The Robert Rankin ready reckoner
One of Britain's best-loved authors' work is dissected in the regular Friday ready reckoner. Rob salutes the genius of Robert Rankin.
A mix of Monty Python, Spike Milligan, Grant Morrison, HG Wells and ‘that bloke down the pub’, Robert Rankin’s unique brand of far fetched fiction will have you chuckling like a madman. Here’s our guide to his work…The Antipope (1981) This is where it all started and fans got their first glimpse of the Brentford-verse as The Antipope first opens the doors to the Flying Swan. It introduces Omally and Pooley, Neville, Soap Distant, Archroy and Norman as they assist Professor Slocombe in fending off the sinister Pope Alexander the evil Antipope, who has taken up residence in the local Sea-Mens’ mission while trying to down the odd pint of ‘large’ in the process. Insane and original.
The Brentford Triangle (1982) Alien invaders are about the take over the world and it’s up to Omally and co to once again jump into the breach and stop the alien attack machines. However there is so much more to worry about as we are introduced to the world’s most vindictive postie, Small Dave, and there’s the impending showdown at the mystically-enhanced local darts championship. A great sequel, but not quite as unique as The Antipope.
East of Ealing (1984) We once again return to Brentford for this final book in the trilogy and the end of the world is nigh as the prophecies of The Book of Revelation are being fulfilled in and around the suburb. With demonic forces replacing people, and a sinister Jack Palance-alike bad guy lurking around it looks like computers have finally taken over and the world is doomed (again). A mixed bag this one, with a bit of Body Snatchers and a lot of techno-fear, it’s good, but Rankin has too many ideas to fit in, and there’s not a great ending either. A Sherlock Holmes cameo is welcome, though!The Sprouts of Wrath (1988) The entire gang return (with a cameo by Inspector Hovis) to fight off evil yet again as Brentford is picked to host the Olympics and ‘gasp’…Pooley and Omally have to get jobs. As you would expect everything is not what they seem, as once again a set of sinister goings on is happening behind the scenes. With this book we see an introduction to Rankin’s love for forgotten Victorian technology, with Tesla, anti-gravity metals and such making an appearance. This is the last in the ‘trilogy’ of Brentford books for a time and is a great swansong with a great ending that involves demons and a bit of assistance from Norman’s flying Morris Minor.
Armageddon: The Musical (1990) A whole new cast, a whole new scenario but with the same old gags (it must be an old law or charter or something), Rankin transports us to the future of 2050 where a post-apocalyptic society is ruled over by telly and the only way you can buy food is to gain credits for watching adverts. We are also introduced to the religions of the future which include the Hubbard-ists, and Buddhavision, a TV station that’s bigger than God himself. Added to this insanity we are introduced to Rex Mundi, a reincarnation of Elvis, and of course Barry the Time Sprout, who are present to see the end of the world as we know it. Great fun, insane and out-doing Douglas Adams in the weirdness scale, this is one of Rankin’s best books, with his imagination going into overdrive
They Came and Ate Us – Armageddon II: The B movie (1991) – The sequel to Armageddon is a lot more intricate and difficult to read. There’s time travel, alternative futures, more action from Rambo Bloodaxe, Deathblade Eric and Hugo Rune , more sprouts, some very naughty sexy bits and Elvis kicking up a right fuss. It’s not always easy to follow, but with more General Electric mini-gun action than any other book so far this is still a good book.
The Suburban Book Of The Dead – Armageddon III: The Remake (1992) More adventures with Barry, Elvis, Rex and co. as for the third time Armageddon attempts to happen. It’s more of the same, and it’s not an easy read as a result. There’s Elvis, with the help of Barry coming a god, the bad guy Jonathan Crawford once again cracking open the General Electric mini-guns and Rex’s quest to get back to a easy life in paradise. Really a book that is a mishmash, it’s the last in the Armageddon trilogy, and while it has some great ideas – Lazlo Woodbine, a private-eye who appears in four stock locations – it feels likes the bits Rankin couldn’t squeeze into the first two. Good finale, though.The Book of Ultimate Truths (1993) The book that got me hooked on Rankin, this is the thinking person’s novel, with the introduction of legendary, nay mythical, Hugo Rune. Mentioned in passing in other stories, this book focuses on Rune, his son Cornelius Murphy and diminutive friend Tuppe as they search for the ‘outer zone’. They try and answer the important questions in life such as where do Biros go, what really makes alarm clocks work and how important it is to always be in possession of a stout stick (useful for smiting). Packed full of weirdness this is Rankin at his best. From the weird and wonderful Campbell to the insane, yet thought provoking logic dished out by Rune, this book is probably the best novel to start your Rank-a-thon with.Raiders of the Lost Car Park (1994) After the success of The Book of Ultimate Truths this sequel goes horribly, horribly. After learning how to access the hidden parts of the world, Rune and co go in search of who is really controlling the globe. To be honest you will be disappointed when you find out who it is and find that you have wasted a day reading what is probably Rankin’s weakest work.The Greatest Show off Earth (1994) Back on track again with this one, which has anti-hero-Raymond being snatched from his allotment by a flying starfish from Uranus and sold as a delicacy in a Venusian food market, before being ‘rescued’ by the travelling intergalactic circus. A stand alone novel, this is a unique Rankin book as it means that you require no previous knowledge of the myths of Brentford, Rune, or which version of the Apocalypse you are reading. Good stuff which all comes together in 300 odd pages of madness.
