This is a frightening admission but it saves me pretending to be better read than I am, and it explains why it was only this summer that I realized I had never read a thing by Mike Coney and decided to do something about it. I went to his website to get a sense of where to begin, and discovered to my puzzled delight that he had made three novels and five short stories available there for free. I downloaded one, realized it was a sequel, got ahold of the original, and have since drunk with heady pleasure the fine wine of Michael's prose. What I have been missing!
The books are Pallahaxi Tide (first published in England as Hello Summer, Goodbye, and released in the United States as Rax) and I Remember Pallahaxi. Although they are related, they can be read separately and are fine and satisfying novels on their own. But for the greatest pleasure I recommend reading them both.
What to say about them, without giving too much away?
My first impression of Pallahaxi Tide was that it was a quirky fantasy novel set in a primitively industrial world that sounded a lot like my idea of England in earlier days. In fact, both books are solid and thoroughly-imagined science fiction. Yet the fantasy impression isn't entirely misplaced. There is a lushness to the world and an accessibility and occasional humour that seem to my poorly-read mind to be more common in fantasy than in sf. The humour in no way detracts from the seriousness of the story, but simply makes the narrators more endearing and keeps the SerCon* Virus at bay. It is a familiar, self-deprecating and dry humour that greatly appeals to me.
"I was sitting on the stern thwart, holding the tiller, while Wolff sat amidships grasping the mainsheet. We had reached the outer harbour and were running out of the shelter of the cliffs; the breeze was freshening, driving us briskly towards the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. The water was a little choppy here and every so often a wave slopped over the low gunwales....
"...As I shifted position a river of icy water soaked my foot and cold fear ran up my leg. We were sinking. The water was freezing cold. I looked frantically around for help. We were many paces from the nearest boat, doomed to death from exposure preceded by the terrible onset of insanity as the coldness of the water gradually chilled our bodies and froze our brains.
"Having faced the worst I was able to devote my attention to more practical matters. "
In Pallahaxi Tide, we meet Drove and Browneyes, young people from different villages and very different stations in life. Drove is the son of a low-ranking official who busies himself with secret machinations while the scornful son befriends the low-class daughter of local inkeepers. As the story unfolds, the scope of the threat facing the people of this place, an Earth-like planet caught in a complicated dance with a star and its gas giant partner, becomes clear to the young people involved, and the choices they must make cut deep and irrevocably. Coney has realized the characters and plot completely, and treated us throughout to visions of an alien seasonal round and life-forms that surprise and delight.
One thing only disappointed me, and this is more than rectified in the following book, I Remember Pallahaxi. That is, the nature of the lorin.
The lorin are gentle and silent creatures that drift along the back edges of existence in the first book, intruding only occasionally in unexpected ways, without ever being really explained. In book two it is all gradually revealed, and the second book, though very different than the first, is if anything even more satisfying.
So now that I am hooked, a confirmed Coney fan, what do I do?
Well, it's tricky. Mike has written a good number of books and short stories, but the height of his popularity was in the 70's. As with so many excellent writers, as the trends in publishing changed, it became harder for him to find publishers for his work, and as a result it is not so easy to find these days. A number of copies of some of his novels are available via the internet (BookFinder has a healthy listing: http://www.bookfinder.com/), and others may be found in libraries and used book stores. But again, being softcovers, those library copies do tend to wear out, and go astray—as I discovered when ordering the English version of book one from the Vancouver Library.
It's worth the effort to look. And there are those offerings at his site. I certainly intend to slurp them up:
*SerCon (or sercon): Serious & Constructive. Important & Good (but if you ask me, dangerous if taken in too great quantities.) Usually refers to Fannish Activity (fanac), but also to the literature itself. I have expanded somewhat on its meaning here.