Archives » Michael G Coney

King of the Scepter’d Isle by Michael Greatrex Coney

New American Library, 1989, 297 p

 King of the Scepter’d Isle cover

This is set in Coney’s wider universe of the Greataway (as in the previous novels of his Song of Earth series, The Celestial Steam Locomotive, Gods of the Greataway and Fang the Gnome.) At its start the worlds of humans and gnomes, though visible to each other through the umbra, are separated in different happentracks, but Nyneve, a Dedo from the human world – yet who can see into the ifalong, the future of the many happentracks of the Greataway – can slip between them. (Coney’s linguistic inventiveness here is a delight. Happentrack is a lovely word to describe parallel universes and ifalong a beautifully poetic way to express (a) contingent future(s).)

Nyneve is also a storyteller who weaves tales of the legendary King Arthur, and how he will unite the warring lands and become King of England, in such a way as to make her audiences see as well as feel what they are hearing. In this she is helped by a wizened and faded centuries-old Merlin. Not that this is a rehash of the Arthurian legends (despite appearances from Lancelot, Guinevere – as a princess named Gwen – Morgan Le Fay, Mordred, Sir Galahad etc, and familiar concepts like the Sword in the Stone of course also make their appearance. Arthur even builds a Round Table – after many false starts – with a place labelled “Hot Seat” wherein anyone impure who sits at it dies soon after.)

But it is a commentary on such tales. As a minor king says to Nyneve, “‘Nobody’s poor in your stories. Nobody has to tend the animals or work the fields,’” and towards the end she herself says, “‘The stories were an ideal, Arthur. Reality is another thing. Reality is hungry soldiers who haven’t seen a woman for days. Reality is sweat and dirty pants.’” (I suspect that last word has a more earthy resonance in Britain than in the US.)

Nyneve is anxious to bend the stories to her will, arranging for the Sword in the Stone only to be released at the right time by a very mundane piece of trickery. She is also in love with Arthur but he marries Gwen anyway, since that is what the stories say he will. Here, though, Lancelot is never attracted to Arthur’s wife.

Then there are the gnomes, whose lives are circumscribed by the Kikihuahua Examples, handed down when gnomes were brought to their happentrack in the first place by the eponymous kikihuahuas to ensure they would not overexploit their resurces. Thus gnomes are never to work malleable materials and have a distaste for sex as “filth” (an aversion to which Fang and his lover the Princess are somewhat immune.)

What plot there is centres round the merging of human and gnome happentracks (concepts all of the characters seem to know about) and a big rock at a place called Pentor, whose movement by humans sometime in the ifalong will spell disaster.

It’s all enjoyable enough and amusing but suffers from a lack of focus by breaking from the Arthurian part of the tale to turn back to the plight of the gnomes for too many chapters before reversing, and vice versa.

Coney’s early work in the novels Syzygy, Winter’s Children, Hello Summer, Goodbye, The Girl with a Symphony in her Fingers, Charisma and Brontomek! was great stuff as was the much later I Remember Pallahaxi. His Greataway stories not so much.

Pedant’s corner:- Scepter’d (OK, it’s USian, but British English doesn’t even need the apostrophe. Sceptred.) On the back cover blurb; Brontomex (the previous Coney book that refers to was titled Brontomek!. Otherwise; prophesy/prophesies (USian spelling, several times; it was the noun so, prophecy/prophecies please.) Apothegm (I prefer apophthegm.) “‘it doesn’t strike me as being filth anymore, Elmera. It strikes me as …’” (this was Elmera speaking – ‘as being filth, Lady Duck. It strikes’,) “the less men will be killed” (OK it was in someone’s thoughts, but it still ought to be ‘fewer men’.)

The 1981 Annual World’s Best SF Edited by Donald A Wollheim

Daw Books, 1981, 250 p.

