Monthly Archives: September 2016

Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 4

vision-of-tomorrow-2A Judge of Men” (Vision of Tomorrow, December, 1969.)

Coney rings the changes with his fourth published story, that old favourite staple of the SF genre – the biological puzzle tale. Spacers Bancroft and Scott come to the planet of Karamba – Bancroft is a trader, Scott a bio-ecologist – ostensibly to trade with the aliens for Shoom, but in fact so that Scott can work out why the Karambans’ birth rate is falling off. Shoom is a much sought-after commodity in the outside universe, a kind of pelt worth millions, and if the aliens die out then the precious Shoom will perish with them.

The Karambans are monopods, one-footed aliens with one eye, one arm, one ear, etcetera: “All in all, they look rather like sawn-off elephants’ legs with a grey daffodil stuck on top.”

Bancroft is an old-hand on the planet, Scott the eager neophyte, and when the latter trespasses upon a sacred Karamban burial ground, landing them in what at first seems like hot water, he makes a discovery that solves the puzzle of the aliens’ declining birth-rate. He comes up with a simple solution which is to the benefit of everyone, humans and Karambans alike.

It’s a minor, mildly entertaining story, graced with an excellent black and white illustration by Eddie Jones.

Rating: 4/10

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Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 3

t1690Sixth Sense” (Vision of Tomorrow, August, 1969.)

Sixth Sense” combines many features which will crop up again and again in Coney’s short fiction and novels in the years to come: a southern English coastal location, a young femme fatal, an ageing vamp, a lonely older man, and a bar-cum-hotel.

Jack Garner, who narrates the tale, runs a small guest-house on the coast. He’s a loner who hates the city and fled to the countryside ten years earlier. As the story opens, he’s distracted and impatient as he waits for a new arrival. He thinks back to an incident, three years before…

Then, two couples arrived for a short holiday, Hera and ‘Piggy’ Piggot – Hera ageing (but still attractive, in her own eyes at least) and ‘Piggy’, overweight and downtrodden. With them are the Blantyres, the mousy Joyce and husband Jim whom Jack characterises as a gigolo-type – he assumes that Hera and Jim are having an affair. With the Piggots is their precocious fourteen year-old daughter, Mandy. What follows over the next few days, as the sultry, stormy weather clamps down on the coast, is the playing out of Jack’s suspicions. Driven from the hotel by her mother’s infidelity and her father’s passive acceptance, Mandy climbs the dangerous Gull Crag cliff and gets into difficulties, only to be saved by Jack.

And how is this science fiction?

Well, in this future the human race is telepathic, and speech a thing of the past. Coney excels at portraying societies in which just one thing has changed, with massive implications, and “Sixth Sense” is a prime example of this. Jack Garner, our narrator, is a freak, a throwback… (but to reveal quite why he is would spoil the denouement) and it is this which allows him to save Mandy’s life.

The story closes on a typically Coneyesque, sentimental note, and a neat last line.

Sixth Sense” was reprinted in World’s Best SF 1970, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, published by Ace Books.

Rating: 6/10

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