Robert Rankin was born in 1949, and is the author of - to date - twelve humorous sf/fantasy novels, with more on the way. Rankin's first four books are all part of The Brentford Octology (note: this series is still often referred to as The Brentford Trilogy - even though there are four books - but keen readers have noticed a mention of The Brentford Octology in the Armageddon trilogy, and indeed Rankin is currently hard at work on the fifth Brentford book, due in late 1996), and feature the adventures of Jim Pooley and John Omally, who find themselves pit against such diverse enemies as a resurrected Pope, an alien invasion fleet, Hugo Rune and Bob the Bookie, while they are helped by - among others - Merlin, Sherlock Holmes, martial arts expert Archroy (ex of the rubber factory), and Norman the Corner Shop owner.
After the mostly-down-to-Earth, surreal suburban madness of the Brentford books, Rankin turned to the even more fantastic for his next series: Armageddon. This trilogy unusually features two almost completely unconnected heroes: Rex Mundi (a green-skinned human of the early twenty-first century, with possible genetic ties to Harrison Ford), and a gestalt entity comprising Elvis Presley and Barry the Time-Travelling Sprout. Over the three books, Rankin takes Elvis and Rex throughout the entire course of Human history, and then some. Each of the books (Armageddon the Musical, Armageddon II: They Came and Ate Us, Armageddon III: The Suburban Book of the Dead) can be treated as an individual novel - their stories are only loosely connected and each is very different in tone - but reading them whole is much more enjoyable.
Next, Rankin turned back to Brentford for a series of novels loosely based on many of the myths that have grown up around Hugo Rune. In these books (set long after the real-life Rune had died), Rankin introduces us to young Cornelius Murphy and his pal Tuppe. Murphy discovers that he is Rune's illegitimate son, and finds himself on a quest to locate his father and recover the missing chapters of Rune's seminal work, The Book of Ultimate Truths. Along the way, Cornelius discovers that the Ultimate Truths of which his father wrote deal with the most insidious things on Earth, and in Heaven...
However, between the second and third Hugo Rune books Rankin wrote the one-off The Greatest Show Off Earth, dealing largely with the hollow-Earth theory (but with a very unique twist), and the concepts of reality: In most of Rankin's book, the characters are aware - or become momentarily aware - that they are in a book, and this is explored to a very large degree in The Greatest Show Off Earth, where one of the characters manages to get a copy of the book and is thus able to use it to his advantage. All of this is set against a background of space travel, interplanetary circuses, and - occasionally - a few pints. Interestingly, Rankin's very first book, The Antipope, has a reference to The Greatest Show Off Earth: "Over in the corner was the untouched plot that had once belonged to Raymond, who in a previous episode had been snatched away into outer space by invisible star creatures from Alpha Centauri."
Robert Rankin's most recent book is The Garden of Unearthly Delights, the first part of a projected series that brings the protagonist, Max Carrion, into the far future, where the normal laws of physics have been repealed and the Age of Magic has been reinstated.
This wee article was supposed to have been about Robert Rankin himself, but I believe that in order to understand the man, you have to first understand his fiction. As a writer, he puts great chunks of his life into his work, but it's almost impossible to determine where the reality ends and the fiction begins. He has said on several occasions that Jim Pooley is himself, and rereading the Brentford books with that in mind generates a serious shift in perspective: Pooley is not a drunken coward; he's a noble, intelligent, charming human being with an overdeveloped sense of self-preservation. Omally - presented in the books as the braver, stronger and more clever of the two - is deep down very similar to his pal. To me, they're both Robert Rankin: Pooley is how the author sees himself, Omally is Rankin as other people see him.
Robert Rankin is the sort of chap who could tell you the same story ten times, and it would be enthralling every time. In public appearances, he's closer to a talented stand-up comedian than an author. He has the looks of a rich ex-rock star who never touched the stuff, and a dress sense that truly defies description. I've met the man several times, and had the most strange and fascinating conversations with him, and I can honestly say that I've never met a more complex individual. He is a man of tremendous intelligence, good nature and apparently limitless tolerance.
To sum up: If you ever get the chance to meet and speak with Robert Rankin, do not turn it down: it would be a waste of your life.
[Many thanks to SproutLore - the Robert Rankin Appreciation Society - for the above article.]
Update: Since The Garden of Unearthly Delights Robert has published A Dog Called Demolition, Nostradamus Ate My Hamster and most recently his unauthorised autobiography, Sprout Mask Replica.