 The 1981 Annual World’s Best SF  cover

In Variation on a Theme by Beethoven by Sharon Webb humans have developed an immortality treatment but it comes at the expense of their creativity. A reluctant David, who is musically gifted, is plucked from his boyhood life on Vesta to be taken to Renascence, on Earth, to be trained for sixty lunar months before deciding if he wants to be immortal or creative.
Beatnik Bayou by John Varley is set in his future where medical modification of the human body is commonplace and sex changes unremarkable – even desirable. This one deals with what growing up in such a society might entail and the problems with having age-altered personal tutors as constant companions. Tonally the narration is not consistent.
Elbow Room by Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of those confessional stories within which the narrator becomes riddled with self-doubt. She is the director of a Vortex station, institutions which oversee wormholes and had a history of their operators committing suicide or else murdering one another. So a system was evolved in which only a few people would inhabit the stations meeting only occasionally so as they have elbow room. The narrator therefore has her own cook, her own gardener, her technician, her personal priest; even perhaps her own male whore. The crisis comes when a malfunctioning ship arrives at the Vortex and she has to board it, thereby encountering strangers.
The Ugly Chickens by Howard Waldrop finds Paul Lindberl, biology assistant at the University of Texas, setting out on a wild bird chase after a woman on the bus refers to seeing in her childhood the “ugly chickens” he was looking at in his book of Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World.
Prime Time by Norman Spinrad is a take on the future of entertainment where people retire to Total Television Heaven able to access tapes (how soon the future becomes obsolete!) containg their favourite programming and real-time-share them with their nearest and dearest or not-so-dearest as the case may be. The story also has a rather conventional view of the lineaments of male and female desire.
Though typically well written George R R Martin throws a lot of SF tropes into Nightflyers – cloning, telepathy, ancient star travellers, holograms, telekinesis, a backdrop of an extended time-line, the mad woman in the attic (or in this case, a spaceship’s control systems.) Karoly d’Branin has assembled a crew of xenobiologists, linguists, a xenotechnologist, a telepath, a cyberneticist and an ‘improved model’ human to find the almost mythical volcryn, said to have cruised the galaxy at sublight speed for millenia. The ship’s captain, Royd Eris, is secretive though, never emerging from his quarters, appearing only as a hologram. Things begin to go wrong when the telepath feels a stange presence before dying violently.
The first sentence of A Spaceship Built of Stone by Lisa Tuttle is reminiscent of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias but the scene it describes is occurring in a dream. The dreams, apparently of the stone-built city of the ancient Anasazi culture, are being experienced simultaneously by many people round the world. Narrator Rick comes to suspect they are a softening up exercise for a quiet alien invasion.
In Window by Bob Leman, an experimenter on telekinesis has disappeared, along with his work cabin, and been replaced by a transparent cube one hundred feet to a side. The scene it shows, of another reality, looks idyllic. Then, during the brief time there is an interface, one of the obsevers steps through.
The Summer Sweet, The Winter Wild by Michael G Coney is one of the very few pieces of fiction to be written in the first person plural. (Another is my own This is the Road.) Here the We of the narrator(s) is a herd of caribou, some of whose members a while ago developed the telepathic ability to make the Herd and other animals feel their pain when they were injured or attacked. Wolves then back off, also humans (thought of by the Herd as ‘You’,) hence the weak and ill of the Herd do not die, therefore go on to breed.
A disillusioned artist wanders a beach in Achronous by Lee Killough and finds he has stepped into a bubble in time, with people from the far future taking refuge from the end of their world. It gives him new inspiration.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Table of Contents; Killiugh (Killough.) Othjerwise; “a series of performance halls were displayed” (a series … was displayed,) “wasn’t what what he’d be doing?” (wasn’t that what he’d be..,) “a muttered tympani” (a muttered tympanum,) “angle-length maternity gown” (ankle-length,) Argus’ (Argus’s,) tepee (tepee is the preferred spelling,) “‘I thought what happens was…’” (what happened was,) “in the first found” (first round,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “on my master’s” (Master’s,) the Chicksaw Nation (Chickasaw, as used previously,) band-new (brand-new,) “none of the soaps were personalized” (none of the soaps was personalised,) “was, What would …” (either enclose the ‘What would ….’ phrase in quotation marks or drop the comma and the capital W at What,) an opening quote mark where none is required and therefore not subsequently closed, Reeves’ (Reeves’s,) “because that is an instinct. We all have” (due to the plural nature of the narrator and its/their capitalisation elsewhere that should be ‘because that is an instinct we all have’ with no full stop,) grill (several times, grille,) Pometheus (elsewhere Prometheus,) D’Branin (usually d’Branin, but D’Branin at the beginning of a sentence – why?- and, once, within one,) Eris’ (Eris’s,) “‘I have not had much a life anyway’” (much of a life,) spasticly (spastically.)

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (v)

(This week’s edition for Judith’s meme at Reader in the Wilderness.)

These are all small-sized SF paperbacks. By small I mean the size all paperbacks used to be back in the day – before publishers realised they could charge a higher price for larger editions and they aspired to the status of hardbacks.

In our old house all my paperback SF was shelved in one room – on shelving specially built for the purpose. When we moved to Son of the Rock Acres there was no space for them in the house. Hence these are stored in the garage; to accomodate them they are double parked on each shelf, which is why they seem to start at Ballard and jump from Bester to Bishop, and Dick to Garnett.

