2010; 373 pages. Full Title : The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions. Book #1 (out of 4) in “The Japanese Devil Fish Girl” series; Book #32 in Robert Rankin’s bibliography. New Author? : No. Genre : British Humor; Quest; Save The World. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
The traveling show called the “Most Meritorious Unnatural Attraction” needs a new attraction. Their current one, a pickled Martian, is becoming flaky. Literally. Apparently keeping a Martian cadaver for long periods of time in a vat of formaldehyde causes it to start dropping off chunks of corpse.
For George Fox, a roadie employed by Professor Coffin’s one-wagon itinerant freak show, and whose main charge is to keep the cauldron of stewed alien from spilling over as the Professor’s cart seems to find every pothole in the muddy road, life could be better. But hey , no one ever said the carny’s life was a bed of roses.
Still, the show must go on, and a replacement attraction must be found. And wouldn’t it be great if George and the Professor could find the holy grail of traveling freak shows – The Japanese Devil Fish Girl? But by definition, she’s probably in, well, Japan, and that’s a fair distance from our heroes in their plodding steam-powered show-wagon.
Perhaps there is a faster means of transportation to be found in late-Victorian Era steampunk England.
What’s To Like...
The setting for The Japanese Devil Fish Girl is 1895 London in an alternate, steampunk universe where H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds really did take place, with the Martians getting whupped, and the subsequent counterattack on Mars leading to our meeting the Venusians and Jupiterians. Robert Rankin gives a nice synopsis of this alt-history on the flyleaf of the hardcover version, which is what I read. But if you’re dealing the book in a different medium, he also works the backstory into the text itself.
The chapters are short – 46 of them covering 373 pages. The book is written in the author’s usual, somewhat rococo (for lack of a better term) writing style, which I happen to like, although admittedly it’s an acquired taste. The sentence structures are contrived, and the descriptions often flowery. But that’s a plus to me.
Several historical figures make cameo appearances – Charles Babbage, Nikola Tesla, etc., and Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill have somewhat larger roles. But really, it’s all about George and the Professor, Darwin the monkey butler, and George’s love interest, Ada Lovelace, also a historical figure.
Several of the Rankin iconic running gags are here – the Lady in a Straw Hat, Hugo Rune, and Dimac, although I was disappointed that Fangio was missing. But there’s new stuff too – Lemuria, and the secret arts of Evil Breath and the Scent of Unknowing. There’s even a smattering of French – a petit déjeuner and the belle epoque – and I always like that.
As with any Robert Rankin novel, the emphasis is on wit and satire, not the storyline. Absurdities abound, but this is why I'm a devoted reader of this author.
“I missed you at dinner. Shared a table with a Russian research chemist named Orflekoff, and his grandson, Ivan.”
George did not rise to that one.
“Also an American false-limb manufacturer by the name of Fischel and his little son, Artie.”
Nor that one.
“And an upper-class Shakespearean actor called Ornott-Tobee and his brother, Toby.”
“Indeed?” said George. “And did you by any chance meet with the highly hyphenated Mr. Good-mind-to-give-you-a-punch-on-the-chin-if-you-do-not-stop-making-all-these-terrible-name-jokes, and his son, Ivor?”. ( pg. 111)
“Quite a pretty thing,” said the professor. “Assuming of course that it is not an instrument of torture.”
“I like the champhered grommet mountings,” said George.
“And I the flanged seals on drazy hoops,” said the professor, in an admiring tone.
Both agreed that the burnished housings of the knurdling gears had much to recommend them, aesthetically speaking, yet mourned the lack of a rectifying valve that would have topped the whole off to perfection. (pg. 241)
Kewlest New Word…
Sola Topi (n.) : An Indian sun hat made from the pith of the stems of sola plants. (Google-Image it)
Others : Saveloy (n.); Verger (n.)
“Do the hokey-cokey and poke my ailing aunty with a mushroom on a stick.” (pg. 347)
I enjoyed The Japanese Devil Fish Girl, but have to agree with other reviewers, this is not going to be anyone's favorite Robert Rankin book. For me, the book started out slow, and it was quite some time before I could fathom what the main plotline was. But once our heroes get passage on the airship (doesn’t every steampunk novel have an airship?), the pace picks up nicely and stays that way for the rest of the story.
The ending is kind of a stutter-step affair, and yet it works rather nicely. The reader gets Robert Rankin’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and it’s a lot more interesting than most of the ones your local fundamentalist fanatics dream up. There’s a deus ex machina involved, but I liked the way Robert Rankin handled this – he just flat-out admits it in the text.
Overall, the plotline is more coherent than usual for a Robert Rankin tale. Whether that’s a plus or a minus is a matter of each individual's literary taste.
8 Stars. The Japanese Devil Fish Girl is the Book One in a four-volume series, of which I’ve previously read the final installment, which is reviewed here. You don’t have to read these in order, and I’m sure I’ll read the other two whenever they cross my path in a used-book store.