Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Michael Coney Brontomek! (1976)
During the late 1970s I was in an English class which had some sort of book club deal going on, and thus was I exposed to a Pan Books promotional poster reproducing twenty or thirty covers from their science-fiction range - Brian Aldiss' Frankenstein Unbound, Philip K. Dick's Galactic Pot Healer, Clifford D. Simak's The Werewolf Principle, Robert Heinlein's The Green Hills of Earth, and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End being the five which really stuck with me. I was fascinated by this poster, and tried hard to imagine what it would be like to read books of such futuristic promise, yet never quite got there, which was probably thanks to television.

Still, I eventually caught up, seeking out and reading at least those named above, having been primed to do so back in 1978.

More recently, my friend Steve mentioned that he was reading something by Michael Coney. This being an unfamiliar name, I googled and found Brontomek! the cover of which flooded my  nostalgia gland with memory sherbert of a strength I hadn't experienced in a while - an obvious inspiration for the Terra-Meks from the 1979 Ro-Busters strip in 2000AD comic, something that  had also caught my imagination, inspiring many Saturday afternoons spent with biro and drawing pad devising my own highly derivative canon of city-crushing demolition robots.

Anyway, Coney's Brontomek! - much like The Godwhale by T.J. Bass - appears to be one of those novels which enjoyed brief 1970s fame before vanishing without leaving much of a trace. Like The Godwhale, for all that it has in its favour, there is some indeterminate quality pinning it firmly to that decade - beach scenes oddly reminiscent of Jaws, the inference that prolonged bachelorhood will ultimately lead one to steal women's underwear from washing lines, a lead character seemingly played by Harry Enfield's impersonation of Roger Moore, and all the whisky he drinks, and the fact that he names his boat Easy Lady; even in the unlikely event that nocturnal theft of women's knickers will one day number amongst the crimes that continue to plague interplanetary colonists, such details somehow date Brontomek! as profoundly as any of E.E. 'Doc' Smith's spacefaring pipe smokers.

The story, essentially the struggle of the little guy against the corporation, is serviceable but tends to occur as background detail to what might as well be Howard's Way in space - all boat drinks and bachelorhood and a slightly cranky obsession with nautical detail - so that by the time the story actually shows up, it seems too little too late and is in any case eclipsed by the unfolding and slightly bewildering focus on some attempt at breaking a yachting record.

There were some great ideas here, and Coney was clearly a decent writer, but somehow this should have been so much better.


  1. A fair review I think and disappointingly I have to agree with most of it. I’ll go one further and say I found the lead character a little bit ‘rapey’ at times.
    I only finished this a couple of days ago but had recommended the author based on having read the earlier works; Syzygy and Mirror Image. Both of these are much more enjoyable and have ideas, plot and mystery a plenty. Mystery which would be ruined by having read Brontomek first as they are all set in a shared universe and once you know about the Relay Effect and what an Amorph is, some of the story drive will be removed.
    It’s odd that Brontomek won the British Science fiction award for best novel of 1976 because it’s almost not science fiction and a lot of the characters have a stock 1950’s American movie feel rather than being especially British or original
    All that said; I like Coney and I like a shared universe so I will be reading Charisma next – which I think I should have read before Brontomek, and I was sufficiently impressed by the first two books that I have already bought Friends come in Boxes and The Hero of Downways. I’ll let you know.

  2. Bit relieved seeing as you recommended the author to me. I was thinking "oh no - what if he thinks this was the best one!?"
    The lead character was indeed a little bit rapey I thought. Might still check out Syzygy but my to-read pile is getting a bit out of hand again so it won't be for a bit.