I discovered The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction quite by chance while browsing at a local bookstore. I’d never heard of Solaris, but the cover’s promise of new stories by Neal Asher, Peter F. Hamilton, and Stephen Baxter caught my eye. So, I thought, why not?
Happily, that decision paid off, because this is an excellent collection, bringing together a wide variety of stories. My favorites were:
“The Bowdler Strain” by James Lovegrove- Havoc ensues when a mind-altering “logovirus” that makes its victims unable to swear escapes from a government lab and spreads across
“Personal Jesus” by Paul Di Fillipo- Humanity has found a technology that allows direct two-way communication with God, and now everyone carries a personal “godPod” that dispenses advice. Society has become near-utopian. But just what does God want from us? Starts off humorous, then gets… well, I don’t want to give it away. Great use of a very bizarre premise.
“If At First” by Peter F. Hamilton- Amusing story about the uses and abuses of time travel. Very similar to a scheme I once came up with for misusing time travel, actually.
“A Distillation of Grace” by Adam Roberts- The story of a strange sect in the distant future, carrying out an elaborate breeding program to create the “Unique,” who will be the combined genetic essence of God’s holiest followers. For the sake of this holy cause, the wills of individuals are a minor concern…
“Last Contact” by Stephen Baxter- Brings together two of the things Baxter does best: cosmological speculation and being depressing as hell. The first story I can remember reading that deals with the idea of the “Big Rip.” Baxter is often more emotionally effective than people give him credit for, and he shows that here.
“The Accord” by Keith Brooke- I can’t really describe what this is about, or what makes it interesting, without massive spoilers. It’s an example of a surprise twist ending done right, in which the ending is a surprise but still flows naturally from what came before, and makes you see everything that happened before in a new way.
In addition, there are also fine stories by Jeffrey Thomas, Neal Asher,
There are some clunkers. The weakest entry is definitely “Four Ladies of the Apocalypse” by Brian Aldiss. There’s very little plot, the writing style struck me as badly overdone, and I get the impression that the author was trying to make some sort of profound point and botching it. I also didn’t care for “Third Person” by Tony Ballantyne (the titular drug is an interesting idea, but the setting didn’t make much sense), “Cages” by Ian Watson, or “Jellyfish” by Mike Resnick and David Gerrold. The misses are badly outnumbered by the hits, however.
I’d definitely recommend The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction to any science fiction fan. Lots of great stories, and it’s a great way to find new authors. You can check out what else Solaris has to offer at their website.