Review of Michael Coney - "Hello Summer, Goodbye" and "I Remember Pallahaxi"

As with every summer Drove is visiting Pallahaxi with his parents. This year however things are a little different. Drove is on the verge of manhood, and Browneyes, a girl he met the previous summer, is occupying the majority of his thoughts.

However, just as Drove is becoming more involved in the world at large, the world is about to get involved in his life. His father is a Parl (a member of the government) and not at all happy that Drove is showing interest below his social standing, something about which Drove cares nothing at all.

But as well as obstacles to his love life Drove and the entire world will have to contend with an infrequent astronomical even that plunges the whole world into darkness (and cold) for forty years - the Great Freeze.

Like much British science fiction, this is bleak in ways American fiction rarely is. The further you get in the book the more you become certain that the ending is going to be anything but "happy-ever-after".

This world is remarkably well realised; the prose and descriptions are exquisite. The growing relationship between Drove and Browneyes, despite the opposition of his parents and the suspicions of hers, is portrayed brilliantly with just enough detail to show progression but not to become even remotely graphic.

This gentle love story is the only light relief of the novel. This is a dying world. The townsfolk are becoming more and more aware that all is not right, that this worse-than-normal cold is not just a fluke but an indication of future times.

This, together with the growing secrecy and out-of-the-ordinary behaviour of the government, is leading to growing frictions between the classes. But it's all done in a very understated English way. It is also not a good versus bad tale. Each side is simply trying to survive, although the means the Parls are using are less than totally moral.

" Hello Summer, Goodbye" was voted in a one newsgroup's poll as the greatest British SF book of the 1970s. Given that he was up against Arthur C. Clarke, Bob Shaw, Edmund Cooper, John Brunner, Brian Aldiss and James White (amongst many others) it's certainly an achievement.

This has all the government paranoia and small-man-against-the-big-machine feel of a George Orwell novel but its wrapped in a lyrical poetic gentility. This is a classic. It deserves to be more widely read.

* ~ *

Packaged alongside this is Coney's sequel - "I Remember Pallahaxi" - so far unpublished although posted on the author's website shortly before his death in 2005.

Any reader of the first book could easily it set on a lost human colony world, so far removed that all memory of origin is lost, together with all the advanced technologies that used reaching the world.

This time the characters are noticeably non-human, possessing genetic memory enabling them to search the memories of their ancestors (from birth to the moment of each subsequent generation's conception). This trait forms the basis of their society, with the man-chief and woman-chief of each village chosen because they posses the longest genetic memory. (The presence of actual humans on the world, running a mining operation, acts to confirm their alien-ness.)

As before a Great Freeze is approaching. And once more it plays an adolescent love story against the end of the world. This time, though, we know the great freeze is survivable. After all these are the same beings and the same world, someone must have survived the first time. So it's impossible to feel the same degree of tension as before.

The two youngsters are also as separated by circumstance as Drove and Browneyes. Hardy is the nephew of the Man-Chief of Yam, an inland hunting-farming village. Charm is from Noss (a coastal fishing village), the daughter of the Woman-Chief. The two villages exist in a state of mutual suspicion.

It's been a poor year for Yam. With crop yields down and game hard to find, they approached Noss for a loan of fish to cover the winter, against a share of the following year's crop and hunt. The deal had been achieved due to the diplomatic skill of Hardy's father Bruno, the Yam Man-Chief's elder brother. (In a brilliant touch the youngest child assumes the title due to their possessing a greater share of their father's memory).

The following year Yam's crop is even worse and game even more scarce. Bruno is murdered (a truly shocking event when all descendants will remember the act) and his diplomacy lost just when it is most needed. Relations between the two villages deteriorate rapidly when they need to be working together.

Hardy is also in danger. Despite earlier accusations of Noss's guilt over Bruno's murder he realises the threat is from a much closer source. Noss, and more specifically the Woman-Chief's daughter Charm, could be his only salvation.

This suffers the same problem as most sequels. After all, we've already been-there, done-that. So unless it progresses the story in a new direction there is always going to be disappointment.

In the case of "I Remember Pallahaxi" this is not great. Coney's prose is still wonderful; his characters are just as involving, and there are enough differences to maintain interest.

The natives are less technology-dependent, having found equilibrium with their world. They possess genetic-memory that should jar with the first book, after all Drove and Browneyes did not. But it's handled beautifully, with the lead characters asking the same questions as the reader, and investigating this change, believing it key to their future.

There is also the human mining colony. This seems unnecessary and incongruous. They play such a small role in the story, why are they there? But their greater knowledge aids Hardy and Charm's search for answers about their world.

Okay, so it doesn't measure up to the first book, but it has its own appeal.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It's been a week

Back in the Saddle? Hopefully

A return to posting