The Witches of Chiswick
(Gollancz, £6.99, 434 pages, paperback, first published 2003,
this edition published 22 July 2004.)
Steampunk. Gibson and Sterling did it, and now we get the arch-surrealist
Rankin giving the sub-genre a go. And what fun you'll
in the resulting 430 pages or so. Mind you, don't expect it to make
sense - but then, as the author notes in the actual text, he was just
making it up has he went along.
In a far-future, not unlike Terry Gilliam's Brazil, we find
our hero William Starling discovering a digital wristwatch in the painting
"The Fairy-Teller's Masterstroke" by Richard Dadd. From there, he is
chased by automata with slightly Germanic accents and big guns, and
discovers that the present is a result of the past being controlled
by the Chiswick Townswomen's Guild - the Witches in the title.
And they have to be stopped. Travelling back to the late Nineteenth
Century, with the aid of Barry the Talking Time Travelling Sprout (and
Rankin regular, plus the esteemable Hugo Rune) William discovers just
how great the Victorians were. Or, rather, how great they were before
the Witches took control, with flying hansom cabs, electric light -
space travel even. And all thanks to the fact that Charles Babbage along
with Nicholi Tesla were courted by Queen Victoria.
With Rune as William's guide, along with the reader, we get taken on
a whimsy-filled journey that encapsulates just about everything we know
about the Victorian era; a history lesson told in Rankin's joyous prose.
An assortment of characters mingle in and out, from Jack the Ripper
to the Invisible Man; Joseph Merrick to Queen Victoria. Even Elvis gains
If you're new to Robert Rankin, then this will ease you gently into
his literary world of tomfoolery, in-jokes and punnery; if you're a
veteran, then you'll still love it. Rankin writes for his growing army
of fans, but he hasn't neglected newcomers who may come across this
tome on the shelf and ponder...
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