Short Book Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s Monitor Found in Orbit (1974) and Ron Goulart’s After Things Fell Apart (1970)

Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before my memory and will fades. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.


1. Monitor Found in Orbit, Michael G. Coney (1974)

3/5 (collated rating: Average)

I’ve long enjoyed Michael G. Coney’s science fiction–check out Friends Come in Boxes (1973), Hello Summer, Goodbye (variant title: Rax) (1975), “Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel” (1977), and my recent rumination on “The Mind Prison” (1971) (which appears in this collection) for my Generation Ship Short Story Review series. Unfortunately, the majority of the stories in Monitor Found in Orbit (1974), his only published short story collection, are middling at best. I waited far too long to review this one! Despite the presences of some solid to good stories, I can only provide brief summaries at this point without a reread.

“The True Worth of Ruth Villiers” (1970), 3.5/5 (Good): One of the better stories in the collection, Coney spins a nightmarish satire of the man who condemned a girl to die as he could not assign sufficient resources for her rescue due to a low Social Value Credit Rating. A future socialist with its state owned institutions operates with an impersonal calculus…

“The Manya” (1973), 3/5 (Average) takes the form of a legend about a human visitor named Lackland (the Lord of the Skies) in a world of little green sky fisherman and their conflict with the “malodorous men of Breda” (31). Lackland leads the villagers of Poli against their enemies.

“Hold My Hand, My Love!” (1971), 3/5 (Average): The story is an interview with the defendant in the unusual death of Gertrude Nash, planetary explorer, in order to establish a “temporary insanity” defense. The pilot and bodyguard of the expedition to Zusam–a “world of unreal emotions” (58) with strange symbiotic lifeforms–relates the events that lead up to his murder of Nash.

Beneath Still Waters” (1971), 2.5/5 (Bad): At the Hoversail Club, Arthur Warren meets Ralph Streng and learns about a coming delegation of alien physicians from Canaral. Interspersed with racing sequences, the yachtsmen meet with the wraithlike creatures and debate the nature of competition. A human foibles revealed by the presence of aliens story.

“The Unsavory Episode of Mrs. Hector Powell-Challenger” (1974), 2/5 (Bad): In a hyper-regimented and mechanized future, thirteen-year-old Geordie visits his Aunt Jane. His Aunt attempts to recreate life in the 1970s and judges him for his inability to understand how to operate in the alien domestic landscape.

“Monitor Found in Orbit” (1971), 3.5/5 (Good): “Monitor Found in Orbit” is an oblique experimental New Wave vision of a narrator (a mad scientist) traumatized by an accident in a laboratory and his memories of his son. There’s intrigue and a Russian plot…

The Mind Prison” (1971), 3.5/5 (Good): Reviewed previously here.

R26/5/PSY and I” (1969), 3.5/5 (Good): In dystopian future, the narrator receives psychiatric treatment for an “attach of the horrors” (139) perhaps triggered by the press of people in the overpopulated world. For the treatment he receives a mechanical companion named R26/5/PSY. An intriguing story about the psychological space of an increasingly urban world…

“Esmeralda” (1972), 3.5/5 (Good): In yet another dystopian polluted near-future world, two sisters, Agatha and Becky, live alone in an eroding dwelling blasted by sea winds while a massive mechanized Brontomech harvests the fields at the periphery. They ruminate about their usefulness in a society with programmable machines and observe pollution creeping into their well. A dark story, with a polluted and transformed world infringing on the small drama of sibling rivalry, that represents the passing of an age.


2. After Things Fell Apart, Ron Goulart (1970)

2.5/5 (Bad)

Ron Goulart (1933-2022) passed away on January 14th earlier this year. His science fiction publishing career lasted a whopping 67 years — his first story appeared in 1950 and his last in 2017.

I have long known that Goulart’s brand of science fiction tends not to be to my liking–the vibe is that of witty banter while simultaneously conducting a high-speed chase through a manic carnival of all of animated political cartoons from every political spectrum. However, with his passing, I decided to give After Things Fell Apart (1970)–the first novel in the loose Fragmented America sequence (1970-1981)–described as by John Clute as a “remarkable picaresque” a chance.

After a failed invasion by Chinese Commandos, California devolved into a balkanized landscape of self-governing polities. Jim Haley works for the Priviate Inquiry Office in the San Francisco Enclave and attempts to keep a level head as a kaleidoscope world of fellow officers possessed by their priapic impulses, the Nixon Institute with its oral history project, Mechanical Jazz Festivals, and amateur Mafia agents swirl past. The mission? Attempt to locate Lady Day and her man-killing cult followers. And along the way Haley will maintain his grin and eventually, after the dust settles, fall in love.

As expected, Ron Goulart’s brand of SF is not for me. Any good ideas that crop up are immediately abandoned. I’ll read a short story if it appears in an anthology but I do not plan on seeking any of his work out.


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12 thoughts on “Short Book Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s Monitor Found in Orbit (1974) and Ron Goulart’s After Things Fell Apart (1970)

  1. Sam J Lundwall translated the Goulart novel in 1980. Well I have not read it; but I know its Lundwalls cup of tea. I have read some of his short stories, but it was some years ago… so my memory are vague. There are at least ten of them in Sam j’s Jules Verne Magasinet (1972-2010 RIP).

      • Yes thats right. Well he often had, but not always, there are exceptions. I think Lundwall are at his best when he takes it a bit easy with this ironic side. As in Fängelsestaden (78). And there are others.

          • The DAW title by Lundwall, Bernhard the Conqueror, is good fun. But I happened to like the Goulart books they published back then as well, so maybe it’s not to your taste either!

            • I really only ever read the DAW titles so I stopped when they did. I did listen to an audio book of a Shatner novel he ghost wrote – the first Tek War book. It was a 3 hour edited version (as many books were those days) and, stripped to the bone, it felt just like one of his DAW books!

  2. Coney and Goulart were two my favorite authors growing up, and both made their reps in the paperback field, so their stuff was often hard for a library brat like myself to come by. Coney with forever be known for creating slow glass. Still, Goulart’s brand of satire was something that appealed to my young self. They have since become dated, still, I would recommend his story “Into the Shop”. It’s a story in which a robotic police van develops a glitch and starts executing prisoners. For once, Goulart’s twist ending actually worked. One of Goulart’s darker tales.

    • “Slow glass”? Do you mean the Bob Shaw stories? The listing for Shaw’s tales: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?25395
      I reviewed and adored “Light of Other Days” (1966) a few years ago and I read but never reviewed the fix-up version Other Days, Other Eyes (1972).

      I want to emphasize that I adore a good half of the Coney I’ve read. Some of the average stories in this collection are more blips than anything else.

      As for Goulart, I struggle with a lot of SF comedy. I get what he’s trying to do — make fun of the extremes of all sides. And it makes sense considering the California of his day. But his visions are just not for me. Or, I haven’t found the right ones yet.

  3. Forgive me, but your summary fails to clench either the denotative complexity of Coney’s ‘Hold my hand, my love’ or its multi-layered structuring. I’d suggest that the story deserves a re-examination.
    The central topos concerns a psychotic boy who has murdered his mother at a monorail station. The vivid and pulpy scenes set on the planet Zusam are an embedded narrative; hallucinatory manifestations of the boy’s psychosis. There also are two other intriguing aspects of these scenes which are worthy of note. The first (pharmacological), are the textual allusions to the trips induced by the recreational drug ‘flash’; the second (prophetic), that the scenes on Zusam possibly are also in some way(s) spookily predictive of recent discoveries in Sector G.
    (For a briefer but more cogent summary, check out SF Commentary, no. 48, p. 50.)

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