The Brightonomicon (Gollancz SF S.)
by Robert Rankin
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0575070099
Date: 30 July, 2005 List Price £9.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It always amazes me quite how all-encompassing the great genre of Science Fiction can be. There are door-stop novels telling epic tales of future history; there are door-sized novels (I'm thinking here particularly of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle which I am still digesting slowly and thoroughly enjoying in the process) offering twisted versions of the past; there are novels about impossible inventions or things that simply cannot be; novels about lost or alien civilizations and novels that attempt to understand the world of today by exploring the possibilities of a world after tomorrow. In short, there's something about SF that allows writers to get away with anything!
And thus my review swings round to the subject of Robert Rankin and his latest novel, The Brightonomicon. In no other fictional realm could Rankin find his home, for readers of any other kind of fiction simply would not know what to make of him. For years now Rankin has offered his readers a finely honed type of literary anarchy, one stuffed with unlikely scenarios, extremely bad jokes, outlandish characters and, let's face it, superb titles -- and in terms of all these criteria The Brightonomicon is vintage Rankin.
Let me give you some idea of the plot -- if it can be called that! An unlikely scenario begins the story, namely a youth on the promise of a dirty weekend, visits Brighton with his girlfriend, but gets waylaid by a bunch of roughs (Mods, obviously!, for it is the 60s after all) and heaved off the pier into the cold, cold sea. On coming to he find he has no recollection of who he is, but discovers that his rescuer is none other than Hugo Rune -- the Perfect Master, Cosmic Dick and Logos of the Aeon (not to mention the re-inventor of the Ocarina). Rankin fans will know Rune from his appearances in many previous novels -- and if you're not familiar with his particular personality disorders -- his complete inability to pay restaurant bills or his penchant for setting about cab drivers with his stout stick, for example, The Brightonomicon would be the prefect introduction to his greatness.
Rune adopts our memory-less youth (whom he names "Rizla") as his acolyte and together they must solve the twelve cases that are based upon "The Brightonomicon", a zodiac discovered (by Rune, of course) hidden within the street plan of Brighton. At stake -- naturally -- is the fate of the entire world, but far more important here are the various opportunities that this story construction allows for Rankin to run riot with the so-called rules of writing. Do not enter this book looking for profundity or even sense. Pay no attention to the flagrant anachronisms that abound, or the unlikely and deeply suspect solutions that the author finds for his character's predicaments. Don't even give a momentary thought to the cross-dressing, the spontaneous appearances of aliens, pirates or the wondering souls of cryogenically frozen peers of the realm. Instead, sit back and allow the anarchic randomness of it all to wash over you, for the minute a Robert Rankin novel becomes serious is the moment the sky will truly fall in. This, don't forget, is a writer who genuinely still cannot believe that people actually give him money to write -- a practice that he has perfected over the years whilst scribbling into exercise books in the corners of various Brighton pubs.
I have no idea what those from overseas will make of this peculiar brand of British madness. It might be a commodity that doesn't take well to travel. But for those of us who know these shores, a trip to Brighton will surely never be the same again.
It's worth noting that there is an extremely refined method in Rankin's madness. I always imagine that people read his books and think to themselves "Well, how hard can it be? I could write something like that easily!!" Not so. For, in spite of all its tangential insanity, Rankin's work always holds together and never runs out of control. It should be acknowledged that it takes great skill and great talent to make these ever enjoyable novels work as well as they do. Rankin is a twisted genius of the genre, the mad professor of Science Fiction and I for one, intend to buy him a pint the next time I see him!