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27 July 1949 |
Parsons Green, London, UK
Robert Fleming Rankin (born 27 July 1949) is a prolific British humorous novelist. Born in Parsons Green, London, he started writing in the late 1970s, and first entered the bestsellers lists with Snuff Fiction in 1999, by which time his previous eighteen books had sold around one million copies. His books are a mix of science fiction, fantasy, the occult, urban legends, running gags, metafiction, steampunk and outrageous characters. According to the (largely fictional) biography printed in some Corgi editions of his books, Rankin refers to his style as 'Far Fetched Fiction' in the hope that bookshops will let him have a section to himself. Many of Rankin's books are bestsellers.
Most of Rankin's books are set in Brentford, a suburb of London where the author grew up, and which, in his novels, is usually infested with alien conspiracies and/or ancient evil.
In addition to his novels, Rankin held a position as the Writer in Residence of Brentford's Watermans Arts Centre during the 1980s, and organised a regular poetry event there which he claims was the largest in Britain. He also has performed on stage with a variety of bands.
Rankin's fan club, The Order of the Golden Sprout (named after Rankin's fixation with the vegetable), maintain a website and arrange events, many around Brentford. In 2009 he was created the first Fellow of The Victorian Steampunk Society in recognition of his unique contribution to the genre. He lives in Brighton with his wife.
During 2012, Rankin self-published his first 23 novels (up to and including Fandom of the Operator) on Kindle with new cover artwork, making them available to a wider audience, despite many of them being out of print.
- The Antipope (1981) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- The Brentford Triangle (1982) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- East of Ealing (1984) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- The Sprouts of Wrath (1984) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- Armageddon: The Musical (1988) (Armageddon Series)
- They Came and Ate Us (Armageddon II: The B Movie) (1991) (Armageddon Series)
- The Suburban Book of the Dead (Armageddon III: The Remake) (1992) (Armageddon Series)
- The Book of Ultimate Truths (1993) (Cornelius Murphy Series)
- Raiders of the Lost Car Park (1994) (Cornelius Murphy Series)
- The Greatest Show Off Earth (1994)
- The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived (1995) (Cornelius Murphy Series)
- The Garden of Unearthly Delights (1995)
- A Dog Called Demolition (1996)
- Nostradamus Ate My Hamster (1996)
- Sprout Mask Replica (1997)
- The Brentford Chainstore Massacre (1997) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag (1998)
- Apocalypso (novel) (1998)
- Snuff Fiction (1999)
- Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls (1999) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- Waiting for Godalming (2000)
- Web Site Story (2001)
- Fandom of the Operator (2001)
- The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (2002)
- The Witches of Chiswick (2003)
- Knees Up Mother Earth (2004) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- The Brightonomicon (2005) (see also The Brentford Trilogy)
- The Toyminator (2006)
- The Da-da-de-da-da Code (2007)
- Necrophenia (2008)
- Retromancer (2009)
- The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions (2010)
- The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age (2011)
- The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the Worlds (2012)
Anthologies containing stories by Robert Rankin
- The Bumper Book of Ficts Neil Gardner, illustrated by Robert Rankin (2010)
- EMPIRES written and illustrated by Robert Rankin (2011)
Recurring characters and running gags
Rankin is known for his seemingly endless use of running gags and characters across most of his novels. The following are some of the more common:
- Hugo Rune (Hugo Artemis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune), re-inventor of the ocarina - a somewhat nefarious, but generally well-meaning, self-styled 'Guru's Guru', whose character and appearance is largely extrapolated from that of Aleister Crowley. He typically avoids paying for anything despite his wealth, claiming that he offers the world his genius and it can thus afford to cover his expenses. His works and activities are often referred to or quoted in plots where he doesn't appear as a character. References to him usually mention his faithful and devoted acolyte, Rizla, who rarely appears with Rune when he is in the books in person.
- John Omally and Jim Pooley - see The Brentford Trilogy for details of characters from that series. They also make guest appearances in other books, usually any time anyone visits the Flying Swan.
- Professor Slocombe - The mysterious guardian of Brentford, the Professor is regarded as an authority on the occult, but there is a great deal of mystery about him. There are constant hints that he is far older than he appears - indeed, one book suggests that he was once Merlin and another that he was the Count of St Germain - but nothing has ever been expressly stated as to how this can be.
- Lazlo Woodbine - 1950s American private detective. Always written in the first person even when the rest of the book isn't. Only appears in four different settings - his office where clients meet him, the bar where he talks toot with the barman (Never described as this allows him to be anywhere), an alley where people get killed, and a rooftop for the final showdown with the villain - as supposedly classic detective stories only ever needed four settings.
- Barry the Time Sprout - first appeared in Armageddon: The Musical, subsequently becomes fused with Lazlo Woodbine's mind (after a stint working with an alternate Elvis Presley), where he acts as his Holy Guardian Sprout. His origin, however, is conflicted; he was either genetically engineered on another planet who watched Earth history as a TV show or is a holy guardian vegetable from God's garden, who had to be used when God ran out of guardian angels due to demand outstripping supply
- Fangio - the barman that 'talks toot' with Lazlo and Rizla, and is inexplicably behind every bar that they end up in. He commonly serves Lazlo Pastrami on Rye.
