Growing up alien: Michael Coney’s Hello Summer, Goodbye

The spine of my old Pan paperback reads “Hello Summer, Goodbye Michael Coney,” with “Hello Summer” in red, and “Goodbye Michael Coney” in black. I’d like to say that’s why I bought it, but in fact I was already a Coney fan when I picked up this, his best book, in 1978. Coney had a good feeling for titles—the first book of his I read was called Friends Come In Boxes. Hello Summer, Goodbye was published in the U.S. as Rax and in Canada as Pallahaxi Tide. Under that last title it is still in print in Canada.

This is a short sweet book that is in the small category of books that contain no humans. What it belongs with is the spider portions of A Deepness in the Sky and those other books about planets that have weird orbits with weird long term effects on the inhabitants, like Helliconia and Dragonflight. Thinking about it now, I wonder if I loved the spider bits of Deepness so much because they were on my resonant frequency thanks to reading Hello Summer, Goodbye so many times when I was growing up.

Hello Summer, Goodbye is the story of how Alika-Drove grows up. He begins the book as a boy, about to go on summer vacation to Pallahaxi in the family’s alcohol-powered car. The technology is early twentieth century, the sun Phu is shining, mutants are wandering about tending the fields along with the omnipresent empathic and semi-sentient lorin, and the worst thing that has happened is that Drove’s idiotic mother has poured away his ice goblin just when it was going to come alive. There’s a war with Asta, but it’s far away, there’s a religious story that the sun dragged the world from the clutches of the ice demon Rax, but sensible people know that Rax is just a big planet. Drove’s looking forward to meeting the girl he met last summer, Pallahaxi-Browneyes, and the coming of the grume, when the sea gets thick, and this year he’s going to have his own skimmer.

This is not a predictable book. The planet’s orbit is weird and causes weird effects, the people are aliens, everything is very cleverly set up to seem familiar and slip down easily with just a few little science fictional touches here and there, but it’s actually all much odder than it looks, and gets even stranger as it goes along. The thing that is the way people form relationships—parents and children, young lovers, government and people. These aren’t aliens with alien culture, they’re aliens with alien biology and cosmology. The book is deeply satisfying whether or not you know where it’s heading—and the first time through, you really don’t. You have to re-read it to see how well it’s set up all along.

I like a great deal of Coney’s work—everything except his Cordwainer-Smith influenced books, really. He’s not a very well known writer, which is surprising, but I suppose what he wrote was never in the mainstream or really part of any movement—also he suffered from particularly awful covers. He’s hard to classify. He set a lot of his stories in places that feel like little Cornish fishing villages on other planets, which is refreshing, because nobody else did that. He was very good at writing characters and setting up the worlds that made them.

Still, Hello Summer, Goodbye is in print as Pallahaxi Tide—get it while you can.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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