Ancient Reviews

(Back around the turn of the century I had a semi-regular gig writing book reviews for the print-magazine, SFX. The conceit, for several of em, was a vague attempt to parody the author in question. This might make em of some interest in themselves, so I'll stuck em up.)

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

‘Ah yes,’ said the reader, closing the book and setting it down with a contented sigh. ‘Another masterpiece from Pratchett, and well worth the wait.’

And a long six months it was, said the alternative point of view. The unkind might say that this production-line way of doing things is wearing the material rather thin. The renovated Witches-story machine hoves into view again, and it’s ticking and ratcheting away like clockwork by now - you can almost smell the elbow grease that’s gone into polishing and winding it up for yet another outing.

‘That’s hardly fair,’ said the reader. ‘If you read Pratchett, the Discworld, any particular subset of it, you come to it with certain expectations ...’

There’s a difference between expectation and total by-the-numbers predictability. Granny Weatherwax meets the vampires - what do you reckon to the odds? The dutiful trotting out and upending of the relevant genre clichés; a villain whose crime, in the narrative sense, is to refuse to see himself as such and to attempt to innovate. Granny tells him precisely what she thinks about that, and things promptly reset to the good ole status quo ... spoilers don’t come into it. We have heard, not to put too fine a point upon it, it all before.

‘I said that this was a story of a type’ said the reader, pointedly. ‘Do you criticise a Shakespearian comedy on the sole basis that there’s a lot of mistaken identity and people get married at the end? The interesting things are the themes he’s exploring within it, the aspects of his humanism particular to that situation and no other, the central theme of duality, of being in two minds ...’

And doesn’t he just hammer that into the ground and jump up and down on it to get out all the juice. And I’ve always found his much-vaunted humanism a bit didactic for my taste. It’s all very well to be completely and utterly Right, but, once you are, all you can do is keep on being it, over and over again ...

‘Well, okay - but it was great to see how everybody’s lives were getting on, if only to watch Magrat turn around and shock the socks off Nanny ...’

And the reprise of the snoring made me laugh out loud, I’ll admit.

‘And what about the George Wallace pictsies and their moothfuls of heedies?’

And that whole where-did-Granny-go thing. I just tore ahead wondering how that was going to turn out ...

‘The private life of Igor ...’

... and the extra items of anatomy ...

‘Not first-rate Pratchett, by any means.’

You just can’t get the parts these days. But even so, it’s still head and shoulders above almost anybody else working in a similar vein. Um ... can we read it all over again?

‘Yes, let’s.’ said the reader.

And so they did.

* * *

The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag by Robert Rankin

‘So tell me about the Voodoo Handbag,’ the psychiatrist said.

‘It contains multitudes,’ I told him. A movable feast with a world-snake and a pickled egg, constantly feeding off itself, constantly forming, shifting and reforming -’

‘Just stick to the facts.’

‘Like Lazlo Woodbine? You know he only works in four locations: the alley where he ... okay.’ Visions of Cecil the Male Nurse and his big needle hove into view. ‘Okay. I was sitting in the Rat and Pestle, nursing a smallish Irish Boilermaker, when I espied a grizzly, raggedy, comb-and-scissors bristly figure sink his Death by Cider, toss his now-legendary exercise book aside and rise up on his two good pins ...

‘The lad was by profession a teller of tall tales, and never one to let plausibility, mere external logic or an ear for scansion like a cheap tin tray get in the way of a good, knotty story - and what a towering, tottery, twisty heap of sheep-shank our boy told. Old favourites were sporadically in evidence: the joy of the Brentford gasometer, the majesty of Barry the Sprout ... flipped casually into the hot air amongst such cavalcades of grotesques as took his momentary fancy: the horrid mother of Billy Baines (ruler, as we know, of the entire world) and the granny in the suitcase; the nasty fate of a policeman and the even nastier fate of an estate agent; the unutterably evil Henry Doors and his Necrosoft that invades and befouls our very reality - that last, of course, quite frankly unbelievable.

‘The viewpoint and the narrative lurched and weaved like an scabrous tar on the way back to his scow. The unkind might say that we’ve heard it all before - but this is Rankin we’re taking about, here, and the joy of Rankin is in the performance ...

He’s like a clown as opposed to a comedian - and one of the basic attributes of a clown is a genuine and underlying sense of pain. A sense of how fragile our realities and sanities really are. Reading Rankin is to feel that breathless sense of when a juggler drops his balls, or an acrobat tumbles from the wire - and then the balls and wire are caught. It’s under control, all part of the act. The guy’s going to drop ‘em or fall off spectacularly one of these nights, naturally; it’s inevitable.

But it won’t be tonight.

The psychiatrist was looking at me; I realised that I had in some way slipped through the cracks of sense, tense and viewpoint - but that’s what Rankin tends to do to you. I suddenly wanted to blurt out just how I had really, really loved this book, before Cecil came in for yet another blatantly tricksy endi -

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