Michael G. Coney

C-Mike_SepiaOver the course of the next year or two I’ll be posting infrequent reviews of the short stories of one of my favourite science fiction writers, Michael G. Coney. If my records are correct, he published sixty two stories in his lifetime: some remain unpublished, and it would be nice to see them in print one day. I’ve read most of his output in the short form, and hope to read all of them in the next couple of years or so.

Coney became a fine short story writer, just as he became a fine novelist after a few early, entertaining books.

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 1

“Ultimatumbra” (Vector 52, Winter/Spring, 1969.)

Coney’s first story appeared in a special fiction issue of Vector, the journal of the British Science Fiction Association, along with stories by Robert P. Holdstock, J.G. Chapman, and George Gibson. I suspect that Vector was not a paying market, so “Ultimatumbra” cannot be counted as his first professional ‘sale’.

It’s a slight story, and quite unlike the kind of plotted, character-driven narratives we’ve come to expect from Coney. It’s a first-person account, in the form of journal entries, of a sixteen year-old’s dawning awareness of his world and the world Outside. The unnamed narrator has lived for fifteen years in the “square room. Square walls, square ceiling. A hollow box, a cube of nothing among eternal, infinite solidity.” He lives with his mother who ventures outside every day to gather sticks for the fire, and they eat from cans stored in a big cupboard. He’s fascinated by his own shadow and muses on the world of the room he knows, and the unknown world Outside. Come the day he turns sixteen, and his mother allows him out. What he describes confirms the reader’s assumption that this is a post-apocalyptic scenario: “And other shadows on the walls, thrown by nothing I can see, always there unmoving, photographed for eternity.”

The story closes when he returns inside with his mother, and mistakes his own shadow for that of a man trying to get into his room.

“Ultimatumbra” is a squib, interesting only as it marks Coney’s first appearance in print.

Rating: 2/10

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 2

“Symbiote” (New Writings in SF 15, edited by John Carnell, first published by Dobson Books, 1969.)

Coney’s second published story, and very likely his first professional sale, “Symbiote” is set in a future when humankind has devolved to little more than a ‘village idiot’, thanks to the Chinto. The aliens were first introduced to Earth as pets: “As the years went by, the Chinto became more popular, less of a status symbol, more of a universal pet. They sat on the shoulders of their owners; it was convenient. Before long everyone had one.” And, over time, the human race has become reliant on the intelligence of the Chinto, while the aliens – their limbs atrophied – rely on humans for transportation. The Chinto have become the benign dictators of their pack-horse humans, even choosing who individual humans may mate with.

The actual story is slight: Joe is travelling through rural Devon with his Chinto, Tu; he recalls a girl he once met, though he can’t recall when the meeting occurred. He comes to a village wrecked in a storm, and along with a group of humans helps to clear away the debris. But first they set their Chintos down on a raised slab of concrete, from which the aliens direct the operation. However, all the aliens are washed away in the storm, and Joe and the other humans are bereft. He wanders, disconsolate, until he happens across a girl whose Chinto has been stolen by one of the villagers. It is the girl he met earlier, who tells him, “They [the Chintos] said I was brighter than most people. My IQ is 118.” (Joe’s is 86.) “They said I represented a real hope for humanity. They felt very bad about the way people had lost their brains. In a way, they felt responsible.”

The story closes with the girl’s promise that tomorrow she will take him fishing, an independent action that suggests a new start for the human race.

“Symbiote”, while skimpy on actual story, and a little heavy-handed in its imparting of information, is nevertheless an intriguing and original glimpse into the far-future, and a nice take on the theme of (albeit inadvertent) alien invasion. It’s early Coney, and over-written (it should really begin with paragraph four, and could be trimmed of some exposition). It’s also short on what would become Coney’s strengths: character interaction and a complex plot. For all that, it’s an enjoyable read.

Rating: 5/10

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Leaving the EU

It’s a sad day for Great Britain. The small-minded, insular xenophobes have won the day. The Leave voters have brought chaos to the country, and to Europe. It’s never wise to split countries into smaller units which have the potential, in years to come, to go to war. The chances are that Scotland will now leave the union of Great Britain, and maybe Northern Ireland will too. Britain will soon be ruled by a Conservative Party led by Gove, Johnson, or some other Brexit lackey, and the thought appals me. The European Union wasn’t perfect, and needed reforming, but it brought peace to Europe, and I hope it will continue to do so and will not crumble under the demand of multiple referenda in member states, and the consequent rise of the Right.

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How Writers Write

Tony Ballantyne has hosted a rather good series of articles by various writers entitled How Writers Write, and I’ve just contributed one for the month of May. It’s here. I hope you find it entertaining.

