Jean Rabe &
Martin H. Greenberg, editors,
Sol's Children
(DAW, 2002)

Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg gathered an armada of writers. A rousing introduction by Rabe set the terms of the mission: to explore Earth's near neighbors in space and report back on the discoveries. The assorted talents were then set loose among Sol's Children.

No matter how far into the void the stories roam, most of them are concerned with the familiar lands of human behavior. Jeff Crook's "'Roid," a grim story with an old-school feel, features a rather humble hero. An asteroid miner earning just enough to take care of himself and his family certainly doesn't seem too immoral. But through a conversation between the miner and the insane, ancient passenger he finds on his cargo, we're introduced to an Earth destroyed by its own carelessness, where asteroids provide a comfortable, livable world only for the very rich. The miner's self-sacrifice to preserve this ruined world is doubly tragic in the face of his tormenting passenger's final revelation.

Astronauts have to travel through infinity in the most claustrophobic ships possible, and not everyone deals with it well. Isolated "Moments" tell a highly edited story of homicidal insanity brought on by too little space. There are also the bittersweet stories too common to all exploration, of pioneers lost not to greed or cruelty or even through accident, but through rapture. A formerly agoraphobic astronaut on a catastrophic trip through the "Ringflow" makes peace with his fears before succumbing to his wonder; Ed Gibson's reluctant astronaut takes "An Acceptable Risk" and gets forever lost in the glory of a new world.

There are even a couple of straight crime stories, solid and intimately dependent on their scientifically advanced settings. "A Coin for Charon" is a simple tale of murder for prestige, told by Janet Pack with cynical flair worthy of Ambrose Bierce. Donald Bingle's "Patience" is more ominous, suggesting a future of new and more devastating crimes possible with a little help from science.

"Omega Time" happens at a uniquely horrible moment in the history of Earth, its fiery end. Scientists, preparing for the too-near day when Sol will eat its children, evacuate the planet. One stays behind to supervise the evacuation, a man whose wife was the first to leave, on a ship that failed. While nothing can make the end of the Earth any less stark, the joy and hope nestled in "Omega Time" took away a little of the terror of the ultimate end.

And there is a suggestion that if people can't find aliens, we'll make 'em ourselves. "Mirrors," by Brian A. Hopkiss, follows the career of a determined explorer, a scientifically passionate, personally cold woman determined to see into space. Her assistants are lab-created, but evolution can work fast in the underside of a strange planet. While not quite aliens, Stephen Sullivan's "Martian Knights" are surely a bit different from the humans they protect. These semi-alien tales are some of the brightest, most lively destinations among Sol's Children.

The few true alien contact stories still manage to focus on human behavior, human psychology. John Helfre's "Ghosts Of Neptune" suggests that the one experience inquiring minds can't handle is the knowledge of a different self. "The Demons of Jupiter's Moons" is skin-crawling creepy, not just for the Twilight Zone-style imps that defend their moon Europa, but for the ruthless ambition of the developer poised to destroy it. The final tale, Michael A. Stackpole's "Least Of My Brethren," is more populated by aliens than the rest of the collection, but is deeply human in its concerns. A playful discussion of religious differences between a human Catholic and a visiting alien Unvorite is sidetracked by a plea for last rites -- for a creature ranked as inhuman. The ensuing arguments of faith and doctrine vault over simple answers, and give an alien race a chance to discuss religion without being fanatics or spiritual superiors.

Sol's Children manages a rare feat: a uniformly strong anthology, where the best stories are exalting and even the weakest provide an entertaining tale and an invitation to thought. While the stars may not be common travel destination yet, Sol's Children provides a great travel brochure to keep interest piqued while we wait.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 8 March 2003

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