Jul 12, 2009

Monkey droppings - Necrophenia by Robert Rankin

The monkey has been a bit lax of late, up all night carousing and so forth, so he's going to blast off a few quick reviews to catch up. He apologizes for the brevity, unless you like it, in which case, that was the plan all along.

It is a fact well known to those who know it well that very bright lights presage trouble. The arrival of aliens and booger men and bogey-beasts from the bottomless pit. Those ghostly things that come out of the televisions set. And dawn raids by the police.
Bright lights mean trouble, they do. Very bright lights, much trouble.
And this light was a bright'n. It wasn't helicopters, although it came from above, and it wasn't flying saucers either. Although it might well have been, because it did come to the accompaniment of some stonking great chords of the Albert Hall organ persuasion.
Reading Robert Rankin can be an overwhelming experience for the emotionally unprepared. A true comedy companion to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Rankin spins tales that go off on more tangents than should be allowed, and reference his other works with a gleeful abandon that punishes the newbie. The British author never met a pun he didn't like, or a gag he didn't milk. Neophytes to his work would be best served by starting with one of his stand-alone novels such as The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, a mystery-thriller with the greatest title of all time.

Do not, if possible, with Necrophenia, Rankin's 30th novel, a bizarre comedy rant that will bewilder anyone unfamiliar with his canon. You can get through it (I did, so it is possible), but there is a certain amount of familiarity necessary to get the full gist and flow. I was not aware that one of the secondary characters, private investigator Lazlo Woodbine, was a Rankin regular. But prepared for the assault or not, there's no denying that Necrophenia is one original and bizarre piece of work.

Rankin tells his story through Tyler, a wanna-be rock star who swears that his band The Sumerian Kynges played after The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, even though that "no one at all actually believes that The Sumerian Kynges even played there, let alone topped the bill." As well as being an obscure rock icon, Tyler is also a private investigator who almost saved mankind. Almost. And there's a city of gold somewhere in the plot. And zombies. And Elvis Presley. And Tyler's brother Andy, who changes the course of history when he literally kills the Zeitgeist of the 1960s with a clock. There's monsters, and mind-bending drugs, and ukelele maestros, and inside jokes galore.

And there's the Tyler Technique, a creation of Tyler's (natch), wherein the practitioner of the technique, to get something done, does nothing at all, because "by doing absolutely nothing, the required something would come into being." And it works. Needless to say, the Tyler Technique has become my new personal dogma for the remainder of my existence.

Rankin is working at full chaos in Necrophenia, throwing anything and everything at the wall and using it whether it sticks or not. It's a bit overwhelming, and maddening, and it must be said that Rankin does get on one's nerves occasionally. But there's a lot of insane creativity on display, and as unbridled as Rankin gets, at least he's not boring.

It's all well and good to appreciate your fans, but Necrophenia is almost too insular, punishing the reader for being unfamiliar. It does work on its own, but an appreciation of Rankin's previous work (particularly the eight-volume-and-counting Brentford Trilogy) will go a long way toward alleviating the mass confusion.

And as entertaining as Necrophenia can be - and at its best, it is damned funny - Rankin is shooting too many balls at the net, or something. Sports analogies are not my strong point. The story is too all-encompassing, too vast, too, well, ridiculous. Rankin has always been teetering on the edge, but he's completely off for much of Necrophenia, and the book suffers. It works better as a series of comedic vignettes than a full-fledged novel.

But despite this, Necrophenia is still a lot of fun, especially for those who miss the anarchic ramblings of Douglas Adams and the Monty Python boys. And while it is almost inarguable that the upcoming continuation of Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide series is a bad idea (and boy, do I want it to be good), what stretches credulity is that children's author Eion Colfer was tapped to pen it. Rankin is an obvious fit, and it would have had a far better chance of becoming something special in its own right.


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