Rankin, Robert 1949–
Rankin, Robert 1949–
PERSONAL: Born 1949; married. Education: Earling Art College, B.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—Sussex, England.
CAREER: Writer. Worked variously at many different jobs; became a self-employed carpenter; worked in the movie industry hiring out props.
The Antipope, Pan (London, England), 1981.
The Brentford Triangle, Pan (London, England), 1982.
East of Ealing, Pan (London, England), 1984.
The Sprouts of Wrath, Abacus (London, England), 1984.
Nostradamus Ate My Hamster, Doubleday (London, England), 1996.
The Brentford Chainstore Massacre, Doubleday (London, England), 1997.
Knees Up Mother Earth, Gollancz (London, England), 2004.
The Brightonomicon, Gollancz (London, England), 2005.
Armageddon: The Musical, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1988.
They Came and Ate Us, Armageddon II: The B-Movie, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1991.
The Suburban Book of the Dead, Armageddon III: The Remake, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1992.
Waiting for Godalming, Doubleday (London, England), 1992.
The Book of Ultimate Truths, Doubleday (London, England), 1993.
Raiders of the Lost Car Park, Doubleday (London, England), 1994.
The Greatest Show Off Earth, Doubleday (London, England), 1994.
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, Doubleday (London, England), 1995.
The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived, Doubleday (London, England), 1995.
A Dog Called Demolition, Doubleday (London, England), 1996.
Sprout Mask Replica, Doubleday (London, England), 1997.
Apocalypso, Doubleday (London, England), 1998.
The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag, Doubleday (London, England), 1998.
Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls, Doubleday (London, England), 1999.
Snuff Fiction, Doubleday (London, England), 1999.
Web Site Story, Doubleday (London, England), 2001.
The Fandom of the Operator, Doubleday (London, England), 2001.
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Victor Gollancz (London, England), 2002.
The Witches of Chiswick, Gollancz (London, England), 2003.
The Toyminator, Gollancz (London, England), 2006.
Works appear in The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy anthology, 1998.
ADAPTATIONS: Books adapted for audio include The Witches of Chiswick (eleven cassettes), read by the author, Clipper Audio, Recorded Books, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: When Robert Rankin began writing in the late 1970s, he had no desire to compete with any other writer in any other genre, so he created a genre of his own that he calls "Far-Fetched-Fiction." In a brief autobiographical outline on Tangled Web online, Rankin—a self-confessed "teller of tall tales"—said: "Since I was very young there has always been a wonder in words. Mind you, I've never gone for the easy stuff, the best sellers, I've always loved the weirdos and I suppose I knew quite early on that they were my kind of folks and that I was probably a weirdo too." Always a lover of the written word, Rankin discovered occultist Aleister Crowley, whom he refers to as "the archetypal weirdo," while in art school during the 1960s. "He could have become my role model," commented Rankin. "All I lacked for was charisma and riches and an absolute belief in the power of Magic." Rankin's success as an author has little to do with magic, however, unless it's the magic he creates as he writes. His far-fetched imaginative abilities have won him cult-like success in England and Ireland. It even spawned the Web site Sproutlore—The Now Official Robert Rankin Fan Club, so named because of his obsession with sprouts, as evidenced by the titles The Sprouts of Wrath, Sprout Mask Replica, and subject matter in other novels in which sprouts play a significant role.
Rankin credits his father with inspiring him to write. He calls his father "a true teller of tall tales." However, his reason for becoming a writer was to get out of the nine-to-five routine, take charge of his own life (he had worked forty-one jobs and been fired from thirty-nine during the sixties and seventies), and to leave something behind. Before earning his living as an author, and apart from his forty-one jobs, he spent five years as an entrepreneur, building custom kitchens—he still does carpentry, finding the physical nature of the work a pleasant contrast to the sedentary nature of writing—and rented props to movie studios. Rankin always had a desire to create, to "do things with words," and wrote short stories during these years. His first novel came about after he was introduced to Alan Aldridge who, upon reading several of his short stories, told Rankin that, if he could write a novel like he wrote his short stories, Aldridge could get it published for him. Rankin wrote The Antipope, Aldridge took it to Pan, and it was published. The book became the first in the ironically-titled "Brentford Trilogy," which is now an ongoing series of books. Unusual in the twenty-first-century world of technology, Rankin does all his writing with a pen in exercise books, and almost always in pubs, until he became so well known that people wanting to talk to him kept interrupting and he was forced to get an office.
While many reviewer comments on Rankin's works may appear uncomplimentary at first glance, in reality, most are usually positive. For example, Mat Coward, reviewing The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag for the Independent, said: "Rankin is, frankly, an art-school weirdo. His books are not affectionate pastiches or clever exercises in genre-bending. To read two or three Rankins is to become convinced that he doesn't write like this because he is methodically exploiting a niche in the market; he writes like this because the tablets aren't working." By the end of the review, however, Coward's opinion of Rankin's style became evident: "He is an author best read in large doses. His impressively individual style means that he becomes funnier the more you read him. Rankin is so loved by his audience because, even more than [Terry] Pratchett, he writes as one of us—a reader, a fan; the self-styled 'teller of tall tales,' unimpressed by conventional hierarchies of significance and triviality … sharing a pocketful of weird odds and sods with a bunch of like-minded eclectics."
