Solaris Rising 3, a 2014 science fiction anthology edited by Ian Whates, is a solid and memorable collection. There’s a story from Aliette de Bodard’s award-winning Dai Viet universe, a far future postcolonial space opera, that brings to mind the horrifying real-world consequences of left-behind minefields. Ken Liu’s anti-colonialist “Homo Floresiensis” is told from the perspective of modern biologists in Indonesia and contains my favorite line, as it encapsulates so succinctly the failure of the artistic legacy of the colonialist perspective: The jungle, he saw now, was neither Eden nor the heart of darkness. Beautiful, right?
The stories in this anthology are cerebral while also being pretty straightforward. I was really jonesing for some stuff in space, and I much enjoyed the very creepy aliens in Chris Beckett’s “The Goblin Hunter” and Laura Lam’s “They Swim Through Sunset Seas.” There’re also time traveling martial vampires and participants in an unethical dystopian experiment, amongst other subjects.
In this very even collection of thought-provoking stories, these two stand out to me most:
“When We Harvested the Nacre-Rice” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (yes, I am reading all the things) is my first introduction to her Hegemonic universe. Military science fiction with a feminine touch and a South Asian feel is a fairly rare combination, and this was the story that made it click that I love military SF, especially when it’s written by women. In this story two civilizations are at war, one that is fought not with bombs or artillery but across neural networks; attacks are waged by disrupting emotions, cognition, and memory. Payahal rescues a drowning stranger who, unbeknownst to her, possesses the power to change the course of battle. Arthropodous machines and imaginative culinary constructions (opal tea!) make this story a treat imagery-wise, as per usual for Sriduangkaew.
Within the anthology is also a stylistic celebration of space exploration from Alex Dally MacFarlane — I feel like “Popular Images from the First Manned Mission to Enceladus” (bonus points for cool title) could have been lengthened into a novelette or short novella. I think I just want more of it or stories like it; it’s super-refreshing to read a story about the excitement to discover the only sort of aliens we’re at all likely to find anytime soon — microscopically tiny multicellular organisms on one of Saturn’s tiny moons. The story deals with the conflict between science and business as well. The author brings her literary A-game; where Sriduangkaew excels with sensory imagery, MacFarlane does with cool narrative constructions and voice. As the editor alludes to in the introduction, these are two new literary heavyweights, and their careers will be fun to follow.