Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: 'Monitor Found In Orbit' by Michael G. Coney

3 / 5 Stars 
 
Michael G. Coney (1932 – 2005) was a British author who wrote a number of sf novels and short stories during the 1970s and 1980s, although his work in the latter decade was primarily published in the UK and Canada.

Coney’s work was a prominent part of the DAW catalogue in the early 1970s, with short story collections, like ‘Monitor In Orbit’, seeing print alongside novels such as ‘Mirror Image’ (1972), ‘The Hero of Downways’ (1973), ‘Friends Come In Boxes’ (1973), and ‘The Jaws That Bite, the Claws That Catch’ (1975).

‘Monitor Found In Orbit’ (DAW Book No. 120, September 1974, 172 pp) is a collection of short stories that first saw print in various sf digests and magazines in the period from 1970 – 1973. The attractive cover illustration is by Kelly Freas.

The first story in the collection, ‘The True Worth of Ruth Villiers’, is a sardonic look at a near-future UK in which health care is rationed on a steadfastly economic basis. Those suspicious of ‘socialized medicine’, so to speak, may find it disturbing.

‘The Manya’ sees a dissipated slacker volunteer for time-travel to the far future; he arrives in a tribal society and is welcomed as a God. Things take a complicated turn when neighboring tribes show aggressive intentions.

‘Hold My Hand, My Love’ deals with an interplanetary explorer who develops a complicated relationship with a crewmate in the course of investigating a planet with an unusual ecology; there is a surprise ending.

‘Beneath Still Waters’ uses a sailing race, and an unscrupulous competitor, as vehicles to explore an alien’s empathy for The Human Condition.

‘The Unsavory Episode of Mrs. Hector Powell’ is about a young boy who makes a vacation visit to an eccentric, elderly aunt. The story’s setting and subject matter evoke Roald Dahl.

‘Monitor Found In Orbit’ is Coney’s effort at writing a tale with a determinedly New Wave prose style, although Coney takes pains in his Introduction to this story to state that he did not see himself as a New Wave author per se. ‘Monitor’ employs a Joycean stream-of-consciousness narrative. The plot involves a scientist who engages in confused, even paranoid reminiscences en route to a meeting with his estranged son. This story is something of a chore to read, although it does offer an interesting plot twist at its end.

‘The Mind Prison’ is a competent, if unremarkable take on the traditional sf trope of a closed, post-apocalyptic society and the advent of rebellion on the part of its younger members.

‘R26/5/PSY and I’ is about a dystopian, near-future society in which most of the people are without work and purpose. The narrator becomes enrolled in a novel therapy designed to combat the injurious psychological consequences wrought by such a society. As with ‘The Unsavory Episode’, this tale borrows the sly, satirical tenor of a Roald Dahl piece.

The final entry, ‘Esmeralda’, deals with elderly sisters living in a bleak, polluted landscape in a future England. A downbeat, disturbing ending makes this the best story in the anthology.

All the stories in this collection display Coney’s strengths as a writer; clear, well-written prose, carefully crafted dialogue, and a restrained, very ‘British’ approach to plotting and denouement.

Coney’s work belongs in the New Wave catalog, primarily because its sf content is usually a simple, expedient framework within which Coney devotes careful attention to sociological and psychological themes.

I suspect that ‘Monitor’, like most of Coney’s work, is too understated, and too devoid of excitement, to offer much appeal to modern sf fans. But readers with a fondness for the mannered type of literature that Coney exemplifies may want to investigate ‘Monitor Found in Orbit’.

1 comment:

MPorcius said...

I own this book, and in the last year or so have read the first four stories. I found them about average, "Villiers" and "Manya" better than "Hold my Hand" and "Still Waters." According to my notes I thought "Still Waters" was too long and too sappy, which is probably why I haven't read any more of the collection.