Michael G. Coney’s Short Stories 9

Whatever Became of the McGowans?” (Galaxy, May, 1970.)

Coney rings the changes yet again with his ninth published story.

Richard and Sandra Nevis have bought a homestead from the Jade Exploitation Company on the planet of Jade, where they grown Jadegrass which they then sell back to the company. They also feed the grass into a convertor which molecularly transforms the grass into foodstuffs for their own consumption. They’re sequestered on the planet, many hundreds of miles form their nearest farmer neighbours – though there is a vacant farmstead next door to them, empty when they arrived, which once belonged to the McGowans. “Whatever Became of the McGowans?” they wonder from time to time throughout the story. They find out after things start going wrong: a harvester speeds up and runs out of control; they suffer a peculiar lassitude, and their skin turns yellow; their newborn son is similarly listless and jaundiced… Things come to a head when Richard starts to grow tendrils from the soles of his feet, and takes root in the soil of the planet.

If Coney had had this idea later in his career, I suspect he would have spun a more plotted, character-oriented tale. As it is, it’s a pleasing, easy-to-read horror-cum-mystery story, with a bit of an info-dump of a dénouement: for all that it’s yet another entertaining read.

Rating: 5/10

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