SFRAQ - alt.books.robert-rankin

From: JustTheFAQs <>
Subject: ABRR: Robert Rankin newsgroup SFRAQ
Message-ID: <73v6kc$16u$>


The Still Fairly Rarely Asked Questions (SFRAQ)

v2.07 30th Nov 1998

The SFRAQ is maintained by Martin O'Nions

Any comments, criticisms, additions or other such things should be mailed to
Martin for inclusion in the next update. This SFRAQ may or may not be posted
automagically on the 28th of each month. So far, 'May not' has been the most
common option in 1998.


This document draws heavily on the work done by Darrell Ottery
( in producing the initial structured
versions of the SFRAQ.

Any bugs can therefore safely be attributed to Martin's subsequent
hacking around of the basic form and information.


Entries marked with a '*' are new in this release. Those marked with
a '+' have been updated since the last release. A new release has
ocurred when the version number changes, not on every posting.

An 'S' against an entry indicates that it contains 'spoilers', details
of the plot or ending of a particular book that readers new to the book
in question may not wish to read in advance. You have been warned...

1. The Man

a) Who is Robert Rankin?
b) What's he really like?

2. The Books

+ a) So what's he written then?
b) What's with the Brentford Trilogy/Quartet/Quintet/Octology stuff?
+ c) What's the next book, and when will it be out?
d) My local bookstore doesn't seem to have heard of him - any suggestions?
e) Have you noticed that...?
f) The characters seem so real. Are they entirely fictitious?
g) So the Flying Swan is based on...?
h) So the Swan isn't quite real. What about a pint of 'Large' then?
S i) Who actually won the darts trophy in 'The Brentford Triangle'?
S j) Were there two different endings to 'The Sprouts Of Wrath'?

3. Alt.Books.Robert-Rankin and Other Internet Resources

a) How come he's got a newsgroup devoted to him?
b) Do we have a tradition, or an old charter or something?
c) What does "ABRR:" in the subject line of a post mean?
d) What other sources of information are there on him?
e) Does he post here?

4. About This Document

a) Why is this document a SFRAQ and not a FAQ?
b) Credits
c) Legal stuff

SECTION 1: The Man

a) Who is Robert Rankin?

What sort of a question is that? Just try doing an Alta Vista search on
the name 'Robert Rankin' and see how many you can come up with. They're
a pretty mixed bunch too...

For the purposes of this newsgroup, he is the British author of the
Brentford Quintet, the Armageddon Trilogy and the occasional chronicles
of Hugo Rune and not to be confused with any other Robert Rankin...

A compilation of various enlightenments included in the inner pages of
his books, shows that he is:

A Twelfth Dan Master of Dimac and Magus to the Illuminated Order of
the Celestial Sprout, and has held a total of thirty-nine jobs,
including illustrator, off-licence manager, retired Tupperware
salesman, market-stall trader, rock singer, and garden gnome salesman.
In 1991, he described himself as a carpenter and an artist.

A collector of Victorian curiosities (and whales) and a student of the
occult. Although still appearing to be a man in his early twenties,
Robert Rankin was, in fact, born during the first years of Queen
Victoria's reign. He now divides his time between wearing old straw
hats and commuting between the planets.

Still worshipped as a god in upper Sumatra and admired by a generation
as the man who upstaged Hendrix at Woodstock with a ukelele solo.
Robert Rankin is best known in his native land as the many-times winner
of the prestigious Robert Rankin Literary Award For Bestest Novel Ever.
Declining the offer to be the new James Bond, his ambition remains to
give up world- class Formula One motor racing and become the dictator
of a small South American republic. Or an estate agent. Or a teapot.

Robert Rankin was born in Parsons Green. He attended various schools
and went on to study Graphics at Ealing School of Art. He is Writer
in Residence at Waterman's Arts Centre, where he founded Brentford
Poets, which soon became the largest weekly poetry group in England,
and was a sexual athlete, which no doubt his wife appreciated...

Robert Rankin lives in West Sussex with his wife (tall, very tall)
and family.

He spent nearly five years working in the film industry. All right,
so he only hired out props, but he did hire them out for The
Elephant Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Wars trilogy
which is pretty damn good by anyone's reckoning.

He has also written a total of sixteen novels, which include the
Brentford quintet, the Armageddon trilogy, the saga of Cornelius and
Tuppe's epic journey and others too surreal to mention.

b) What's he really like?

In the light of Robert's postcard acknowledging the creation of this group
(see 'Does he post here?'), the question was asked, not entirely seriously
"Is Robert secretly a bit of a git?"

The concensus is that no, he isn't. Everyone who has met Robert Rankin seem
to agree that he's a damned nice bloke who is genuinely approachable. The
postcard was entirely in the spirit of the letter informing him of this
newgroup's creation and should *not* be taken as anything other than good

A poll on the alt.books.robert-rankin newsgroup confirmed the opinion that
whilst Robert may have no particular liking for technology (and computers
in particular), this distaste is not extended to his fans. Like any author
or indeed human being, it *is* possible to annoy him. The SFRAQ maintainer
has reason to be aware that Robert does not respond positively when he
suspects that somebody is taking the p**s. Stout sticks will be employed
if anyone ever sets the SFRAQ maintainer up again...

