(2005) Robert Rankin, Gollancz, £10.99, trd pbk, 359 pp, ISBN 0-575-07668-2
Ask who is currently the top British SF writer and the answer you are most likely to get is Douglas Adams, though of course he is no longer with us and is really only known for the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy series. Terry Pratchett might be another answer, though his work is more firmly rooted in fantasy. However straddling both SF and fantasy with a smile on his face, and a pint of old wallop in one hand, is Robert Rankin. Of course if you are one of Rankin's many readers then you certainly won't need to see this review and so I assume that you have not come across the guy. His books are extremely popular in the British Isles. They have that insane Brit humour drawn from the same well as the Goons or Monty Python. They are full of awful puns, deliberately stereotyped and outsized characters, and set against a normal backdrop but with a plot that is bigger than whatever biggish thing you can imagine. And so we come to his latest offering, The Brightonomicon.
Here the outsized support characters include a landlord whose pub owners keep changing his hostelry's theme and a direct descendent of Jesus Christ. The lead characters are the narrator and a paltry, long-lived genius who once advised Queen Victoria and Sherlock Holmes but today (the 1960s) is out to save the World from his arch nemesis. The biggish plot is that all are after the chronovision, a TV set that can view scenes anywhere in space and time. The normal backdrop in this instance is Brighton, which (I should mention for non-Brits) really is a well known seaside resort south of London.
To find the chronovision our heroes must solve the mysteries of the Brightonomicon. You see if you take a street map of Brighton, and look carefully enough, you can figures in the shapes of some of the streets. Figures like the Hangleton Hound or the Moulescoomb Crab. Indeed each episode of the adventure has a diagram at its start that is actually part of Brighton's street map with the appropriate shape outlined.
Characters from other of Rankin's score or so books also make an appearance, but don't worry if you do not know them, their colourful nature is more than enough. However for Rankin's regulars this is a plus, as is the fact The Brightonomicon is in fact a prequel to The Brentford Triangle trilogy (which is now a septology or octology with this latest addition). One piece of advice. Rankin's plots can take a while to get the hang of. They are of course zany but they also do have their own internal logic. So if you are distracted by the unusual do stick with the book as its rationale will become apparent. If you do make it to the end then the chances are that you'll be hooked and, I regret, addicted to the guy. You will then need to seek out his other stuff. Start with his original The Brentford Triangle and then move on. Anything with a sprout (specifically Barry the sprout) or Lazlo Woodbine are among his best. Enjoy. Trust me, I'm a scientist.
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