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Web Site Story

by Robert Rankin

(Doubleday, £9.99, 285 pages, hardback; published 5 April 2001. Paperback, Corgi, £5.99, 381 pages; published 8 November 2001.)

Robert Rankin has now written a lot of cover scanbooks and established himself as a comic fantastic novelist. It is difficult to classify him as SF, fantasy or whatever -- he takes the mickey out of the crime and blockbuster genres too -- but his books are definitely comedy. Not everyone finds them funny (see his other recent review on infinity plus). This is the second one I've read and I found both hilarious. The humour -- and I'm assuming that it's pretty similar in most of the books -- is zany and uses a lot of puns, wordplays, playful disrespecting and deconstructing of genre clichés, in jokes, pointless repetitiveness, stupidities and suchlike, that one either finds woefully childish, or really funny. Many of the books are set in Brentwood, which is itself a running joke. If you want your humour to have a point, or something, or think that genre writing is a noble art to be treated with respect, then don't bother reading Rankin. Also, after my second book, I bet that the first four or so that you read are really funny, then they begin to get repetitive and predictable, unless you are a massive devotee. But many prolific great writers have that effect. When I first read J.P. Donleavey I thought he was wonderful, all my friends did too. By the fourth novel we picked up, we didn't.

Underneath the zany play, the characters and plot of Web Site Story are quite good too. Even although the characters are usually completely bizarre, one can believe them and they are not just genre stereotypes (indeed they subvert the stereotypes in various enjoyable ways).

The plot idea is a computer virus can take over people's brains and there is a battle to destroy this between the computer corporation and some plucky individuals. What I thought was great is that this sounds like a completely stupid idea to begin with, so you expect ludicrous comedy -- which you get alright -- but the way that the idea is resolved is actually plausible if you think about it carefully, although you do have to think about it. So the actual story is solid enough to support the multiple stupidities of the comedy and you want to find out what is going to happen, as well as laughing. Which is just as well, because there are so many jokes and types of joke that anyone who is not a devotee is going to get worn out with some of them before the book is done. Indeed you are meant to get worn out with them. Don't mention a pint of large to me! I told you not to mention it! The other one I've read, The Antipope was similar. Somehow the humour and emotional range of a 13-year-old boy has been transplanted into the mind of a highly skilled genre novelist. Er, no that's not the plot, that's what Robert Rankin's writing is like. I dunno how he keeps it going. Read it with shame and enjoyment, there is no more entertaining way to squander a few hours.

Review by Richard Hammersley.

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