The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived (1995) This is the final thrilling part of the Cornelius Murphy saga, and we once again return to the guru’s guru. With a mad scheme to extract gold from the ocean, Rune is up to his old tricks again and readers finally get the answer as to how he’s been alive so long, with a plot device that includes re-incarnation and beating the devil at his own game. A great addition to the continuing adventures of the mighty haired Murphy and a great climax, this is a fitting finale to this four part epic trilogy.
The Garden of Unearthly Delights (1996) Another standalone novel. This time we see Rankin explore his hollow earth theory, following the adventures of Max Karrien as he is taken into an alternative, magic-filled world where he has to retrieve his soul from an evil, piggy-like magician. At times a bit rambling, this is a good novel to test whether or not you like Rankin’s style. For fans, it’s a definite four stars.Dog Called Demolition (1996) Now publishing two books a year, this is where Rankin’s work took a dip. Although still fantastic, the books launched in the mid-90s do seem to come thick and fast, with a lot of them filled with short stories and poetry. The main plot of this novel focuses on Danny and his new artificial dog, who also just happens to be a rebel alien who is intent to stop another armageddon as invisible aliens take over the human race. A mix of They Live and Dark Skies (remember that?). this isn’t a bad novel, it’s just not up the standard of some of Rankin’s other books.
Nostradamus Ate My Hamster (1996) Another Brentford-based book this one – but with a twist as it seems that up until now the whole Brentford mythology is just that and the regular cast of the Flying Swan are really just fictional constructs… or are they? Featuring Russell Nice’s quest to find the mystical Brentford that Rankin has made, this novel is packed full of conspiracy theories like Nazi UFOs, weird and wonderful future investigations and yet another evil creature trying to take over the world. Again this is really a stand alone novel, but one that does need a little more reading of previous books to get all the jokes
Sprout Mask Replica (1997) More a collection of short stories than an entire novel, there are some superb Tales of the Unexpected ideas in here, such as a man wishing for flawless skin and a chaos theory tale involving chairs and the price of meat. There are also bits and pieces of stories of Rankin’s life intertwined into this novel (such as the ‘classic’ band – The Lost T-Shirts of Atlantis), but of course with so many tall tales within its pages it’s hard to pick out the reality from the fiction. Similar in a lot of ways to A Dog Called Demolition, this is worth taking a look at but not his best work
The Brentford Chainstore Massacre (1997)I have read all of Rankin’s work and for him life of me cannot remember a single thing that happened in this book, so can’t rate it. Looking at some of Rankin’s fan sites (such as www.sproutlore.com) the synopsis says its about the attempted resurrection of Jesus using the Turin Shroud but honestly I can’t remember that. Must be getting old…
The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag (1998) Another semi-autobiography, this novel is again a jumble of tall tales, poetry and a plot involving an evil computer game that can take over the world. Focusing on Lazlo Woodbine (some call him Laz), this is a mix of clichéd detective novel scenarios, with an added hint of the arcane and a few fun tales all of which in some way revolve around a Necronomicon-like Voodoo handbag. More poetry in it would have got it its extra star…!
Apocalypso (1998) A little change of location for this novel as we head down to Brighton for this tale of Porrig and his inherited magical bookshop. With cameos with Rankin regulars Sir John Rimmer, Dr Harney, and Danbury Collins (the psychic youth and perpetual masturbator), this novel ambles for a bit but comes together at the end. It has Porrig, his mate Wok-Boy and the trio of supernatural investigators help the second rate stage magician Apocalypso and a perverted demon stop, once again, the impending apocalypse
Snuff Fiction (1999) What have the Millennium bug, rock festivals and evil criminal masterminds got in common? Well they are the mix of mayhem that makes up Snuff Fiction. A great coming-of-age tale that explores Brentford in the 1950s-60s, it’s with pseudo-science and half truths that fill playgrounds across the country as kids try and prove to their mates how very worldly-wise they are.
Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls (1999) So with the Olympics, World Cup and having saved the world a few times, what is there left for the regulars at the Flying Swan to accomplish? Well how about taking on the record industry, putting out a number one track and putting together the most fantastic rock concert in the world ever! Filled with the biggest and best of Brentford, this novel really is a homage to Rankin’s love for music. There’s a smattering of Satanism too, in a book that’s a real, old-school Brentford classic.
Waiting for Godalming (2000) Rankin has a bit of a go at religion in this one, and while not really having a pop at the theories behind various beliefs, he has a pop at the rulemakers and people who actually write the words, phrases and doctrine of this sort of thing. A great novel that combines film noir detective in a who-dunnit style, Waiting for Godalming sees private eye Lazlo Woodbine, hired to investigate God’s murder and the suspicious fact that Earth was inherited not by the meek but by God’s other son Colin – edited out of the Bible when Jesus got full artistic control. With the obligatory four-place scenario for Woodbine, the plot goes a bit clichéd and made sometimes, but with the welcome return of Barry The Time Sprout, it’s still good fun.
Web Site Story (2001) Computer viruses and real virus are spread by the same thing.. Oh yes indeed, as we find out in this novel as newcomer Kelly and her fellow residents of Brentford go all Matrix and find that dark and evil forces are at work spreading evil via your computer mouse. Having to dodge being abducted and also finding out what the Ministry of Serendipity are up to, this is Rankin’s welcome take on the whole techno-fear thing.
Fandom of the Operator (2001) Young hero Gary Cheese works in an unusual call-centre in Brentford with two main passions, death, and the Lazlo Woodbine private-eye novels by PP Penrose. When Penrose seems to die with a novel unfinished it’s up to Gary and his best friend Dave to try and re-animate Penrose using Voodoo. Which is easier than you think, as Gary works at a call-centre which is in contact with the dead. A mix of Rankin’s fascination with Victorian parlour tricks and science, this isn’t a bad novel but relies a bit too heavily on stuff we have heard before.
Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (2002) A complete change of scenario as Rankin transports us to a Toytown-like place filled with talking bears, fairy tale characters and Noddy-like residents. A mix of Babes in Toyland and Columbo, for me this is one of Rankin’s weakest books. It seems outside of the comfort of Brentford, his humour doesn’t work as well. Swearing teddy bears, and a conspiracy theory/serial killer plot involving clockwork bar-tenders, big boxed robots, jovial policemen and the obligatory hero who is from the country seeking his fortune just don’t seem to sit well together.
The Witches of Chiswick (2003) A return, of sorts, to Brentford, but this time we are taken back in time to the Victorian days as a future restoration painter uncovers a conspiracy that involves the artist Richard Dadd, Victorian steam-punk and The Elephant Man. A really enjoyable return to form, this works so well as we get to really see Rankin’s passion for the Victorians, which has been covered in past novels. But here we get to see how Rankin knows about the scientists, architects and writers of that era, as we are taken to a alternative universe similar to Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s ‘Difference Engine’ worlds, where clockwork witches being controlled by the evil Count Otto Black intend to destroy the royal family and once again take over the world.
Knees Up Mother Earth (2004) A novel about footie that I actually enjoyed! Yet when Rankin takes about football it actually makes it interesting, When Pooley and Omally take over the struggling Brentford United, with a little help from Big Bob’s Bus, Professor Slocombe and the regulars of the Flying Swan they find a loophole (in an old law or charter or something) that makes Brentford an independent country. As such, it can enter into the world cup. It’s one of my favourite Rankin books.
The Brightonomicon (2004) The eighth volume of the Brentford Trilogy, this is a great and slightly insane take on the unknown mystical zodiac that mysteriously happens to be the layout of some of the streets of Brighton. Featuring the guru’s guru Hugo Rune as the main character, the book also shows you who his main acolyte Rizzler really is, and also answers the question (that really was never really posed) of what happened to Jim Pooley’s missing teenage years. Really a novel of thirteen or so short stories this is a mad and insane book that still has all the well known Rankin-isms in it, but is also written with a few new twists. Clever, insane and for once actually wrapping up all the plot threads, this is one of Rankin’s best books and a firm favourite of mine.
The Toyminator (2005) Oh dear. After the genius of the The Brightonomicon we return to ToyTown and Eddy Bear and co for another toy-based who-dunnit. Whether it’s my dislike for the setting and the yearning that Rankin would get back to Brentford-based tales I don’t know, but the plastic and fluff-filled Toyminator didn’t do it for me…
The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code (2007) Currently this one, hence no score. None of the Brentford crew so far, which is a disappointment. But it’s not too bad, and the version I bought also comes with a CD of Rankin’s musical ramblings, which are insane, fun and just plain weird.Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below…