- Cornelius Murphy and Tuppe - appear in a number of novels. Cornelius is actually the estranged son of Hugo Rune and 'the Stuff of Epics'. He and his travelling compatriot Tuppe, short for Tupperware a travellers clan and also the stuff of epics, enjoy many adventures together travelling across the world and the unknown regions of the cosmos often battling against Hugo Rune and his somewhat diabolical ways. Cornelius is massively tall with hair that is completely uncontrollable whilst Tuppe is a tiny person able to fit into many small places. Often driving a Cadillac eldorado these two characters feature prominently in The Book of Ultimate Truths, The Most Extraordinary Man Who Ever Lived and Raiders of the Lost Car Park.
- Rex Mundi - saviour of the world, formerly married to Christeen – the daughter of God and twin sister of Christ – who had been giving him GBH of the earhole about the need for a cesspit in the back garden in Utopia, now retired and living in the Sherwood area growing quality cannabis.
- Sir John Rimmer - famous paranormal investigator and biographer of Hugo Rune. 7 ft tall and famed for his very long beard (a fake). (Sir John and companions are loosely based on the Fortean writer John Rimmer and fellow contributors to the paranormal magazine Magonia.)
- Dr. Harney - companion of Sir John Rimmer, Fellow Of The Royal Society and government advisor.
- Danbury Collins - Companion of Sir John Rimmer, the psychic youth, and perpetual masturbator. Often has very useful bad feelings about things. Based on the author and paranormal researcher Andrew Collins.
- Sandy, the sandy-haired barman - Bartender at the Flying Swan, one of three bartenders to often appear.
- Neville, the full-time part-time barman - Another regular bartender and eventual owner of the Flying Swan.
- Norman Hartnell - Often accompanied by the line "Not to be confused with the other Norman Hartnell". He runs the corner shop, and is an eccentric inventor, often achieving impossible feats such as perpetual motion and time travel. He is often noted as constructing many if not all of his contraptions using Meccano.
- Soap Distant - First seen attempting to access the subterranean world he was convinced existed beneath our own. It was hinted that he had in fact tunnelled straight into the canal and was drowned, although it transpired in later books that he had in fact succeeded in living "Below", and as a consequence his skin and hair were completely white when he finally returned to the surface.
- Inspectre Sherringford Hovis, a Scotland Yard detective, who appears in several novels. Hovis insists on the unconventional spelling of his rank, and is generally automatically loathed by everyone who meets him even if his skills as a detective are recognised.
- The lady in the straw hat - often appears in crowd scenes and causes trouble by making bizarre statements, often resulting in large brawls, and described as being barking mad. She has two sons named Malkuth and Shibboleth but her family surname is unpronounceable (Web Site Story).
- Samuel J. Maggot - a police officer/chief who is often described as having 'a rough one'. Appears in the Armageddon trilogy, the Toyminator and the Witches of Chiswick. However, his description often changes, this includes his skin colour.
- Count Otto Black - Often seen as the "bad guy", Black is generally described as the most evil man alive, appearing to be virtually immortal due to him having constantly survived such attacks as being turned into a clockwork automaton ("The Witches of Chiswick") and decapitated in a confrontation with Hugo Rune ("The Brightonomicon"),
- A casual observer - An inherently anonymous character who is often present in many different scenes throughout Rankins novels, who regularly offers an opinion on the events being described by the narrator.
- Brentford - often the setting for most, or at least part of, Rankin's novels; according to some novels, Brentford is the location of the Garden of Eden, and may have also been the location of Camelot
- Mornington Crescent - Home of the Ministry Of Serendipity, a fictional agency whose main activity is to ensure the British Empire rules the globe, via dealings with Alien activity and suchlike.
- Skellinton Bay, Brighton A small seaside town occasionally used as a setting (although there was usually a mention of Brentford in the same books).
- Penge - A location that is never actually visited, but is constantly referred to by many different characters throughout the novels; they all generally comment that they understand it is a very nice place despite never having actually been there themselves.
- 'It must be a tradition, or an old charter, or something.'
- Bizarre footnotes - Lazlo Woodbine book titles and nonsensical remakes appear as footnotes in most of Rankin's novels.
- References to whether or not a phrase is going to become a running joke - 'If that's a running joke, it's lost on me.'
- Non-starter running jokes - 'I hope that's not going to become a running gag, it's a pretty crap one'.
- The (M134) General Electric mini-gun. Every character that is about to go into battle expresses a desire for this particular weapon, usually referring to it as "one of those amazing rotary machine guns like the one Blaine had in Predator"; even a newsreader refers to it in this way. This is put to a stop when Elvis actually knows what it's called.
- Obviously fictitious biographical details about the author himself, though these seem to be absent from more recent novels.
- Author pictures in various poses/modes of attire e.g. Aleister Crowley, gangster or Pagan priest.
- An affected ignorance of what is going on, often then corrected by the characters. For example, losing track of which character is which in a group, then having the characters introduce themselves to establish that they know, even if he does not.