Lots of goodies here: Eric Brown, John Brunner, Michael G Coney, Philip K Dick, Mary Gentle, Colin Greenland. If you look closely you’ll even see some Harlan Ellison peeping through at the back on the bottom shelf.

Science Fiction Paperbacks

SF Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times (i)

My contribution this week to Reader in the Wilderness’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times meme. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

These are some of my hardback SF and Fantasy books. I didn’t buy many hardbacks back in the day (except second hand) so most of these are fairly modern SF and some are review copies.

Science Fiction Hardbacks (i)

Above note some J G Ballard (his Empire of the Sun ought not really be shelved here but it keeps his books together,) Iain M Banks, Eric Brown, Alan Campbell, Ted Chiang, the wonderful Michael G Coney, the excellent Richard Cowper, Hal Duncan and Matthew Fitt’s amazing But n Ben A-Go-Go, an SF novel written entirely in Scots.

The next shelf still has some of its adornments in front:-

Science Fiction Hardbacks (ii)

Stand-outs here are Mary Gentle, the all-but indescribable R A Lafferty, the sublime Ursula Le Guin, Stanisław Lem, Graham Dunstan Martin, Ian R MacLeod, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald.

You’ll also see the proof copy of a novel titled A Son of the Rock perched above the books at the right hand end on row 2.

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.)

Strange Visitors by Eric Brown

Imaginings 8, NewCon Press, 2014, 158 p.

I ought again to point out that the author is well-known to me: is, indeed, a friend. I hope that this does not colour any appreciation – or lack thereof – of his output nor get in the way of any judgements or comments I make about his work.

 Strange Visitors cover

In any case in his introduction to this collection its publisher Ian Whates relays “stalwart of the British SF community” and former owner of Birmingham’s much-lamented Andromeda bookshop Rog Peyton’s opinion that Brown is our greatest living SF writer – as much for the author’s concentration on the humans in his stories as for anything else. Whatever, Strange Visitors contains an excellent body of stories displaying Brown’s range and it is striking here how often those which reflect humanity and its foibles most directly are the most successful and satisfying. Many of Brown’s perennial concerns are evident (religion surprisingly excepted) but their handling shows Brown’s assurance as a writer.

In Life Beyond…… 1 Brown pays effective homage to SF writer Clifford D Simak. An ageing writer faced with losing his recently orphaned grand-daughter to an adoptive family has a close encounter with a book-collecting alien.

Steps Along the Way2 is set thirty thousand years into the future where humans are effectively immortal, have spread all through the galaxy and can Enstate and Enable people from history.

Brown’s affection for the work of Michael G Coney shines through The Sins of Edward Veron3 where the titular Veron is an artist who has lost his ability to produce good work. Then an alien art collector from Mintaka V arrives at Sapphire Oasis. (SPOILER ALERT. There is a slight flaw in this story in that Veron seems to have been able to leave the Oasis the day after his wife died without engendering either suspicion or investigation.)

In Myths of the Martian Future4 Olinka and Tem, two crab-like cave dwellers on a far-future Mars, set out on their initiation rite on the surface. What they meet encompasses both the past of their species and a description of its future. There is a certain stiltedness in the narration, characteristic of all stories such as this.

The Scribe of Betelgeuse V5 is a tongue-in-cheek account of the invasion of Earth by octopods from Betelgeuse V, whose first act is to cause an episode of mass writers’ block. It manages to name check a couple of Brown’s writer friends as well as poke fun at the publishing industry.

The Rest Is Speculation6. Two and a half billion years into the future representatives of every sentient race that ever existed on Earth are gathered together by the Effectuators to witness its last days.

The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador7 is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche wherein the great detective is invited to investigate the murder of the Martian ambassador at Mars’s London embassy, where the two human employees are a certain Herbert Wells and Miss Rebecca West.

In Bukowski on Mars, With Beer8 Brown imagines how Charles Bukowski would cope after being brought back to life – along with all the greats – on a future Mars. The beer helps.

People of Planet Earth9 is an alien invasion story where the method of body snatching is exceedingly unusual, to say the least.

In P.O.O.C.H.10 Michael is punished for electronically stealing from the rich (but relaying the proceeds to charity) by being given his own Personal Omni-Operational Correction Hound; a robot which mimics a real dog in all respects.

