‘Solstice’ by James Patrick Kelly
You don’t get much cyberpunk set in Wiltshire. ‘Solstice’ gravitates to the West Country because of Stonehenge, a subject that interests Kelly enough for him to have hacked up great divots of research onto the page. Rather than being particularly British, however, this is more Transatlantic in tone.
Our protagonist is Tony Cage and, in a nod to Douglas Adams, he spends half the year dead for tax reasons (okay, in cryogenic storage in Ireland). I spent the first half of the story puzzling over whether he is English, Irish or American, a confusion deepened by some of Kelly’s dialogue. For example, early on a young black British reporter says to him: “I say, you wouldn’t by any chance be holding any free samples?” If this character can speak in a mixture of an English idiom that is 50 years out of date and American slang that is 20 years out of date then how can the reader help but feel slightly off kilter? Is this deliberately disorientating or his Kelly grasp of dialogue just a bit off? (Given the second “any” in that sentence I would suggest the latter.)
Eventually it becomes clear that Cage is an American, a Cornell graduate who has gone on to make a fortune creating designer drugs. With more money than he can possibly spend, he decides to invest in a female clone of himself. This is why the tax dodge is a necessary narrative device: it allows the clone, Wynne, the grow up to adulthood whilst Cage remains in his prime.
So we’ve had all this stuff about the history of Stonehenge, we’ve got drug use and altered consciousness as a major theme and we have the strange daughter/companion/partner relationship between Cage and Wynne. Where is this all going?
Well, they get off their tits on an experimental drug at Stonehenge on the solstice and Cage has an epiphany about their relationship. So it is all flagged up and neatly brought together but it is very hard to care. Cage engenders no empathy so I was unable to be moved by his personal revelation and the story larded with a lot of unnecessary baggage. For example, there is also absolutely no reason for Stonehenge to play such a central role. Cage’s interest is never explained so it is left to the reader to assume that Kelly had a nice holiday there once.
Incidently, this is the second story in the anthology to visit Battersea. Who knew it was the home away from home for cyberpunks?