The Japanese Devil Fish Girl by Robert Rankin focuses on the adventures of George Fox, who is assistant to Professor Coffin, a travelling showman. George receives a prophecy that he will read the Book of Sayito, that he will find Her and the fate of the planets will rest upon his shoulders. The professor sees financial gain, so uses a combination of persuasion, con, and alchemy to ensure George fulfils this destiny. Sayito is the name of the Japanese Devil Fish Girl, who is a goddess, the mother of God and the grandmother of Christ.
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, has run away from home in the hopes of gaining employment in mathematics or becoming a girl adventuress. On their first meeting, Ada uses George to gain entrance to a gala event without tickets. Later they meet up again on the Empress of Mars, a titanic-like dirigible cruise liner. Their adventure leads them into intrigue, mayhem and the clutches of the civil service as George tries to save the planets.
The year is 1895, 10 years after the invasion of the Martians in the War of the Worlds. The Venusians and the Jovians formed an alliance of planets with the British Empire after the Empire defeated the Martians. Winston Churchill invented germ warfare to take the War of the Worlds to Mars, wiping out the Martians and expanding the British Empire to the Red Planet. The Elephant Man is suspected of being Jack the Ripper. A good portion of the humour in this book is a rewrite of history and of the characters involved.
Part Gulliver’s Travels without the mind-numbing political monologues, part Indiana Jones with echoes of Hitchhiker’s Guide, this novel combines light humour with black comedy, satire and romance to create an engaging romp.
This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 2, January 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.