Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


"Oh, Valinda!" by Michael G. Coney (first published in New Writings in SF 20, edited by John Carnell, 1972; reprinted in The 1973 Annual World's Best SF [also published as Wollheim's World's Best SF: Series 2], edired by Donald S. Wollheim with Arthur W, Saha, 1973)

A brief exercise in world building, with an emphasis on ecological concerns and the effect of colonialism.

The planet Cantek can be seen as a distorted image of Earth.  The four-foot humanoid natives of the planet have brought about ecological disaster through unthinking and irrsdposible use of fossile fuels.  The seas and the air are severely polluted.  A recent disaster involving an undersea drilling operation has left the ocean covered with inches (and sometimes, feet) of oil.  For the populace to survive, they must have fresh water from ice bergs navigated through the ocean to the cities.  This provides an opportunity for great profits for Earthmen who have the technoliogy to steer the ice bergs.

And how do they maneuver the ice bergs.  The oceans of Cantek are the home of giant marine worms, some 400 yards in length.  These worms attached themselves to the bottom of the ice flows, ech suspending from them like a large upside-down "U."  These giant worms suck in a large amopunt of water and dispel it one the other end of their bodies, creating a motive force.  A hole drilled through the ice sheet allows an instument to attach itself to the worm, providing shocks that allow the humans to steer the worms toward a preferred destination.  The native of Cantek have a mold psychic link to the worms, allowing them to locate them and to steer them.  Each ice floe is steered by a group of three -- two Earthmen and a Cantek native.

Skunder is a Cantek who has discovered a very large and powerful worm.  He is accompanied by Erkelens, an experienced Earthman working on ice floe, and Rosskidd, a younger man who is bigoted against the Cantek natives.  But their bigotry is a matter of degree; neither Earthman is pleasant.  Skunder, like others of his race is resentful of Earth; Earth has the power to pull Cantek out of the ecological disaster it is facing, but refuse to do it; preferring instead to let the backward planet solve its own problems -- something that will take hundreds of years and cosr ountless lifves.  As Erkelens put it, "Handing our reactors to all your various governments would be like giving lasers to chimpanzees." 

Previously, Skandar and his mate Valinda, worked for another Earthman, Lejour, who had caused the death of Valinda after she had gone underwater to try to steer a marine worm in a different direction.  Skandar vowed never to work for Lejour again, and now Lejour and his small crew have appeared on another ice flow and is racing Erkelens and Rosskidd to a nearby port -- whoever reaches there first will become fabulously wealthy; whoever comes in second will receive only dregs, if that.  Lejour is far better funded than his opponents and has much better equipment.  But Lejour's worm is smaller than his rival's worm, so the race for profits is up in the air.  

In an effot to sabotage Erkelens and Rosskidd, Lejour sets fire to the ocean surface, causng disaster for both parties.  Skunder takes a submersable underwater in an effort to salvage the situation...

In Coney's tale, stupidity and greed are not limited to a single race, and the destructive power of both has negative effects on both races.  A cautionary tale, of you will.  One that is well thought out and reasoned.and one that will leave a powerful impact.

Michael G. Coney (1932-2005) was an accountant who served as a hotel manager for several years in the West Indies, at which time he began publishing science fiction.  His first of twenty novels, Mirror Image, was published in 1972.  His 1976 novel Brontomek! won the British Science Fiction Association Award.  He was nominated for a Nebula Award for his 1995 novelette "Tea and Hamsters."  He had been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award five times.  He published on collection of short stories (Monoitor Found in Orbit. 1974) and two nonfiction books about his experiences as a forest ranger in British Columbia, where he livedduring the last half of his life.  Coney was a capable, talented, and diverse author whose works should have been better known.

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