Michael Coney

Science-fiction writer


Michael Greatrex Coney, writer: born Birmingham 28 September 1932; married (two sons, one daughter); died Saanichton, British Columbia 4 November 2005.

When Michael Coney learned earlier this year that he was fatally ill with asbestos-induced lung cancer, he put three novels previously unpublished in English on to his website as free downloads for his friends and readers. (It is a sign of the uncertainties of the current English-language publishing scene that one of these works had already been released in Russian in 1999.) The calm and open manner of this farewell gesture reminded those who had known him that they were going to miss another good person too soon.

Coney was born in Birmingham, educated at King Edward's School there, and began a career as a chartered accountant in 1949; but he did not settle into that profession. He worked for some time as a management consultant, managed a hotel in Devon from 1966 to 1969, then went to the West Indies with his wife, Daphne.

Together they managed the Jabberwock Hotel in Antigua until 1972, when they emigrated to Canada. Coney then worked for the British Columbia Forest Service until his retirement in 1989; Forest Ranger, Ahoy! (1989) is a lively account of the service, whose rangers patrolled the enormously complex British Columbia coast in wooden, flat-bottomed boats.

This full, professional existence, the life of a late-20th-century wanderer who finds job satisfaction in a beautiful venue far from home, may have taken most of his time; and, as his books about the British Columbia littoral clearly manifest, he cherished his resting place on the Pacific Rim. But it was not the whole story. As early as the mid-1960s he had begun to submit "radical" science-fiction stories to Michael Moorcock's controversial New Worlds magazine, none of which Moorcock took. Taking this lesson to heart, he began to write (and to publish) tales closer to the central concerns of 1970s science fiction. His first novel, Mirror Image (1972), neatly intensified the American genre's Cold War focus on impostors and secret invaders; in this case the "amorphs", who are indistiguishable from us, are themselves convinced that they are human.

Coney's amorphs reappear in Brontomek (1976), which won a British Science Fiction Award in 1977, and are effective images of the uneasy 1970s sense that the world was becoming less easy to decipher; this sense of boding insecurity marks other early Coney novels like Syzygy (1973), which is set in the same troubled planet as Brontomek; and Friends Come in Boxes (1973), a slice-of-life tale set in a near-future Axminster where the overpopulation crisis has been solved by a surreal and sinister system in which adult minds are imprinted into the brains of infants, androids embody specially privileged members of an inequal society, and real and unreal mesh dizzyingly.

After a first rush of dystopian tales, however, Coney began to shift his ground from the more overstressed regions of the Western world (and its analogues on other planets). The Girl with a Symphony in her Fingers (1975), set somewhere near the end of time, palpably dramatises a longing for a quieter realm; and his most successful later work - The Celestial Steam Locomotive (1983) and Gods of the Greataway (1984) - could almost be set on a transfigured Vancouver Island.

In these tales, and later connected fantasies, human beings have been exiled from any central role in running their lives or their planet. Their job is to live well, in harmony with other humanoid species, in a world whose violent but non-fatal complexities will remind 21st-century readers of the current vogue, in book and film alike, for tales set in Virtual Realities.

It is of course a common condition nowadays to travel far from one's origins, to experience exile as a norm, almost like an amorph in a world of humans. In his own life, Coney clearly experienced exile, but reaped the benefits of ending up in a kind of earthly paradise, where he stayed put for the last 30 years of his life. His fiction, too, after traversing the upheavals of our times, found a home and stayed there.

John Clute

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines