The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of the absolute craziest books I’ve ever read in my life! The author is clearly insane. Or British. He’s British and has that British sense of humor, sort of a Terry Pratchett meets Monty Python on acid. This book is nuts.
Will Starling lives in a London suburb with his parents in the 23rd century. Everyone except him is fat, and his is teased mercilessly for being slim. He lives in a 300 story high rise and it’s a dystopia now, with acid rain, non-existent technology, synthetic foods, lack of jobs, etc. But he has a job. He works at that Tate Museum, scanning pictures of old paintings for future display. He particularly loves the 19th century, especially Victorian art. There aren’t any books anymore either, so he downloads books from the British Library to his palmtop and reads a lot. One day something odd happens. He’s scanning a picture and notices one of the characters in this Victorian painting is wearing a digital watch. What? He alerts his boss and is informed the painting will be destroyed. Distraught, he sneaks into the archives and moves the painting to another location so it won’t be destroyed. Later, at home with his parents, a Terminator style robot comes into their apartment to get the painting and to kill him. His bulky parents save his life by sitting on the robot, but they found out that four other Will Starlings (uncles) were slaughtered by this robot before he came to their place. Will takes off. He meets his friend Tim, a computer nerd at the museum. He tells Will that a coven of witches rule the world. Wills scoffs. He tells Will that he’s got a highly illegal drug that can take you back into your ancestors’ memories and you can relive past lives. He gives a bunch to Will and Will takes them all. Next thing you know, Will lands on a street in 19th century London. Victorian England. He can’t believe it. He has time traveled. Will meets a man named Hugo Rune, who tells him he’s an ancestor and to come with him. Rune knows everyone – Oscar Wilde, a lady’s man, Queen Victoria, Charles Babbage, inventor of the computer and many other technical devices, Count Otto Black, who has an aerial circus, HG Wells, and many others. He shows Will a good time and tells him he’s a magician. They spend a year traveling the world, meeting the tzar in Russia, the Mandarins, the Pope, who is a vampire, and many others. Will learns to enjoy good food, fine champagne, and the company of exotic women. Upon their return, they meet up with Rune’s friend Sherlock Holmes, who has been told Will is the person he is looking for. He’s hands a case over to Will, cause he’s got a heavy case load, and says he needs it solved asap. Will thinks it’ll be a piece of cake, cause he’s read all of the books. He opens the file and it’s Jack the Ripper, a series of crimes never solved. He groans. Rune has faith in him though. They go back to their hotel, quite drunk, and when Will awakes, he’s alone. He gets a paper and finds out Jack has struck again, but it’s Rune who’s the victim. Will is stunned. He gets Rune’s case and finds Barry, the Galactic Guardian sprout. Claims God sent him and other vegetables to be guardian angels cause he ran out of angels. Barry can time travel. Barry gives advice. He suckers Will into putting him into his ear and then Will can’t get him out and hears a voice in his head from that point on. Will decides to solves the Ripper case. He goes to the police station with his file and is told Jack has been caught. He’s got blood all over him and it’s definitely him. Will asks to see him and when the door opens, he sees himself and is stunned. He’s got to get himself out of there. He uses a high form of martial arts to knock the policemen out and gets the other Will out of the building, takes a horse and carriage and takes off. They find a water trough and wash the blood off, then go to a bar for some refreshment and to talk. The other Will is freaked out. Will just wants to find out what’s up. Turns out the other Will is from a different future than Will and has traveled back in time with the help of Larry, Barry’s brother, to kill the witches of Chiswick, who will destroy all of technology at the stroke of midnight, 1899, and the computers and air cars and electrical cars and faxes and everything will be gone and it’ll be back to horse and buggy times with no memories of anything else. The other Will has been raised to put a stop to this. Will travels with Barry at some point back to his future to talk to Tim about all of this, who’s very excited to hear about everything. Turns out they’re half brothers. Tim wants to go back with him. Back to the past. Will and Will get arrested for starting a fight in a bar. They go before the judge, who is about to sentence them to execution, when Tim, their new lawyer, walks in. He says he’s going to put on a lengthy defense, call dozens of witnesses, and prove their innocence. The prosecutor, in league with the witches, calls a snail boy to the stand. He can’t talk, but the prosecutor and judge pretend they can understand his grunts and believe that Will and Will are guilty. Tim pulls a gun and the courtroom clears. The police come to the scene and pull their weapons. The hostages are sent out, the snail boy, his female caretaker, and the prosecutor. Then the police open fire on the courthouse. The hostages get away and it’s the Wills and Tim, disguised as the others.
I could go on and on, but it would take too long. They discover Rune’s manse and hack into the witches’ computer. Another Terminator robot or two are dispatched to kill them. They meet HG Wells. The other Will takes off, not to be seen again, at least for a long time. The snail boy reappears and joins Will, Tim, and Wells and they are determined to stop Otto, the leader of the witches, and their evil, Satanic plot to destroy technology at the end of the century. On December 31, 1899, 2,000 people are gathered in the air to watch Count Otto Black’s flying circus. The four are there, trying to locate the computer program that will destroy everything so they can put a virus in it. Oh, and Martians are on their way to earth to invade. The ending is abrupt and I didn’t particularly care for it. I thought it could have been better. I’ll let you read the book to see what happens at the end.
Rankin is humorous, that’s for sure. There are jokes and puns on practically every page, most of them corny as hell. But there are TOO many! After awhile, you just wish you could read the story without groaning from another damn joke. That’s why I’m giving it four stars instead of five. He uses play on words, jokes from the present, has a foul mouth and mind, which I don’t mind usually, but it was a bit much, and just overreaches on the jokes. But the story is pretty good, while seemingly convoluted. He’s apparently written a bunch of other books that I’ve never heard of, but have crazy titles. I’ll probably read him again if I can find him. Apparently he’s hard to find in America. This is steampunk, for those interested. Recommended.