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 take for granted 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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