- The catch-all technobabble explanation of things powered by 'the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter'.
- Various characters revealed to be masters of the deadly martial art 'Dimac' (possibly inspired by Dim Mak), with which a single fingertip can disfigure and dismember the opponent, or leave them walking sideways in the manner of a crab for the rest of their lives.
- The liberal application of 'stout sticks' or 'knobkerries' in a violent manner. 'stout sticks' is a clever pun referring to the book At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien.
- "The keeping of the now-legendary low profile"
- "It is a well-known fact to those who know it well..." followed by a statement which may either be a true fact, or something completely absurd
- The "half-bag of solid cement" that all sheds are required to contain, according to several novels. It must be a tradition, or an old charter, or something.
- Explaining things that cannot possibly be true in a plausible way, as when Hugo Rune demonstrated that it is impossible to work eight hours a day, and in fact his calculations proved that no-one ever does any work, as there is not time, or when he pointed out that the population of Earth must be decreasing as you require two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents just for yourself to exist.
- In some books, someone at some time will produce an "oversized red gingham handkerchief".
- 'A vindictive grudge-bearing wee bastard' as a description of Small Dave, the Brentford postman.
- People dying in a 'freak accident', always involving two unusual objects.
- References to lyrics of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and others.
- Positively dwarf-like, possibly Welsh - a gag running through some of his books, used to tell the reader how small that particular person is.
- Many references to Victorian inventions from Charles Babbage that may have or may not have ever existed.
- British Fantasy Society Best Novel nominee (1997) for The Brentford Chainstore Massacre
- SFX Best Novel Award Winner (2003) for The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
- British Fantasy Society Best Novel nominee (2006) for The Brightonomicon
- Coventry Inspiration Book Awards (2007) Lost Worlds: for The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
- The Hub Best Comedy (Audio) Award for "The Brightonomicon - Audio Series"
- Fellow of The Victorian Steampunk Society (2009)
In 2008 The Brightonomicon was adapted into a 13 part full-cast audio drama by Hokus Bloke Productions and BBC Audiobooks starring Andy Serkis, David Warner, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Degas, Mark Wing-Davey, Martin Jarvis and Sarah Douglas. Initially released as a 7-CD boxset and as a digital download, the series has now been re-edited for radio transmission, and Robert's first ever radio series aired on BBC7 from 23 August to 15 November 2008. Rankin has also had his novel The Antipope dramatised for audio, and has also read unabridged versions of many of his novels as audiobooks. He also currently writes a free, full colour webcomic called Robert Rankin's Empires for Beyond Reality Media in New Zealand.
- The Brightonomicon - audio drama & radio series (BBC7)
- The Antipope - audio drama & audiobook
- The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse - audiobook
- The Toyminator - audiobook
- The Fandom of the Operator - audiobook
- Nostradamus Ate My Hamster - audiobook
Art and illustration
Rankin studied at Ealing School of Art, where he was a contemporary of Freddie Mercury and Alan Lee. He worked for Playboy magazine and illustrated a book about The Beatles before his portfolio was stolen and he abandoned the idea of working as a professional illustrator. However he created many of the sculptures which feature on his book covers, many of which were on display at The Collection, a gallery in Lincoln during September 2010. Some of these works were previously exhibited in Waterstones, Brighton, and at Gunnersbury Park Museum in 2007-8. In 2009 Rankin was commissioned by his publisher to provide a series of new illustrations for his back catalogue of books (from The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse to the present), he also created new internal illustrations for The Brightonomicon, Retromancer and The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions. A cartoon by Rankin "The Robot and the Elongated Author" was published in Issue 13 of Murky Depths, and 2010 also saw the publication of his first illustrated book, written by Neil Gardner: "The Bumper Book of Ficts", which was launched on 18 September 2010 in Brentford. A limited hard-back edition of "Empires" was launched in the UK mid-2012.
- James Shields (1970-01-01). "Robert Rankin Interview". Sproutlore. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- Australian dollar (2006-07-25). "The Witches of Chiswick (Gollancz S.F.), Robert Rankin". Fishpond.com.au. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- Watermans | About :: Our Approach History[dead link]
- "Order of the Golden Sprout". Thegoldensprout.com. 2012-01-21. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- "Fellows of the Victorian Steampunk Society". VSS. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
- "Robert Rankin". Fantasticfiction.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- "The Antipope". Everything2.com. 2001-09-06. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Lazlo Woodbine". Everything2.com. 2002-02-27. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Norman Hartnell". Everything2.com. 2001-09-06. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "Running gags in the books of Robert Rankin". Everything2.com. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- "The Hub Awards, 2008". Retrieved 25 March 2013.
- Bizarre Magazine, September 2010
- [dead link]
- "Robert Rankin, The Brentford Triangle". Hounslow Chronicle. 2008-06-10. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- "Robert Rankin". Ja-jp.facebook.com. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- Order of the Golden Sprout - The new Official Robert Rankin Fanclub
- Robert Rankin author info
- Robert Rankin Hallucinated (1999 interview article)
- FantasticFiction.co.uk,Authors R, Robert Rankin
- Rankin Bibliography and Biography
- Robert Rankin at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database