Thursday, 26 November 2009
‘Retromancer’ – Robert Rankin (Gollancz)
I’ve been a fan of Robert Rankin ever since college when I realised that the ‘Brentford’ books were a lot more fun to read than what was on the official reading list for the course (so were a lot of books actually but that’s an entirely different story...) Ever since then I’ve made it my mission to read as many books of his as possible, I’m not quite there yet but I’ll keep on going! I still haven’t read last year’s book, ‘Necrophenia’, and that was originally going to be the subject of this post... until I saw the gorgeously pink cover for ‘Retromancer’ (although the cover image on Amazon is purple...) and knew that there was no option but to pick the book up and get reading. I have to say that I wasn’t too sure about ‘Retromancer’ to begin with but, yet again, Rankin totally does the business as far as I’m concerned!
Something is badly wrong in the Brentford of 1967. Could it be the SS officers patrolling the streets and torturing the unemployed? Could it be that the ‘Wife’s Legs’ cafe is serving Bratwurst rather than bangers? Could it be that this is a world where Nazi Germany won the Second World War and the whole of North America is a nuclear wasteland...?
If something is this badly wrong, and needs setting to rights straight away, then there’s only (perfect) man and his acolyte who could possibly take the job on. Hugo Rune offers the world his genius, all he asks in return is that the world covers his expenses and that he is allowed to visit dire retribution on cab drivers everywhere. With his acolyte Rizla, Hugo Rune must travel back to war-torn London and solve twelve cosmic conundra so that the future can be set straight. At the same time, there is a veritable horde of spies, robots, death rays, creatures of myth (and the one and only Count Otto Von Black) to get the better off...
Opening up a new Robert Rankin book is like getting back in touch with old friends after years apart. All your favourite characters are there, doing what they do best, all wrapped lovingly within the same old puns and in-jokes that somehow never stop being funny. It must be a tradition, or an old charter, or something :o) This, of course, may prove a problem if you’re picking up Rankin’s work for the first time. Half the fun of reading these books are the running gags that appear time after time (up to a point though, I’ll go into that more later on). If you’re reading Rankin for the first time then you’ll either get it or you won’t, it’s that simple. As far as I’m concerned, I ‘get it’ and Rankin shows that he still has it in ‘Retromancer’ with choice cuts like...
‘It seemed that we had just caught her as she was on her way out, and her face was flushed and pink.
Mr. Rune made faces at me and introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” I told him.
“I am introducing myself to this lady,” he said.’
Like I said, you’ll either get it or you won’t. Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing the whole way through.
Rankin’s writing is the work of a man who has got so many ideas in his head that he has to keep writing in order to get them all onto paper before his head explodes under the pressure. Inevitably, this can lead to moments that are more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ in quality but there is so much coming out all at once that things balance themselves out by the end and you’ve got a book that hits the spot. It’s also a pleasure to see the man’s thoughts take him from A to B, sometimes by way of Q and Z. You may not quite know how you got there but the beauty of Rankin is that you always get there somehow. Just sit down and let the book take you where it has to go...
That’s not to say it’s all good though. ‘Retromancer’ is the sequel to ‘The Brightonomicon’ but sometimes comes across as feeling a little too similar in terms of plot structure to really stand out in its own right. Personally, as I’ve already said, that’s not what I read Rankin’s books for and I certainly got what I was after this time round. There were marked similarities though and I found myself wondering if there was some deliberate plot recycling going on... Ultimately it didn’t matter but it was a niggling thought that never quite went away.
Long standing fans of Robert Rankin should love his latest work. Despite small misgivings I couldn’t help but love it too. When an author is enjoying himself this much you can’t help but go along for the ride and what a ride it is! (Look out for 'Retromancer' in December) Now for a spot of ‘Necrophenia’...
Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten