I Remember Pallahaxi by Michael Coney

Drugstore Indian Press, 2014, 283 p plus vi p Introduction by Eric Brown.

 I Remember Pallahaxi cover

Michael G Coney was a writer of the 1970s and 1980s whose work I remember most fondly. Despite winning a BSFA Award for best novel for Brontomek! he never achieved the wide success and readership he deserved perhaps because his novels tended to focus on the dilemmas and relationships of his characters rather than any SF ideas they might contain. In this regard his influence on the work of Eric Brown (who provides the introduction to this volume) is unmistakable.

Never published in the author’s lifetime, I Remember Pallahaxi is a sequel of sorts to Coney’s 1975 novel Hello Summer, Goodbye but is set hundreds of years after the events of that book. Here we are among the stilk, a humanoid race, inhabiting an unnamed Earth-like planet orbiting a sun called Phu with a giant planet named Rax dominating the system’s celestial mechanics. The stilk inherit their ancestors’ memories up to the moment of their own conception, boys only their father’s line, girls only their mother’s. The resulting hierarchy means those who can trace these memories back furthest become manchief or womanchief of their respective villages. Inheritance therefore falls to the youngest son or daughter – the ones with the most such memories. Gender roles are also rigidly demarcated as are the living arrangements. There are no nuclear families; association of mothers and fathers beyond their initial sexual encounter is looked upon as unnatural. Boys are taken into the men’s house on coming of age, girls remain in the women’s.

The book starts at a time when the crops of Yam village are beginning to fail, the animals the men hunt scarcer, and the chiefs have to make a journey to the fishing village of Noss to borrow food for the winter against future crops. The crude boat young Yam Hardy, nephew of Yam’s manchief, has taken along on the trip for adventure begins to sink under him and he is rescued by Noss Charm, the most eligible girl in Noss. They form an instant attraction to each other despite the long-standing mutual prejudices of each village. The sinking wasn’t an accident though. They find a hole in the upturned boat. A mystery then, along with the SF elements. Subsequently, Yam’s food situation gets no better as the crops fail again and the animals become ever fewer. When Hardy’s father Bruno is murdered on another supplicant trip to Noss Hardy realises he is in danger.

All this is almost by the way to what is really the main driver of the book, the importance of “stardreaming” (the accession to those ancestral memories,) the mysterious creatures called lorin (with apparent telepathic abilities) and the casual discarding of the stilk by the humans, who arrived after the time in which Hello Summer, Goodbye was set, in order to exploit the planet’s resources – albeit with treaty obligations – as humans do.

I note that by the end the conceit that Hardy is relating this to a human (his narrative makes frequent references to this and compares both races’ backgrounds) does not quite stand up. Not that it matters. In most respects the stilk we are shown might as well be human. They behave in the way we would expect humans to. Barring the living arrangements (which in the novel are beginning to break down and are found in some human societies anyway) they have the same flaws, strengths and idiosyncrasies as humans. Most crucially, Coney makes the reader care about them. Along the way he takes a wide swipe at religion and the fervour it can induce, the mask it can provide.

Quite why this novel took so long to be published is a mystery to me. It is quintessential Coney which makes it very good indeed.

Pedant’s corner:- various USianisms and spellings (no doubt Coney hoped for US publication when he was writing this,) “‘What’s you name?’” (your,) “trying the race the motorcart” (trying to race,) “what was going on it my mind” (in my mind,) “and from time to time and drank deeply” (from time to time drank deeply,) “as boiler ran out of steam” (as the boiler,) “ten, eleven generations ago” (on next page is “ten, eleven years ago”,) inclintions (inclinations,) “much older that Dad” (than Dad,) “‘you’d rather to show me around’” (rather show me around,) womn’s (women’s,) “‘she’s an easy women to let go of’” (woman,) “the lay of the rocks” (the lie,) “‘Come one’” (Come on,) a missing quote mark at the start of a paragraph of direct speech, “a small group of trees were shaking violently” (a small group was shaking,) “and finally spoke words that seem to crackle like ice” (seemed.) “His audience were not so familiar,” (his audience was not,) Browneyes’ (Browneyes’s,) “one of Stance’s huntsman” (huntsmen,) “not having their parents memories” (parents’,) “‘it was never mean to be opened’” (meant.)

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