Birthday Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s “The Byrds”
Michael G. Coney was born on September 28, 1932 and died on November 4, 2005.
Coney won the 1977 British SF Association Award for his novel Brontomek! and was also nominated in 1984 for his novel Cat Karina. In 1996, his story “Tea and Hamsters” made the ballot for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and two of his stories, “Die, Lorelei” and “The Sharks of Pentreath” were nominated for Seiun Awards.
“The Byrds” first appeared in the 1983 anthology Changes, edited by Michael Bishop and Ian Watson. In 1985 Judith Merril selected it for inclusion in the inaugural volume of the Tesseracts anthology series of Canadian science fiction. Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery also included the story in The Norton Book of Science Fiction: North American Science Fiction, 1960-1990. The story appeared the following year in David G. Hartwell and Glenn Grant’s Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction. It made its most recent appearance in Mike Ashley’s The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy.
Michael Coney takes a look at mass hysteria in “The Byrds,” in which a Canada which is struggling with population problems sends out questionnaires to the elderly which encourage them to choose euthanasia. In one family, as Gran gets on in years, she refuses to kill herself and instead strips naked, paints herself like a bird, and straps on an anti-gravity belt before taking to the trees to the mortification of her family.
The family calls in a psychiatrist, Dr. Pratt, who seems more intent on writing papers, appearing on television, and generally making a name for himself than helping the family. As the word spreads about what Gran did, others begin doing the same and Gran becomes an unwilling and uncooperative guru for the movement following her lead.
The story is not concerned with the cause of the mass hysteria, rather looking at the impact it has on the family and the way Pratt uses the situation to further himself instead of actually help anyone or trying to understand what is happening. The story acts as a commentary on the pundit class who will speak on any subject with little background knowledge or concern for the damage their appearance may be doing.
Reprint reviewed in the anthology Northern Stars: The Anthology of Canadian Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell and Glenn Grant, Tor Books 1994.
Steven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.
The only Coney I’ve read is his novel, Friends Come in Boxes, a dystopia that was an odd mixture of the genuinely intriguing and the infuriatingly lax.
I love Coney’s novel HELLO SUMMER, GOODBYE (horribly retitled RAX when Don Wollheim, king of the horrible retitle, published it at DAW), and I like its posthumous sequel, I REMEMBER PALLAHAXI, and I like Coney’s stories about “the Peninsula”, which remind me of Ballard’s Vermilion Sands stories and Lee Killough’s Aventine.
The Byrds – GREAT band. Very underappreciated for their various contributions – including the members’ other projects.
I mean The Flying Burrito Brothers, McGuinn’s 16 string guitar…
Bob, you only like them because of the way they spell their band name!
[…] (10) I FLOCK TO THE TREES. Steven H Silver celebrates one birthday in his daily Black Gate feature: “Birthday Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s ‘The Byrds’” […]