“I sat on the harbour wall with a girl one night: in the confusion and collapse of the ordered sub-colony existence there were many such chance relationships until people found their niches again. She said, ‘They’ve known for fifty years that this was going to happen, and yet there were no preparations.’”
Winner of the 1976 BSFA Best Novel award, Michael G. Coney’s Brontomek! is a story about the effects of a huge corporation on a small community of colonists living on a planet called ‘Arcadia’. It’s also about love, sailing, small-town community life, farming and giant mek machines. There isn’t much to be found about Brontomek! on the net. I’d only heard of Coney’s 1973 novel Friends Come in Boxes before this, and that was thanks to Science Fiction Ruminations’ excellent review of it over here.
After a bizarre natural disaster hits the planet, the “Hetherington Organisation” offers the remaining colonists a “five-year-plan” that they promise will rejuvenate Arcadia. This offer includes the deployment of the titular “brontomeks”, huge, mechanised, farming machines armed with lasers, as well as an army of shapeshifting worker-aliens called “amorphs”. What could possibly go wrong?
“The brontomek had turned and was lumbering back, ripping soil and flattening trees. A sticker plant went under, thrashing tentacles and squirting juices. […] A thin pencil of light stabbed out from a turret above the brontomek’s jaws and fried a small bounding thing.” (p.87)
I wasn’t sure what to think about the main character, Kevin Moncrieff, aside from his blonde-bombshell fetish and seeming teenage obsession with sexual pursuits. He was likeable at times, but came over a bit shallow and sexist over the span of the story. The other characters are pretty standard genre-types, the most interesting being an alien farmer called Kli a’ Po.
This slim book is a quick, easy read. There are some good ideas in here, particularly touching on identity and human desires. It looks at how fragile colonial life could be on an alien world. There are also some sobering observations on humanity’s treatment of what we regard as the other or alien. But it is a light and breezy take on these themes that doesn’t dig too deeply. (It would be interesting to find out what other books were nominated in 1976, but there doesn’t seem to be any records for that year on the net.)
Taken off the back cover of my 1976 edition:
‘Out-of-world big business and corruption makes a highly ingenious tale on planet Arcadia.’ – Yorkshire Post
‘As always Coney is fast-moving and extremely inventive.’ – British Book News