Reviewed by Andy Venn
A decade after the events portrayed by Mr H G Wells in “ The War of the Worlds” we again meet the Martians. Professor Cagliostro Coffin and his able assistant, George Fox, travel the country with their travelling show, the main attraction of which is a Martian preserved in formaldehyde.
Word reaches them of the Japanese Devilfish girl, and the Professor decides that if he can obtain it it will give his show a boost. Things haven’t been going too well, it seems that maybe the age of the travelling show is coming to an end. The Professor and George set out to track down this unnatural attraction and add it to the show.
This is a time when the sun has not set on the British Empire. The arm of the Empress reaches to Mars itself, with the aid of the Electric Fusiliers and their spaceships. Emissaries from Venus and Jupiter send delegations to Britain and woe betide Johnny foreigner if he falls foul of the heroic Brits!
The pinnacle of British engineering is the “Empress of Mars”, a mighty airship. Launched from the London spaceport, she is heading out on her maiden flight for a grand tour of the countries of the Earth. The Professor and George have managed to wangle their way on board so that they can take their search to the far corners of the globe. But in America disaster strikes. Forced to flee mainland America by rebels who fire upon the mighty craft, they are caught in a storm on their way to Hawaii and craft is damaged and lost.
George awakes on an island and meets up with Ada, a stowaway, and Darwin the monkey butler of a deceased passenger. They discover that the Martians were not all killed by the earthly bacteria that freed Britain ten years before. There is a colony deep underground on this island of Lemuria. They are captured and released due to the resemblance of Ada to their goddess and escape in a Martian craft.
Meanwhile, the professor has discovered the statue of the Devilfish Girl and has spirited her away to Blighty where he is displaying her in St Pauls. Of course the Martians want her back. So do the Venusians and the Jovians.
There then follows a battle over Britain masterminded by Mr Winston Churchill, with the help of Darwin the monkey butler and some large cigars. They are helped by the ingenuity of Mr Charles Babbage, Mr Nickola Tesla and various other historical figures.
Does the British Empire triumph? Does George marry Ada? And does the professor get his just desserts? Read the book and find out.
To be completely honest with you, I have never been a big fan of Robert Rankin. The few books that I have read have not made me chuckle to myself in quite the same way that Pratchett or Holt books have. But I have been intrigued by the steampunk genre since reading Michael Moorcocks stories some years ago, which hint at the genre.
But I must say I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed it in the same way that I enjoy watching the Indiana Jones films or The Mummy. It is a rollicking good adventure that moves with quite a pace, although at times it seems to trip over itself while it’s trying to find the path it was travelling. Sometimes it felt a bit disjointed, almost like an old record with a jumping needle. Robert takes some liberties with history, having various people alive and dead meeting and collaborating in the battle for the goddess, but at the end of the day it is a story and, mostly, you have to suspend reality while you read any novel, let alone this one.
I find that Roberts writing style does not suit my eye, so to speak, and I couldn’t read it as fast as I would have liked to. After a couple of chapters I would have to put it down and surf the net or read the paper. And as I said earlier, it still doesn’t make me laugh as such. The humour is good, and quite obvious in places, with the monkey butler and the other characters, but also too subtle in places, almost as if Robert couldn’t decide whether to make it funny or not.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it and would read it again, eventually, and I may be tempted to try some of his other books.
About Andy Venn
I’m Andy Venn, aka Giant68 due to being 6’8″ tall. I have been reading science fiction for 35 years since picking up the Lensman series. And fantasy since I pinched “Lost Worlds” by Clarke Ashton Smith from my uncle. I read both in, pretty much, equal measures. I write a blog occasionally, containing the whimsical, or bad tempered, meanderings of my mind at http://giant68.blogspot.com. Go and have a look, you’ll find out all about me, and Lord knows I need the followers! Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.