The Vanishing of the Atkinsons e-book

My Sherlock Holmes short story “The Vanishing of the Atkinsons” is now available as a standalone e-book, here.

Victor Trevor, an old friend of Holmes’s calls him to Trincomalee, Ceylon, to investigate the vanishing of the Atkinson brothers, whose disappearance was as sudden as it was mysterious. For sixth months the people of Trincomalee have remained baffled by their departure, particularly because the brothers did not seem to have an enemy in the world. Holmes travels to the island to help Trevor decipher just how the two men vanished.

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 12

The Sharks of Pentreath” (Galaxy, February, 1971.)

Narrator John Green and his wife Sylvia run the Treasure Trove Gifte Shoppe and Tea Rooms in the cosy Devon village of Pentreath – a tourist trap where nothing is as it seems. Everything about the place is fake, from the buildings themselves to the clotted cream Green sells. The sharks of the title are the businessmen who run the village, out to fleece the tourists for all they can get. The SF element in the story is an idea that Coney will adapt for his 1973 fix-up novel Friends Come In Boxes: to overcome the world’s overpopulation problem, citizens spend two years in three as cyborgs, downloaded into mobile robots (small boxes with arms and legs), while their bodies spend ‘Shelflife’ in storage facilities and can access the experiences of their ‘remoters’ robots as the latter travel the world. Every third year, citizens return to their flesh and blood bodies for a year of ‘Fulltime’.

John Green is as avaricious and small-minded as the rest of the Fulltimers in Pentreath, and his relationship with his wife is suffering. The story takes place in less than a single day, in which Green becomes envious of a fellow trader, angry with his wife, and commits an act of violence in order to destroy his fellow trader’s property.

Then he has a startling conversation with a pair of ‘remoter’ robots, a man and wife who first came to Pentreath on their honeymoon forty years earlier. What he learns from them, as they are about to leave the village, will make him reassess his relationship with his wife.

It’s a wonderfully understated, small-scale story – quiet SF about people, greed, and how easy it is to underestimate those we love.

The story was selected for Donald A. Wollheim’s The Annual World’s Best SF 1972 (DAW Books).

Rating 7/10

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Murder Served Cold

My latest crime novel, Murder Served Cold, is out now from Severn House.

November, 1956. Lord Elsmere, an old friend of Donald Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, is in a pickle – his favourite painting, a Gainsborough, has been stolen from under his nose. What’s more, there’s no evidence of a break-in. The family heirloom was recently re-insured for a hefty price, and Lord Elsmere is struggling financially. Could he have staged the theft, or was it taken by one of the guests?

Old Major Rutherford, evasive beauty Rebecca Miles, Dutch war hero Patrick Verlinden, Elsmere’s son Dudley Mariner and his statuesque fiancée, Esmeralda Bellamy, are all guests at the manor. But who would steal the painting, and why?

Private investigators Langham and Ralph Ryland take on the case and uncover seething animosities, jealousy, secrets and deception, before events take a shocking turn…

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I’ve just been interviewed by Gareth Stevens at his excellent website. To read it, click here.

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The Spacetime Pit Plus Two collects three collaborative stories by Stephen Baxter and myself, never before published in one volume.

In “The Spacetime Pit” spacer Katerina Wake crash-lands on primitive alien world and faces certain death unless she can harness her ingenuity, and technical know-how, to bend the destiny of an entire race to her will…

“Green-Eyed Monster” follows Richard as he wakes up after a night on the tiles to find himself inhabiting the body of a toad – and that’s just the start of his troubles…

In “Sunfly”, Onara and her people live on a world very different from our own – a vast ribbon encircling a sun. But a change is coming to the land, a mysterious narrowing that threatens not only the stability of her world, but the very order of everything she has taken for granted.

The Spacetime Pit Plus Two is available at these outlets:

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Crime eBooks

Three of my crimes novels are now available as ebooks via the Open Road website: Murder by the Book, Murder at the Chase, and Murder at the Loch. Click here for more details.

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Rejection

The following piece appeared in Red Herrings 741, the bulletin of the Crime Writers’ Association, August 2018.

It can be devastating. You’ve worked hard on a short story or novel for days, weeks, or even years; you’ve sweated blood and tears and put into your creation every ounce of what you think goes to make up a great piece of fiction. Then you launch it into the dark abyss of the marketplace and wait, and wait… (And the time you can spend waiting is a travail faced by writers young and old, but that’s another story). Eventually comes the editor’s response – in days of yore the dreaded stamped, addressed envelope, but more likely these days the even more impersonal email: “Thank you for submitting your Great Work to our magazine. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. Either it was not quite right for us or we’ve just taken tales with a similar theme, or any of a half dozen other reasons…”

Rejection is part and parcel of being a writer – but it’s wrong to assume that it’s something that only beginning writers face.

In the course of my thirty year career as an author – initially science fiction, and these days both SF and crime – I’ve weathered hundreds of rejections. In the early days they came with swift and depressing regularity. When I started submitting my work, back in the early eighties, I posted very short crime tales to the now defunct London Mystery Magazine. The editor’s response was fast and definitive: a form rejection: Thank you for submitting your story to the London Mystery Magazine. Unfortunately, etc…

I wrote and submitted over a hundred short stories between 1978 and 1987 – as well as a dozen very bad science fiction novels. (One of these, the proposed first volume of a series, was submitted to a publisher in London and rejected by an editor who, many years later, set up his own literary agency… and now represents me – a salutary lesson to every would-be writer.) Gradually, as little by little my skill increased, the form rejection slips ceased and I received – oh, joy – personalised rejection letters along the lines of, “While we enjoyed certain aspects of your Great Work, we felt that in terms of characterisation…” etc.

Thus encouraged, I battled on.

And then, in 1987, I received from the science fiction magazine Interzone the much-awaited missive ushering me into the hallowed company of Published Writers: “Dear Mr Brown, we have all read and enjoyed your story “Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal Zen Equation” and, subject to a cut and a little line by line editing, would like to purchase it for our magazine.

Oh, the ecstasy, the relief! Years of hard graft and hope had finally paid off. I had joined the ranks of my literary heroes, and only success, fame and fortune would automatically ensue. Gone were the days of rejection…

Or so I thought.

I was naive, as I learned over the course of the years that followed.

It’s a sad fact that, unless your a best-seller whose editor dare not reject a word you’ve written, as a jobbing freelance fiction writer you will receive frequent rejections – especially if you persevere in writing short stories, that beleaguered form in these days of dwindling markets and increasingly paltry fees per word.

Since 1987 I have published a hundred and fifty short stories, mainly in the SF market, as well as sixty-odd books – thirty science fiction and crime novels, a dozen novellas, as many collections, and a dozen or so books for children. And I still receive the occasional, and salutary, slap in the face of rejection.

Because I love short stories, I continue to write them. I turn out around eight or nine a year and succeed in selling perhaps six. But it’s a fact that most of my stories are rejected by the first magazine or anthology to which I send them, and sometimes by the second and third. But if I believe in the story (and after six rejections I might take another long, hard look at the piece and decide to retire it from further consideration), I’ll send it out until it meets it fate.

If there’s a moral to the tale, it’s this: whether your a tyro or a jaded pro, you’ll be rejected – it goes with the territory. But, as I never tire of telling beginning writers, the only way you’ll fail is if you let the b******* grind you down, and you stop writing.

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 11

Snow Princess” (Galaxy, January, 1971.)

This story continues the adventures of the band of survivors eking out a precarious existence in the bell tower of an old church in England after the fall of the next ice age. They search for food in the streets of a town buried beneath the ice, and eat the meat of the occasional polar bear, called ‘pads’. But Jacko, the leader of the group, has plans to get away from the icy regions on the Snow Princess, a snowboat he’s in the process of building. However, the arrival of two further survivors on the scene, the dim-witted Charles William and the pretty young girl, Mignon, puts a spanner in the works as the boat will not be big enough to hold six people.

Again, the strength of the story lies in Coney’s depiction of the fraught relationship existing with the small group, and his description of the rigours of living in ice age conditions.

Events become even more tense with the attack of ferocious pads, who seem to be working in concert to defeat the humans. Again, as in “Discover a Latent Moses”, salvation arrives from a wholly unexpected source.

Though never less than entertaining, “Snow Princess” is not as successful as the leaner, more economical first tale – indeed it works better as part of the novel Winter’s Children, published three years later in 1974.

Rating: 5/10

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