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ebtfot-600The e-book of The Fall of Tartarus is out now from Infinity Plus Books. For more information about this, see the e-book section of this website.

 

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Two New Novellas

reunion-on-alpha-reticuli-ii-jhc-by-eric-brown-[3]-3853-pMy latest novellas, from PS Publishing, are out now. Starship Coda is the wrap-up of thestarship-coda-hc-by-eric-brown-[3]-3852-p (1) Starship series, a long short story, or short novella, of 10,500 words. Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II is the third instalment of the Telemass Quartet. Read more about them on the Novellas page of this website.

I’ll be at EasterCon in Manchester this coming weekend to sign copies of both books.

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Murder at the Loch

Murder at the Loch 2My latest crime novel, Murder at the Loch, published by Severn House, is out now

During the bitterly cold December of 1955, Donald Langham is asked by his friend, private detective Ralph Ryland, to assist him on a case. Ryland has been contacted by their old commanding officer, Major Gordon, who has reasons to believe that his life is under threat at his remote castle in the Scottish Highlands.

On arriving at the castle, Langham and Ryland learn that Major Gordon is attempting to raise the wreck of a German plane which crashed into the loch in 1945. However, recent bad weather has put a halt to the progress of the salvage. But it’s not only the weather that is threatening the salvage. Soon after Langham’s arrival, one of the guests is brutally murdered – and the hunt is on to stop the killer before he – or she – strikes again.

Murder at the Loch is the third in the Langham and Dupré mystery series.

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Jani and the Great Pursuit

ZjaniJani and the Great Pursuit is out now.

Pursuit follows Janisha Chatterjee as she flees India aboard the airship Pride of Edinburgh, pursued by the scheming Hindu priest Durga Das and his henchman Mr Knives. Apprehended aboard the Edinburgh by the British, she’s forced to abandon ship with her loyal followers Lieutenant Alfie Littlebody and Anand Doshi. Landing in Greece, they find their lives once more under threat – and, after many adventures and derring-do, arrive in London and search for the alien Mahran… with not only Durga Das on their trail but British and Russian agents too.

Will Jani manage to escape her pursuers? Will she unite with Mahran and save the world from the invasion of the alien Zhell…?

Jani is graced by a lovely cover by Dominic Harman.

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“Meh”

I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, horror and slipstream reviews for the Guardian newspaper for almost a decade, and before that infrequent pieces for Infinity Plus, Paperback Inferno and Vector. In that time I’ve covered hundreds of books, from the excellent to the execrable, and all shades in between. For the most part the work has been a pleasure – and the greatest pleasure, perhaps, has been discovering writers I would not normally have come across. On the downside are the very few books so bad that they undermined my faith in the written word (they shall remain nameless).

It’s far easier to write a review of a book you like. You’re enthusiastic, for one thing; you have more to say about the work. It’s far, far harder to write a negative review of a bad book, a book which was obviously hacked out by a cynical writer for nothing more than the pay cheque. (That, as opposed to a bad book written in all honesty by a writer trying their best, but who just isn’t very good. I can accept that, and what I do when one of these creatures come along is, more often than not, ignore it).

Which brings me to the title of this piece – a word I’ve never used, and could only use in this context by ring-fencing it with quotes. “Meh” is a lazy, meaningless word that’s been cropping up with nauseating regularity of late. I believe it had its origins in America, but I’ve noticed that Brits and others have been using it too.

I first noticed it when someone sent me the link to a page on Goodreads with review of my novel The Kings of Eternity. Now Goodreads is a good idea, a forum for book-lovers to express their opinions on books they love (and hate). It contains some good, perceptive analysis, and the usual amount of ill-thought-out dross. (I recall someone criticising Aldous Huxley’s novel Those Barren Leaves for being too old-fashioned! This novel was written in the early 1920s!) In general the reviews of The Kings of Eternity were positive, but one fellow had a one word response to the novel I’d spent ten years, on and off, writing, and that one word was “Meh”.

To me, that response strikes me as a signifier of intellectual bankruptcy. If you have nothing to say about a book, then say nothing. If you disliked a book so much that you’d like to dismiss it, then have the courtesy to do so in a thoughtful, reasoned manner. Your criticism, if perceptive and constructive, might even have a beneficial effect on the writer – he or she might learn from it, might be influenced not to repeat their mistakes, might even write a better book in consequence next time.

Farcical, stultifying, one word-dismissals of a book might be a cathartic release for the intellectually challenged, but that’s all they do achieve: point up the mind-set of the perpetrator rather than the qualities – or lack of – of the book in question.

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