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The Fandom Of The Operator
Robert Rankin
Doubleday hardcover £16.99

review by Rob Marshall

Robert Rankin is a very funny writer. He's also a genre author, and that's more than just a bonus. There aren't enough genuinely humorous wordsmiths in the field, today. The really great ones - like John Sladek, or the late Douglas Adams - are few and far between, and... well, dead. But that's where the theme of Rankin's latest book comes in, you see. This one's a highly amusing coming-of-age tale about young friendship, working for the telephone company, and communicating with dead people.
   Gary Cheese is a big fan of P.P. Penrose, the celebrated author of Lazlo Woodbine detective thrillers. Dave is Gary's best childhood friend, and a career criminal. Dave can steal just about anything from anyone, anywhere. When Penrose dies, Gary and Dave sneak into the great man's wake and attempt to bring him back to life using black magic, but the spell goes horribly wrong. From then on, Gary and Dave are cursed by fate. Dave goes to prison, while Gary becomes a successful serial killer... or perhaps he's possessed by some evil alien intelligence from a distant galaxy?
   If there's one word that perfectly describes Rankin's work, that word is 'unpredictable'. You simple cannot tell what's likely to happen next, or what bit of seeming trivia he throws - with apparent nonchalance - into the weird and spooky, gonzo sci-fi mix will later prove of vital import to the deceptively freewheeling plot. A master of comic asides in stories of darkly satirical horror, Rankin has few equals. How many of today's novelists would dare make light of appallingly callous murders in such a determinedly non-politically correct way as Rankin does here? The untroubled glee of Gary's psychopathic behaviour is quite a rush for anyone with a sadistic streak, and is all the more impressive an achievement in terms of genre storytelling because our agreeably homicidal protagonist Gary is obviously the hero of this book.
   Of course, it helps a lot that what Rankin writes should not be taken seriously. Although his imagination is unrestrained by conventional good taste and decency, there is nothing here to suggest he's mean-spirited (though, allegedly, he does like to have his cake and eat it). Not unlike his Lazlo Woodbine character, Rankin probably talks "a load of old toot" while propping up a bar in his beloved Brentford. Furthermore, perhaps Rankin is the reincarnation of Rudolf Erich Raspe, creator of Baron Münchhausen. Who knows? Like Raspe, Rankin certainly tells tales of similar far-fetched calibre, albeit modernised for the 21st century.

Related pages:
tZ - interview with author, Robert Rankin
The Fandom Of The Operator by Robert Rankin
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