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learned earlier this year that he was fatally ill with asbestos-induced lung cancer, he put three novels previously unpublished in English on to his website as free downloads for his friends and readers.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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn