Solaris Book of Best new SF vol 2 (book, 2008)


A review of an anthology from Death Ray 12. One of the best things about Death Ray was that we had the space to go through the whole thing, story by story.

George Mann (ed) /Solaris

FOUR STARS

Another solid collection of SF shorts from the new kind on the block.

This collection is, in spite of its many good points, an enemy unto itself, and that comes down mostly to pacing.

Mann’s cautiously triumphant introduction is overlong, the fiction starts with a story that is competent but is not the soul-firing trip of the imagination a truly grand collection requires as an opening salvo. There are two stories by Neal Asher set in the same universe, and though they are both greatly entertaining, this is kind of unforgivable in a format which is all about variety. Variety in general is lacking here, the ordering of the stories accentuates the similarity in tone and subject matter between them. Two, for example, are delivered in strictly didactic terms. SF is as subject to fashion as much as anything, and all these stories are drawn from the same year, but it would have been good to shake it up a bit.

Individually, the stories themselves are not at fault, and it is good value for money. But it lacks a certain polish in presentation, and, crucially, that one brilliant tale that makes you sit up and take notice. This is a box of silver, bereft of gold.

 

iCity

Paul Di Filippo

TWO STARS

Slick but unengaging story of Sim City being played out for real. Improbable and one-dimensional.

The Space Crawl Blues

Kay Kenyon

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Confused story about a pilot who is put out of a job by instantaneous travel device. A half-hearted love story backs onto the tale of dispossession, which is itself resolved tritely.

The Line of Dichotomy

Chris Roberson

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Adventure tale set in Roberson’s Fire Star universe, where Aztec and Chinese empires battle over Mars. Some of the plotting is too convenient, but good characterization wins the day.

Fifty Dinosaurs

Robert Reed

THREE STARS

A boy and a tyrannosaur are two of fifty extinct beings reconstituted for a sentient plasmoid’s birthday party in the really distant future. The idea, though original, is not strong enough for the length of the story.

Mason’s Rats: Black Rat

Neal Asher

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Non-Polity story from Asher about a farmer who makes mutually beneficial arrangements with the intelligent rats inhabiting his farm. Very amusing.

Blood Bonds

Brenda Cooper

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Twins, one crippled, one not, become embroiled in the struggle for AI rights. This use of twins as a device to discuss personhood doesn’t quite gel with the story’s aims.

The Eyes of God

Peter Watts

THREE AND A HALF STARS

An essay on criminality, desire, and intent wrapped up in a swipe at surveillance society. Thoughtful, though picking paedophilia as the argument’s motif is unsubtle.

Sunworld

Eric Brown

TWO STARS

Great author, Brown, one of the few who still writes eyes-open-with wonder golden-age style tales. But this one, where a young man discovers the truth about his bubble-world, is pressed from an over-used mould.

Evil Robot Monkey

Mary Robinette Kowal

FOUR STARS

The shortest, and one of the best, stories here present. The travails of an enhanced, artistic chimp. Streamlined to the point of elegance.

Shining Armor

Dominic Green

THREE STARS

Odd, engaging story about a giant robot and farming. Ties itself in knots trying to hide the identity of the characters. Otherwise it’s kind of like an episode of a cartoon, complete with (actually pretty good) moral.

Book, Theatre and Wheel

Karl Schroeder

FOUR STARS

Great story about duty towards knowledge. But it is set in medieval Europe, and though the themes it features are core to the science-fictional world-view, it’s hard to see this as actually SF.

Mathralon

David Louis Edelman

THREE AND A HALF STARS

The first of the collection’s tell-not-show tales concerns the meaningfulness, or otherwise, of life’s day-to-day grind.

Mason’s Rats: Autotractor

Neal Asher

FOUR STARS

Number two of Asher’s comedic take on the Rats of NIMH; this one even more amusing.

Modem Times

Michael Moorcock

FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Disjointed as all Cornelius tales are, this one takes us on a peripatetic ramble through Moorcock’s thoughts, guilts and feelings for home. I never really got Cornelius, or indeed some of Moorcock’s later work, veering as it does towards the polemical. But I get this.

Point of Contact

Dan Abnett

THREE STARS

Alien contact, like Christmas, will probably not be all it’s cracked up to be. A downbeat end to the anthology penned by prolific scribe Abnett. The second of the book’s didactic offerings.

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