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Rob Grant
Gollancz, 293 pages

Rob Grant
Rob Grant created, co-wrote and co-produced the first six series of the BBC science fiction comedy Red Dwarf. He's the author of two previous novels, Colony and Backwards.

Rob Grant filmography
Official Red Dwarf website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Welcome to the United States of Europe, where incompetence is a way of life. According to Article 13199 of the Pan-European Constitution, "No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity, at any level, by reason of age, race, creed or incompetence." In other words, knowing how to do a job is no longer a prerequisite for being hired... and not knowing how to do it can't get you fired. In the horribly mismanaged and incredibly inconvenient world of Article 13199, everyone goes round in circles, whether or not they're on a roundabout.

Some few people do retain a shred of competence, though... for instance, a serial killer who's in the process of committing a set of murders cleverly disguised to look like accidents. But another pretty competent guy is on his trail -- Harry Salt (well, that's one of his names, anyway), an agent of an organization so secret even Harry doesn't really know what it is. Harry must catch the killer before the killer catches him -- a job that would be tough enough, even if he didn't have to contend with cars with no driving controls, trains that can only keep to schedule if they don't pick up passengers, a psychotic policeman with serious anger-management issues, and the natural Murphy-ishness of the universe, which just about guarantees that whatever can go wrong, will.

Lest the preceding paragraphs lead you to conclude that Incompetence has an actual plot, be warned: it doesn't. The bits and pieces of story that surface from time to time are really just hooks on which Rob Grant hangs a series of extended riffs on the evils of government regulation, the stupidity of out-of-control PC-ness, and the general suckiness of modern life. Hotel rooms that don't have basic amenities... car rental services where you can't get a car... airports bigger than some small countries... Kafka-esque bureaucrats... aggressively ignorant service personnel... who hasn't run foul of at least one of those things lately? The scenarios Harry battles through in his effort to follow the killer's trail are surreally exaggerated (if you're familiar with the TV show Red Dwarf, which Grant co-created, you'll have a good idea of the kind of warped, distinctively British humor that is on offer here) -- but there's a real-life annoyance at the core of all of them. Well... maybe not the medical examiner who skins the faces off of corpses and sews them onto other corpses' backsides. Or the toothless octogenarian male Bunny at the Plaything Club (I hope). But almost all of them.

Some pointed satire lurks within this stew of comedy -- for instance, the mad political commentary at the end that explains it all (oh, those awful Americans). But like other lucid moments in the book, it's brief. You'll either love this zany novel or you'll hate it -- but one thing's for sure, you won't soon read anything like it.

Copyright © 2004 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Burning Land is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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