Space opera is back! Editor Ian Whates discusses his packed new science fiction story collection which features many of your favourite authors
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Today sees the launch of Solaris Rising 2 , which is of course the second collection of science fiction short stories from Solaris . It features 19 stories from the likes of Paul Cornell, Kim Lakin-Smith, James Lovegrove, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Liz Williams and Neil Williamson and promises to be a smashing read. So we roped editor Ian Whates to a chair and beat him* until he told us more about the book’s contents.
SFX : What was your biggest challenge in choosing the final selection of tales?
Ian Whates: Turning down some stories by authors I’ve long admired and whose work I’ve been reading for years. Not necessarily because they were bad stories, but because they perhaps covered similar territory to another piece in the book, or simply because the stories I ended up accepting were a little stronger, in my opinion.
SFX : How do you go about corralling so many authors into one place?
Whates: This is the 18th anthology I’ve edited and, to be honest, I love the process. I simply wouldn’t have the time to conduct an “open submission”, so it’s by invite only. In a sense this is akin to putting together a mosaic. I’m looking for as rich and varied a selection of stories as possible, and in my mind each invite represents another element to introduce into an ever-changing pattern. Some authors inevitably decline due to existing commitments, while others submit pieces that aren’t quite what I’m after, but slowly the book takes shape. The internet is invaluable. How anthologies ever came into being before the advent of such instantaneous communication, I dread to think.
SFX : Do you have a personal favourite story from the collection?
Whates: No, I don’t. When arranging the order of the component stories, I always try to start and finish with pieces I consider to be particularly strong – in this instance Paul Cornell’s and Vandana Singh’s – but that doesn’t mean they’re the only stand-outs. Nancy Kress delivered a fabulous story, but I didn’t think it had the punch to open with so placed it second; while at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum there’s James Lovegrove’s thoughtful and poignant “Shall Inherit” and Nick Harkaway’s madcap “The Time Gun”, and some of the lesser-known authors such as Kim Lakin-Smith and Neil Williamson more than held their own – the latter with his spiky take on street gangs and the future of music… I’d better stop there before I go through every author and story in the book. No, there is genuinely no single story I could point to and say, “That one.”
SFX : What one vision of the future in Solaris Rising 2 do you most hope we live to see in reality?
Whates: Ooh, that’s a toughie. I could quote several examples of things I sincerely hope don’t come to pass – I’ve always maintained that science fiction is the literature of potential rather than prediction, the genre that asks the question “what if…?” As such, I think SF inevitably delivers many stories that explore possible risks, dangers, and shortcomings in the way certain aspects of society might be headed. The stories in Solaris Rising 2 are no exception. I think if I were to choose one thing that I’d love to see come to pass, it would have to be space travel on a grand scale. Predictable and hardly a revelation, I know, but that would be quite something to see, wouldn’t it?
SFX : What’s the continuing appeal of space opera (in a post-Space Shuttle, post-Neil Armstrong age)?
Whates: Space Opera has been around since the EE “Doc” Smith’s Lensman stories first appeared in the 1930s. You’d think that, after all this time, the appeal might have diminished; that as our knowledge of the stars and the nature of the universe broadens there would be less appetite for such fancies, but… No chance. The more we know, the more there is for the imagination to work on and play with. Ambitious scope, complicated world-building, sophisticated hardware, well-drawn characters and relationships, intrigue, adventure, romance, and epic battles… What’s not to love?
SFX : What trends and changes do you see in the modern science fiction landscape?
Whates: Until we know all there is to know about everything, there will always be room for conjecture and for building fictions around speculation. Science fiction evolves constantly, as it should and as it has to. The quickly-growing nature of communication in all its forms only increases the potential for SF to be formed and delivered in differing ways. That shouldn’t threaten the traditional formats, merely add to them. To ensure the short story remains in its current healthy state, I think we have to keep emphasising the sheer thrill that a short sharp punch of quality fiction can deliver as opposed to the slow burn of a well-crafted novel. I’m not saying that short stories are better than novels, just that they provide a different reading experience that deserves equal respect. One of the great joys of an anthology is the discovery of a brand new author or two that you otherwise wouldn’t have read. That’s how I started reading SF, going on to devour the novels of authors whose shorter work I’d first stumbled on in various anthologies. If Solaris Rising 2 can achieve the same, I’ll be delighted.
SFX : Thanks Ian!
* Joke. In fact very few beatings took place during research for SFX.co.uk this week.