Fiction Reviews


(2008/9) Robert Rankin, Gollancz, 14.99 / 12.99, hrdbk / trd pbk, 368pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07871-0 / 978-0-575-08240-3

This is a bit of a landmark novel in that it is Robert Rankin's 30th novel of 'far-fetched fiction'. A sub-genre of science fantasy for which you have to go a long way. Being Rankin's 30th, Gollancz have made a bit of a PR splash (as has the man's fan club) and this served to delay the book's official launch from its printed 2008 copyright date to 12th January 2009 (as announced in all the press releases and launch party invites). The core thing if you have never come across Rankin before (and we are not talking about that other detective writer) is that it is surreal, comedy science fantasy stepped in British humour descended from The Goons and Monty Python and a cousin to Douglas Adams.

In Necrophenia we meet Tyler, a would-be rock star and git, who ends up having to save the World, well nearly. You see there are forces at work who want to see every living creature on Earth eliminated and the planet turned into a Necrosphere. Along the way Tyler meets up with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley plus there is an accompaniment of songs by the great George Formby.

Now if you are new to Rankin you need to know a couple of things. First off you need to be able to understand Brit humour. If you like The Goons, Python, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue then there is more than a fighting chance that you will like Rankin. The second thing you need to know is that with many of his books that along side the humour readers are frequently faced with a seemingly incomprehensible mish-mash of plot elements. Panic ye not! Just go with the flow and towards the book's end it all makes sense (sort of).

If you are an old timer as far as Rankin (Robert and not the Scottish detective writer Rankin) is concerned then you may also want to know a couple of things. This is one of Rankin's novels that in addition to the humour has a lot of mish-mash that needs resolving. I have to say that, while many of his readers may like this sense-out-of-chaos, I prefer Rankin far more when he has a more linear plot that steadily progresses (for example as in The Brightonomicon and the original several books of the Brentford trilogy) and not the absurd convolution we get with Necrophenia. Of course some may disagree and say that this is all part of the man's charm but then I think that Rankin does far better when he counterbalances, or contrasts, the absurdity of his dialogue and plot basis with a more comprehensible plot development. However, who am I to comment? You must make up your own mind.

The other thing Rankin's regulars will want to know is whether any of his previous characters turn up? Well we do get the bar keeper Fangio. Also - as Rankin (Robert, not the Scottish crime author) regulars will delight - Lazlo Woodbine makes an appearance halfway through for a few chapters. Now Lazlo Woodbine is one of literature's greatest detectives and up there with Sherlock and Sexton. He is a detective to which Rankin (the other one - the Scottish crime writer) can only aspire as Lazlo does it all in just four locations: his office; the bar; the back street alley; and the roof top (the latter which is only used for a case's final climactic resolution).

Well there you have it: Rankin doing more of what he does. For my money I would like extra sprouts, more Lazlo, a tad extra toot, additional Fangio, and Brentford, but with greater logical and linear plot development to counterbalance the wonderful idiosyncrasy. In short for me this is not one of Rankin's best even though it is his 30th. Nonetheless, he has produced some crackers in the past and I dare say his regular fan-base (who are familiar with his style) will lap this one up. To this end let's hope we get another 30 novels and along the way I will be bound to get my wish. If so, to paraphrase the words of the great George, it'll turn out nice again...

No pressure now.

Jonathan Cowie

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