Coney’s Islands

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In a writing life stretching over thirty years, Michael G. Coney wrote nineteen science fiction novels and a single collection of short stories. Although his novels combined accessibility with fine storytelling and superb characterization, they never reached the audience they deserved. Since his death in 2005, other than the publication of two novels in small press limited editions, his work has remained out of print in Britain.

Born in Birmingham in 1932, Coney trained as an accountant and worked for firms of chartered accountants in Birmingham, Dorset and Devon, and in the Sixties ran a public house in Devon. In 1969 he moved to Antigua to run the Jabberwock Beach Hotel, and in 1972 took a post with the British Columbia Forestry Service, living in Sidney, Vancouver Island. Remarkably for a writer of twenty books and over sixty short stories, he never wrote full-time, instead fitting in his writing around his profession and family.

I first came across Coney’s work in 1985 when I read his short story ‘The True Worth of Ruth Villiers’ in John Carnell’s New Writings in SF 17, and a few weeks later ‘Bartholomew & Son (and the Fish-Girl)’ in Issue 27 of the same series. The stories made a big impact on me. The former was set in the near future, in a well-realized southern England coastal locale, and featured a first-person narrator and a single science fiction idea from which Coney had extrapolated a society changed by that idea: that an individual’s worth could be estimated by a harsh points system of social credit. The latter tale was part of a series of futuristic stories and novellas set on the ‘Peninsula’, a strip of land separated from the body of mainland America after a devastating tsunami, featuring artists and their creations, mood-affecting ‘emotion mobiles’.

What I liked about both stories, quite apart from Coney’s expert handling of narrative and plot, was that they were principally about people, and how

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About the contributor

Eric Brown cites Michael Coney as one of the biggest influences on his own science fiction. He’s written over thirty books and writes a monthly SF review column for the Guardian.

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