Basic rules if you see him are to remember that whilst you are meeting
Robert Rankin, he's encountering probably the five hundredth person that
day who expects him to be witty and wise under pressure. This can colour
his opinion of you...

SECTION 2: The Books

a) So what's he written, then?

The Brentford Trilogy/Quintet: (TB3)

o The Antipope (TA)
o The Brentford Triangle (TBT)
o East of Ealing (EoE)
o The Sprouts of Wrath (TSoW)
o The Brentford Chainstore Massacre (TBCM)

The Armageddon Trilogy: (TA3)

o Armageddon: The Musical (A:TM)
o They Came And Ate Us: Armageddon II The B-Movie (TC&AU)
o The Suburban Book of The Dead: Armageddon III The Remake (TSBotD)

Cornelius and Tuppe:

o Raiders of the Lost Car Park (RotLCP)
o The Book of Ultimate Truths (TBoUT)
o The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived (TMAMWEL)

Other books:

o The Greatest Show Off Earth (TGSOE)
o The Garden of Unearthly Delights (TGoUD)
o A Dog Called Demolition (ADCD)
o Nostradamus Ate My Hamster (NAMH)
o Sprout Mask Replica (SMR)
o The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag (TDotVH)
o Apocalypso (A)


o Snuff Fiction (June 1999?)


A number of the books are set in Brentford, at least in part. This not-
withstanding, only one of the books since TSoW can be considered to be
part of the Brentford Octology (see below), so the others don't get
listed as 'true' Brentford novels. At least not by me, and presumably
not by Transworld since they billed TBCM as the fifth Brentford novel.
This bears out my previous assertion that although NAMH does have some
token appearences from Jim Pooley and John Omally, it's just not the

ISBN details:

All paperback ISBN's are for the Corgi imprints. Hardcovers are for
Transworld/Doubleday (TBOUT onwards) and Bloomsbury for the earlier
stuff. Since different countries have different publishing deals,
these ISBN's may not always be directly useful...

Anyone wishing to contribute additional ISBN numbers (for example for
the paperback versions of recent novels) is encouraged to do so.

Paperback Hardcover

TA 0-552-13841-X
TBT 0-552-13842-8
EoE 0-552-13843-6
TSoW 0-552-13844-4
TBCM 0-385-40707-6

A:TM 0-552-13681-6 0-7475-0515-2
TCaAU 0-7475-0818-6
TSBotD 0-7475-1165-9

TGSOE 0-552-13924-6

TBOUT 0-385-40413-1
ROTLCP 0-385-40418-2
TMAMWEL 0-385-40514-6

TGoUD 0-385-40515-4
ADCD 0-385-40516-2
NAMH 0-385-40705-X
SMR 0-385-40706-8
TDotVH 0-385-40920-6

b) What's with the Brentford Trilogy/Quartet/Quintet/Octology stuff?

There was a reasonable gap between the publication of EoE (which
had seemed to end the Pooley/Omally novels and TSoW, which proved
that it hadn't. The first three novels therefore became known as
the Brentford Trilogy, and indeed were apparently published in
a single bound edition bearing that name.

With the publication of TSoW the Trilogy became a Quartet, although
the old name stuck after the fashion of the extended Hitch-Hiker's
"trilogy" by Douglas Adams.

A passing reference in A:TM to a bookshelf in the year 2060 containing
the whole of the Brentford Octology has now become an immutable
statement of what will be (although only to fans - Robert has made
no such promise AFAIAA :) ).

A previous version of this SFRAQ first made reference to the
Brentford Quintet prior to the publication of NAMH, when it was
believed that this would be the next book in the Pooley/Omally
saga. This then had to be cut, since NAMH wasn't a Brentford
novel, but can now be reinstated since TBCM is. See?

c) What's the next book, and when will it be out?

If we are to believe "The Brentford Mercury" (and if we are not, then
in what *can* we possibly put our trust?), then "Snuff Fiction" will
be gracing our bookshelves in the middle of 1999. Sadly, the SFRAQ
maintainer has mislaid his copy of the current edition and is unable
therefore to give any more details (or even corroborate his failing

d) My local bookstore doesn't seem to have heard of him - any suggestions?

Just because *we* know that Robert Rankin is the guru's guru and other
good things doesn't mean that there aren't some unenlightened bookshops,
chains or countries that don't carry his work as standard.

