This story marks the first appearance of Dr Ralph Streng, who will turn up again in Coney’s 1976, BSFA award winning novel Brontomek!. Streng is a self-centred, self-opinionated individualist who doesn’t believe in altruism and thinks that everyone is motivated wholly by self-interest – and admits that he himself is.
The story is centred around Finmouth Race Week, the arrival of an alien from the planet Canaral, and Streng’s relationship with his son Tom, who has Down’s Syndrome.
The first person narrator, Arthur Warren, records a series of events – an accident at a boat race which results in his saving Streng and his son, and their meeting with the alien – culminating in the alien forcing Streng to acknowledge his own humanity.
It’s a strong, but not wholly successful story – the handling of the Down’s Syndrome aspect (Tom is referred to as a ‘mongolian’ throughout) is a little off by modern standards – which redeems itself with a moving dénouement.
It’s notable for being the first of Coney’s stories to feature pleasure-craft and competitive racing – which will crop up again and again in future works – and for being the debut of Ralph Streng, a character you’ll love to hate.