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Who is Robert Rankin?

 

Michael Carroll investigates the man behind the miracle.

Robert Rankin describes himself as a teller of tall tales, a fitting description, assuming that he isn't lying about it. From his early beginnings as a baby in 1949, Robert Rankin has grown into a tall man of some stature. Somewhere along the way he experimented in the writing of books, and found that he could do it rather well. Not being one to light his hide under a bushel, Mister Rankin continues to write fine novels of a humorous science-fictional nature.

His books include The Brentford Octology (five books to date), the Armageddon Trilogy (three books), the Hugo Rune trilogy (another three), a brace of unauthorised autobiographies (two books) and assorted stand-alone novels.

Despite his great intellect, he doesn't take himself too seriously. Where other writers of humorous fiction are not humorous writers, which is to say that their fiction may be humorous but that the writers themselves, personality wise, are not necessarily humorous people, Robert is. Very much so, in fact: his appearances at signings and conventions are legendary, and though he professes to being uncomfortable speaking in public, he is undoubtedly a raconteur par excellence, if you'll pardon my French.

His books deal with the macabre and how it interacts with everyday life. A Dog Called Demolition, for example, places a demon in a mundane urban setting. Something that, in itself, may seem unremarkable; the stuff of many a standard horror novel. What makes Rankin's work different is that his heroes are genuinely ordinary people, each seeing the ongoing plot through their own eyes, each taking something personal from the events as they unfold.

Rankin's books are not so much sprinkled with obscure jokes and references as they are riddled with them: This level of depth means that no two readers will ever think of the books in the same way, and that any reader will always find something new each time he or she reads one of the books. On top of all that, there are many streams and running jokes that hop from book to book. The casual reader will miss most of them, but loyal fans are rewarded for their diligence with subtle hints and knowing winks. Metaphorically. Well, no, not metaphorically: literally.

Taking the books to an even deeper depth still, Rankin challenges the conventions of normal story-telling by the use of two rather unique and successful methods. The first: bringing the readers into the story, by the use of references outside the expected experience of the characters. The second: bringing the characters out of the book, by occasionally having them aware that they are being written.

Two characters continually surface, often in cameo roles, in Robert Rankin's books: Jim Pooley and John Omally. They first appeared as the down-towards-earth heroes of his first book, The Antipope, and have turned up in almost every book since. Pooley is rather timid, when faced with certain death, but he has a good, noble spirit. Omally is rather more self-confident, and is one of the very few non-stereotypical Irishmen employed in science fiction today. Okay, so he drinks like a fish, but then so does Pooley.

Another recurring character is a fictionalised version of Hugo Rune, the all-but-forgotten "layman's guru" of the early part of the twentieth century. Rune's first appearance was as a minor character in the Brentford Octology, but he quickly grew to become the subject of a trilogy comprising The Book of Ultimate Truths, Raiders of the Lost Car Park and The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived.

It was the reaction received by these three books that inspired Mister Rankin to invent his own religion.

The Church of Scifientology was created in the early part of the 1990s, and to this day has remained one of the most celebrated religions ever created by a science fiction writer.

At the time of the writing of this piece, Robert Rankin fans throughout the universe are preparing for The Master's fiftieth birthday, when - according to ancient legends deciphered from scrolls found in the ruins of Atlantis - we shall have cake.

In summation, Robert Rankin is a writer who is as loyal to his readers as they are to him. Reading his books can and will inspire you, scare you, thrill you, entertain you, and cause you to shit yourself laughing. His books are an outlet for the soul, and food for the imagination.

Truly, he should be officially appointed, in perpetuity, to the position of Master of Ceremonies for the human race.

Visit Michael Carroll's own website.


 

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