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The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction by George Mann
Edited by George Mann
Review by Iain Emsley
Solaris Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1844164489
Date: 30 January 2007 List Price 4.07 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

The opening salvo from new British genre imprint Solaris, and the calibre of authors on display in The Solaris Book of New Science Fictions shows that this is publisher with pulling power enough to attract the very best writers.

"The eclectic stories and novelettes in this collection range from futuristic murder mysteries, to widescreen space opera, to tales of contact with alien beings. All stories are original to the collection and have never appeared in print before. This is truly a book for all lovers of science fiction and is a fabulous introduction to the world of Solaris Books."

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction is intriguing: old and new - cutting edge, yet delightfully good old-fashioned futures. It is certainly a fascinating read and one which sets out the Solaris stall as potentially having something for everyone -- and it is mercifully light on the Over the Top military action! On the whole, as all multi-authored anthologies tend to be, this collection is a little uneven with some outstanding stand-alone stories and some that serve as introductions to worlds.

The opening short, Jeffrey Thomas's, "In His Sights", is one such introduction – in this instance to his world of Punktown. A sniper has returned from the war against the Ha Jiin only to be stalked by a human. His face has attained the look of the last person he killed and he is desperate to remove the scar. Thomas delivers just enough information to give a sense of the war, delivers solid and strong world-building in his depiction of Punktown which bodes well for his forthcoming novel Deadstock, which is set in the same world and is another of the Solaris launch titles.

The two outstanding stories for me were by James Lovegrove and Paul di Filippo. Lovegrove has cornered the typically English cosy catastrophe market and delivers a fantastically funny story. Returning to the word play of Provender Gleed (reviewed in our September 05 issue), his story "The Bowlder Strain" is set after the Bowdler virus escapes from a secure military hospital full of hokum science. The ensuing chaos allows Lovegrove to run riot and had me laughing out loud on the bus whilst also contemplating the use of language to communicate. At the other end of the scale in modernity is di Fillippo's "Personal Jesus", a homily on the ubiquitous iPod. He turns the cool white object of desire into an extraordinary thing full of marvel and dread, whilst being horrifically accurate in observing our general obsession with the item.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed the Peter Hamilton or the Stephen Baxter stories, but as ever with reviewing, it is always a matter of personal taste. Hamilton's time travel, "If At First..." story is a solid construction which harks back to the Greg Mandel crime stories with a slight additional twist which retains the credibility of the narrative but it feels as if it is comfort eating. It tells its story well enough but doesn't push boundaries or seek to push the characters that hard. Neither does the Baxter story, "Last Contact". The writing cannot be faulted but up against the younger authors in this collection, the old guard is beginning to show signs of ageing – with the notable exception of Brain Aldiss, whose "Four Ladies of the Apocalypse" shows that even in his eighties, this genre grandmaster still packs a heft punch..

The balance of this anthology is pleasingly tilted towards authors such as Eric Brown, Keith Brooke, Simon Ings – British authors who have never really gained the recognition that their work truly deserves - perhaps Solaris, particularly with their launch into the US marketplace will help reconcile this fact? There is something for everybody in this strong collection of stories and as a opening manifesto, it is brave selection. One hopes that the publisher and editor will maintain their nerve and be brave enough to keep publishing such bright writing and in doing so perhaps break away from following trends.

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