Pedant’s corner:- A total of 20 occurrences of “time interval later” plus one “within seconds”. Each story has its title as a header on odd-numbered pages except The Tragic Affair of the Martian Ambassador appears for both its own story and for The Rest Is Speculation and People of the Planet Earth appears for People of Planet Earth. Otherwise; 1USian spellings – disheveled, defense, etc; but…. manoeuvre. “of legion of thinkers” (of a legion; or, of legions.) “What if they alien” (the alien,) “I am loathe to give them up” (loth, or loath,) 2“men whose contribution to history were steps along the way” (contributions.) 3“accused her of having affair” (an affair,) “the piece in which I had tried to imbue” (the piece which I had tried,) back-peddling (back pedalling,) 4Barington (Barrington.) 5Carstairs’ (Carstairs’s,) stared at MS (the MS,) the BBC were on hand (the BBC was,) “I wil l-” (I will-,) Hemmings’ (Hemmings’s,) “‘I demanded reparations’” (demand.) 6a missing comma before a piece of dialogue, “this absence, this lacunae” (lacuna,) disk x 3 but disc x 1, “‘And they?’ I Kamis asked.” (‘And they?’ Kamis asked.) 7Wells’ (Wells’s,) “‘Was he is the habit….’” (in the habit,) “The slightest frowned marred” (frown,) “‘For a little short for six months’” (of six months,) Madame Rochelle’s (appears as Madame the first twice but subsequently as Madam, but this may have been an authorial distinction between that lady’s establishment and her person,) “‘if any of your ladies in the habit’” (are in the habit,) St Pauls (St Paul’s,) 8“A guy a silver suit” (in a silver suit,) “That last I remembered” (The last?) anther beer (anther beer sounds like great stuff but another beer was meant,) “to keep in breathable” (it breathable,) “and the all fucking” (and all the fucking.) 9the throes delirium (of delirium,) ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Speaker of the House’ (when starting a speech in Parliament the form is, ‘Mr Speaker, honourable members.’) 10”to answer to summons” (the summons,) descendent (descendant,) miniscule (minuscule,) you commands (your,) busses (buses.) Thirty minute (minutes,) banks accounts (banks’ accounts.)

Starship Winter by Eric Brown

PS Publishing, 2012, 76p.

This is the latest in Brown’s Starship series of novellas set on the planet of Chalcedony (Delta Pavonis IV) following on from Starship Summer and Starship Fall.

The echoes of Michael G Coney are again less strong in this volume, Brown’s themes of religion and Art being once more prominent. His use of the name spindizzy to describe a colourful butterfly-like creature is merely one nod to other SF antecedents.

Narrator David Conway’s love-lorn life is about to be leavened by the arrival from Earth of Lieutenant Hannah van Harben as a new member of the local Police Department. His community of friends will also be disturbed by the empath, Darius Dortmund, famous for brokering a peace between two quarrelling alien races. Central to the plot is Matt Somers’s latest Art Exhibition, an exploitation of the emotional qualities of sacred stones lent to him by a race known as the Elan. To say how these elements come together would, however, be a spoiler.

It is unfortunate that all this had to fit into the confined word length of a novella. The exigencies of the plot do not allow enough exploration of the situation and everything seems to happen a touch hurriedly. This is perhaps an indication that Conway’s circle is a congenial group, pleasant to spend time with.

The gaps between episodes in the Starship sequence do help to foster an anticipatory feel. If ever published between one set of covers, though, they might not work as well in combination as stand-alones.

Starship Fall by Eric Brown

Newcon Press, 2009, 103p.

 Starship Fall cover

This is a novella, second in Brown’s “Starship” sequence, in homage to Michael G Coney, and begun with Starship Summer. In its telling, though, it is more reminiscent of Brown’s “Bengal Station” trilogy than Coney.

In Starship Fall the former holo star Carlotta Chakravorti-Luna has come to Delta Pavonis IV and disturbed the quiet life of narrator David Conway.

The novella’s title refers to something which is not directly involved with the story we experience in Starship Fall but, rather, kicked it off. A nice Brown touch, though, is naming the holoes Carlotta starred in after Coney novels.

Once again in a Brown story religion makes an appearance; the alien natives undergo a ritual wherein they might die (or not) but see their destiny. David’s friend Hawk’s girlfriend is a native whose partaking in the ritual triggers the crucial events.

Seasoned Brown (and Coney) readers know not to expect everything to turn out perfectly but here Brown still manages to confound at least one of the possible expectations.

On the whole well-written and agreeably character based Starship Fall bears out the theory that the novella is an ideal length for a rounded SF story. Brown does however overuse the formulation [“time interval” later] whether that time interval is hours, minutes or seconds.

free hit counter script