(I missed out reviewing this story, earlier, as I didn’t have the issue of Galaxy in which it appeared. Thanks to Bob Wardzinski at the Talking Dead, that has been rectified. Bob supplied me with six magazines missing from my Coney collection – thanks, Bob.)
“Discover a Latent Moses” (Galaxy, April, 1970.)
Six desperate survivors live in the bell tower of an old church in a village buried beneath the snow. An ice age has descended on Britain, and the six face not only the privations of extreme cold and ravaging polar bears, but flesh hunters – bands of cannibals who roam the ice in search of prey. Coney paints a convincing picture of life on the edge of extinction, and excels at portraying the psychological dynamic of the group, the enmities and loyalties, loves and jealousies. Jacko, the alpha male, feels loyalty to the senile Old Man, much to the chagrin of Cockade, a bitter and cynical woman; Shrug, is an ineffectual alcoholic; Paladin a dreamy adolescent dotard. Switch, Cockade’s partner, is loyal to Jacko and exhibits moral strength in refusing Cockade suggestion to steal Jacko’s snow boat and leave the bell tower. The group scavenge food from a supermarket and shops in the ice tunnels beneath the tower, eat occasional polar bear meat, and squabble amongst themselves about the future – while the Old Man reminisces of a time of green fields and trees, sixty years earlier.
Events reach a climax when the flesh hunters locate the bell tower and wait until nightfall to make their move… Salvation comes from an unexpected source, and life continues. It’s quite unlike anything Coney has written before, in terms of setting, characters, and story, and once again demonstrates his versatility.
“Discover a Latent Moses” and a later story also published in Galaxy, “The Snow Princess”, became chapters in Coney’s fifth novel, Winter’s Children, 1974.