beautifully written. Very poetic. Very dark.

Third Person – Tony Ballantyne

The British Army are in Spain, fighting the S.E.A., and have to pillage what they need to get back to Britain. It’s a tale about military ethics and who or what one might sacrifice for the greater good.

The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

A surprise story, which starts in the real world where a group of friends who meet at a village pub are curious about a new arrival, a writer. Then we are hammered by the news that first contact has already been made, and that the aliens, the Kethani, can resurrect humans who have been implanted with one of their chips.
The narrator has already been resurrected but his recollections of the Kethani world are vague. The writer’s latest book is about a group of friends who commit joint suicide in order to be resurrected and travel the Universe together.
So who or what is the writer, and should the group be tempted by the idea?
It’s one of the most intriguing stories in this volume since its theme is Faith and conviction, and although the fact of resurrection has been proven here, the details of the ‘afterlife’ are unclear, perhaps necessarily so, or perhaps there is a more sinister purpose in the Kethani’s plans.

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