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The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions
Robert Rankin
Gollancz, 375 pages

The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions
Robert Rankin
Robert Rankin (1949- ), who describes himself as a Teller of Tall Tales, embarked upon his writing career in the late 70s, his ambition was to create an entirely new literary genre, which he named Far-Fetched Fiction. By doing this, he aimed to avoid competing with any other living author in any known genre and would be given his own special section in bookshops. However, they weren't keen on giving him his own set of shelves and his work is to be found in the Science Fiction section. While sometimes compared to Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin's unique prose style and extraordinary imagination distinguish him clearly from them, and have brought him considerable success. He is the author of The Brentford Trilogy (six books), The Armageddon Trilogy (three books), A Dog called Demolition, The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag, Snuff Fiction, Web Site Story and many other wondrous books, including his latest: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (2002). He has had a total of thirty-nine (39) jobs, including illustrator, off-licence manager, market-stall trader, rock singer and garden gnome salesman. Robert Rankin lives in Brighton, UK with his wife and family.

Robert Rankin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Retromancer
SF Site Review: The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code
SF Site Review: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandra Scholes

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It is only ten years after the Martians had invaded Earth, at least according to H.G. Wells, where they were killed by viruses unknown to them. Professor Coffin has the remains of some of the Martians on display as a curiosity among many other unnatural attractions that are losing their interest quickly among the visitors. This is a strange world where fact and history are twisted and made bizarre, where John Merrick is Joe, and was actually Jack the Ripper after a drunken confession. The professor and his comrades are persuaded not to continue their chase of the Devil Fish Girl, Sabito, as she is considered a god among her people. Not that it will affect their views on getting this newest addition to their collection.

In The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and other Unnatural Attractions, there are plenty of comical accounts of the adventurers exploits in this novel that can easily keep the reader immersed in the drama and lively pacing of the stories. One part of it is how Robert Rankin makes use of modern celebrity and brand names to raise a laugh and makes a success out of it. He pokes fun at almost anything, including certain big names in fashion.

While they embark on their journey, they had their eye on the latest fashions around:

 
    "George looked on and said, 'Oh yes, they are.'
   For oh yes, they were trades people indeed.
   George spied a high-sided wagon upon which the words
   
   Jonathan Crawford
   Suiting to the Gentry
   
   Were emblazoned.
   'We had our suits made there,'
   George observed. Also a steam cart being steered with reckless abandon:
   
   Elias Mainwaring
   Quality cases and umbrellas.
   
   'We got our new dandy canes from there', George observed. A seller bronsham, drawn by two pairs of matched black geldings:
   
   Louis Vuitton
   
   'And our luggage came from-'
   And George's voice once more trailed away. He gave hard looks towards Professor Coffin, who shrugged."
 

Professor Coffin is a lively sort, and some of the best lines come out of his mouth, while the other characters act as foils. He is always on the lookout for something interesting he can put in his exhibition, but instead finds himself in a spot of bother with the law:

 
   "Laloo let out another chuckle.
    'And see that,' he said to George.
   'He says all that without breaking a smile.'
   'And believe me, it is not easy,' said Professor Coffin, breaking one now, and a large one too.
   'Years of practise, it takes, and I am getting no younger.'
   'In truth,' said Laloo, 'the days of the live show, with a prodigy of nature on display, may well be numbered. Mechanical marvels fill the public's imagination and gaffs are everywhere.'
   'Gaffs?' asked George, who was a stranger to the term.
   'Fakes,' said Laloo. 'As the professor observed, although obliquely, a live performer needs food, accommodation and payment. A bouncer, by contrast, needs none of these things.' "
 

For many, Robert Rankin can be identified alongside Terry Pratchett as a big name in the fantasy universe of writers, and if Terry Pratchett is to be remembered as a star of the comedy fantasy genre, then Robert Rankin is surely a star of the comedy steampunk genre.

As to whether they actually find the Devil Fish Girl, who knows, it isn't the most important part of the novel which is there to be read and admired. She only plays a small part in the story, as everything else is just pure adventure for the characters and crew. Readers who are fond of this type of fantasy novel will be happy to find how good Rankin's novels really are, and the cult following they get as a result. This is steampunk as many have never seen it before.

Copyright © 2011 Sandra Scholes

Sandra Scholes is fascinated to see the snow flurries around again, considering it is supposed to be spring. In-between watching the snow drifts; she likes to review for The Chronicle, Quailbell Magazine, and Fantasy Book Review.


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