Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review of Hello Summer, Goodbye by Michael Coney

Ahh, the English summer holiday. Time at the cottage, playing under the sun, taking the boat for a sail or two, watching for ice-devils—wait, what? Ice-devils? Is that British humor referring to the sea? But what about the lox? And the lorin—the hairy people? I thought everything seemed so familiar, now it doesn’t... Such is the alien strangeness of Michael Coney’s Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975). The internal conflicts it describes, unfortunately, are not…

At the outset of Hello Summer, Goodbye, Alika Drove seems like any other teenage boy getting ready to go on summer holiday with his parents. His mother frets over packing bags, just as his father grooms the family car readying it for the trip. Trying to stay out from underfoot, Drove argues with his parents about what he can and cannot bring on holiday, and whether or not he can meet up with a girl he had eyes for the previous summer, Brown-eyes, an innkeeper’s daughter who his parents look down upon for being lower class. Despite his father’s tight, prudish control over Drove’s behavior, the teen finds a big surprise upon arrival at the tourist island of Pallahaxi: his own skimmer boat. Thus, the summer holiday proves to be filled with adventure, romance, and drama where the water is your friend as much as foe (those ice-devils). It’s the intentions of the adults around you, however, that may not be as they appear.

A well-paced, imaginative novel, Hello Summer, Goodbye creates a semi-human world, populates it with exotic flora and fauna, and turns loose a Civil War that proves to have far less implications than other, more looming astrophysical threats. With ice-devils and semi-solid tides, it’s a memorable world. As the erudite Jaochim Boaz writes, the way Coney “relates his bizarre world, via the first person perspective, should be a lesson for new writers — there are no massive lectures on topics the narrator would already know but the reader “must know now” and the peculiarities of the world which the narrator would take for granted considering they are normal to him serve to make the world all the more mysterious and tantalizing.” Another way of putting this is, Coney delivers an imaginative world in the same number of pages the majority of other sf writers these days take to clear their throat.

Hello Summer, Goodbye follows Drove explicitly, and the time spent with the teenage boy scratches in both satisfying and irritating fashion. Not irritating in the sense Coney has not developed or presented his character properly, rather that there is an unnerving sense of tension underlying everything Drove does. Yes, there are the alien elements which semi-regularly pop in to remind the reader the story is not set in Brighton or Plymouth, but it’s also Drove’s behavior and mannerisms. Sharp-tongued on occasion, uncomfortable socially, riddled with teenage angst, and often thinking he knows better, Drove is not an easy character to fall into stride with. At the same time, his interest in the ice-devils, his time with Brown-eyes, and quarrels with the other teenagers are wholly relatable in a positive way. The see-saw between Drove’s light and dark sides helps distinguish him from a lot of other sf “heroes”.

Thematic discussion regarding Hello Summer, Goodbye is a bit tough considering the climax and denouement hinge upon it, thus anything detailed risks spoiling the story. I would simply say, the dislike Drove’s parents have of Brown-eyes and her peers for being lower class plays itself out in surprising fashion. What appears dour blue bloods vs. kind-hearted blue-collars toward the beginning of the book (r)evolves into something more sophisticated over the final fifty pages that allows the narrative to achieve a higher plane than the romance and drama which drive the plot to that point. In other words, wait for it. The underlying plot tension and mystery Coney imbues the story with resolve themselves in a manner that transcends the story.

Hello Summer, Goodbye is a novel that Coney likely did not intend to be as popular as it was (at least in the UK in 1975). I say that because, it has an organic release and flow that feels like an author stretching their imagination without pressure—an idea unraveling itself naturally. Coney lets the story take him, and subsequently the reader, making for a colorful, unpredictable plot that feels original and retains its relevancy until today given the way the theme unveils itself. Though almost fifty years old—fifty years!!!—this is still one worth seeking out.

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