Other reviewers differed in their assessments. London Times contributor Mike Pattenden, reviewing Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls, commented: "Rankin's yarn-spinning becomes increasingly cluttered and tiresome. He can't stop piling on zany ideas as if he's in the grip of a terrible attack of writer's diarrhoea. This is an image he won't mind, because he is obsessed with toilet jokes…. It's nerd humour and it's not hard to imagine what his fan base is like. Sad lads who spend too much time browsing in the bowels of Forbidden Planet. Sex Drugs and Sausage Rolls will delight them but the rest of us who have a life will find something else to read."
A Publishers Weekly critic, reviewing Waiting for Godalming, commented: "Using a slippery stream-of-consciousness narrative style, Rankin parodies everything from current British and American culture to 1950s private-eye novels." This story finds protagonist Lazlo Woodbine and the faithful Holy Guardian Sprout by the name of Barry, who lives in Woodbine's head, attempting to find out who killed God. His wife, Eartha? One of His children, Colin, Christene, or Jesus? "This madcap spoof is more charming than sacrilegious," wrote the reviewer, "and fans of SF, mysteries and Monty Python will be heartily entertained."
Calling Rankin a "spoofmaster," a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented of The Fandom of the Operator: "Happily ridiculous and relentlessly funny, this is just the ticket for those who like dark British farce." Establishing a backdrop for this novel, Rankin explains on the back cover that, following his own "tragic early death," he dictated the story through a medium, Lorretta Rune. The storyline centers around Gary Charlton Cheese, a serial killer and necromancer working at a telephone exchange who idolizes a deceased writer. Cheese discovers a "Flatline" that connects him directly with the dead and, happily, his dead idol. "The convoluted plot," wrote the critic, "invariably leads to the question all fans must ask their favorite author—'Where do you get your ideas from?'—and the answer is revealed in the inimitable, roundabout Rankin way."
Rankin expanded his "Brentford" trilogy to eight titles with The Brightonomicon. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the plot is a "pastiche of 'Illuminati'-style conspiratorial maunderings, sub-Douglas Adams absurdities and self-conscious wisecracks." Count Hugo Rune saves young Rizla from drowning, and the teenager agrees to help Hugo find the Chronovision, which is linked to twelve astrological signs. While pursuing the device that can recall the past, Rizla comes across crab-like aliens, nudist diners, and a vicious croquet match played by a team of priests against another team of nuns.
Rankin's nonseries books include The Toyminator, in which Eddie, a teddy bear private eye, and his sidekick, Jack, are trying to solve crimes occurring in Toy City, previously Toy Town. The cymbal-playing monkeys have been incinerated, and other toys are meeting similar fates. Eddie and Jack drink their way from clue to clue, but only Eddie's feet become drunk because the beer runs through his sawdust and settles there. They contemplate the dilemmas of life, including the appropriateness of sexual relationships between humans and dolls. A reviewer for SFX Online described the story as "mad, but wonderfully funny."
In his autobiographical sketch, Rankin wrote: "I've never made a fortune from writing. I am very lucky because I continue to be published and I'm allowed to go on doing things my way, which is the only way I can do them. Those who read my work probably do so because they can tell that I do what I do with conviction. I care about it. I don't sell them short. I don't make it easy for them, but I give them everything that I've got…. As long as my eyes and my brain keep functioning, I will keep on keeping on."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books, February, 1990, review of Armageddon: The Musical, p. 16; November, 1995, review of The Garden of Unearthly Delights, p. 24; December, 1997, review of The Brentford Chainstore Massacre, p. 19.
Independent (London, England), June 20, 1998, Mat Coward, review of The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag, p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of The Witches of Chiswick, p. 1430; November 1, 2005, review of The Brightonomicon, p. 1166.
Locus, March, 1991, review of Armageddon, p. 59; August, 1991, review of They Came and Ate Us, p. 31.
New York Times Book Review, March 17, 1991, review of Armageddon, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, June 25, 2001, review of Waiting for Godalming, p. 57; January 21, 2002, review of Fandom of the Operator, p. 64; September 26, 2005, review of The Brightonomicon, p. 66.
Fantastic Fiction, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (November 8, 2006), review of The Toyminator.
SFX Online, http://www.sfx.co.uk/ (August 29, 2006), Sandy Auden, review of The Toyminator.
Sproutlore—The Now Official Robert Rankin Fan Club Web site, http://www.sproutlore.com (July 19, 2002).
Tangled Web, http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (October 3, 2002) "Robert Rankin: In His Own Words."