In the U.K. there should be no problem ordering any of his books, since
his publishing deal is though one of the larger houses (Transworld) and
any bookseller who says that can't obtain it is probably not trying
very hard. I've no definite information, but I'm not aware of any of
the titles being out of print and likely to stay that way at the moment.
Those further afield may wish to content themselves with the cold and
solitary pleasure of contacting one of the various bookshops now
trading on the Web, or for that personal touch, see below:

[NOTE: There may be those who consider what follows as advertising.
It is, for which I make no apologies. The establishments
referenced below aren't getting publicity here because they
they're paying for it, or because they're friends of the
SFRAQ maintainer. They're listed because they are specialist
outlets with a real interest in both the books and their
customers, and I believe that it is beneficial to all of us
if they continue to do so. If you know of other outlets that
Rankin fans should be aware of, let me know]

The Good Booksellers List:

* The Flying Pig (AKA "The Robert Rankin Centre") (Dublin, Ireland)

Yup, the one that Robert himself opened on his jaunt to Dublin for
Octocon last year. Modestly claiming "Ireland's largest selection
of second hand science fiction", they have a special interest in
(and relationship with) Robert Rankin. In addition to his books,
the Pig also uniquely carries items such as Robert's own artwork.
Lest one gets too narrow a view of the Pig's range, it also covers
"Irish Interest, Lit, SF, Horror, New Age, Occult, History, Pulp SF
Magazines, Art, Architecture etc."

Padraig offers a search service if you're trying to track down old
or out of print titles and is happy to handle mail-order within
Ireland or the UK as standard, and beyond by arrangement. Oh, and
according to their adverts, they offer a 10% discount on second
hand stock to members of Sproutlore...

Contact Padraig at The Flying Pig Bookshop
3 Crow Street
Temple Bar
Dublin 2

Telephone: 00 353 1 6795099

* Interstellar Master Traders (Lancaster, England)

Winning the SFRAQ maintainer's award for the greatest volume and range
of stock in the most compact space, IMT remains one of the pre-eminent
SF/fantasy specialists in England. Handling new, second-hand and out of
print fantasy, sf & horror books & role-playing games, selected
collectable card games and graphic novels, it's also a handy place
to pop into if you fancy a spot of philosophical discussion or an
inside view of the publishing trade. In so far as I am aware, Robert
hasn't visited this one yet but fans of a certain other author (think
turtles) will recognise it as the northernmost stop on most of his
signing tours of England.

Book searches and mail order are of course catered for, both for UK
domestic and overseas customers.

Contact Insterstellar Master Traders at
33 North Road

Telephone: +44 (0)1524 382181

e) Have you noticed that...?

Quite possibly. A list of those annotations (in the style of afp's APF)
that have been noted so far were available on Per Ekman's web page. As
noted elsewhere though, that has in recent times gone offline and as
I write I have no information on where the definitive collection may
now be found. Any advice or volunteers are welcome.

At the current time, annotations exist for TA, TBT, EoE, A:TM, TBoUT
and TMAMWEL. New annotations (or corrections to the existing ones are
always appreciated and can either be posted in the newsgroup, or mailed
to me as

f) The characters seem so real. Are they entirely fictitious?

Dave Harbud reveals:

At Octocon, Robert said that Jim Pooley was based on himself. On the
same occasion, he said that all the major characters and the pubs in
the Brentford series are based on people & places in Brentford.
Presumably more precise identification might result in legal action.

g) So the Flying Swan is based on...?

The 'official' line is that the Swan is the Bricklayers Arms,
based upon the fact that it's in the right location and doesn't
get a mention in any of the early books whilst just about every
other pub in Brentford does. Eyewitness reports suggest however
that the Bricklayers Arms bears little resemblence to descriptions
of the Swan.

The SFRAQ maintainer's position is that the Swan is the Swan. Placing
it on the site of the Bricklayers Arms is a convenient fiction to
aid those who still haven't figured out the strange topography of
the world. Those who dislike this sort of arty-farty thinking are
welcome to consider the Swan to be a composite of other drinking
establishments dropped on top of the Bricklayers Arms for want of
anywhere better to put it.

h) So the Swan isn't quite real. What about a pint of 'Large' then?

Thank you. That would be most kind...

As with the location of the Swan, there are two schools of thought
on the nature and origin of a pint of Large. The 'official' line
(and by official, I normally mean the guys from SproutLore) is that
it was originally a misspelling of 'lager' that was kept in for
humourous effect. This has been convincingly refuted by others
who point out that the description of the colour of the drink, and
the way it is handled tell against it being the fizzy yellow stuff
and point to a more refined beverage.

The SFRAQ maintainer is unclear on what Robert Rankin chooses to
consider to be the truth in this matter and frankly doesn't care :)

WARNING: Spoiler for The Brentford Triangle follows

i) Who actually won the darts trophy in 'The Brentford Triangle'?

This one sparked what passes for heated debate on a.b.r-r. The two
main camps were obviously 'The Swan won' or 'The Four Horsemen won'.
The former clearly have the spirit of Brentford on their side, but
precious little hard evidence other than a line in 'The Sprouts of
Wrath' which indicated that The Swan had been the holder of the
darts trophy for many years. The latter had the damning line in
TBT itself about the dart striking the board. Now of course, it
never states that the dart hit the *correct* part of the board,
but in true Rankinesque fashion, instead of pursuing this easy
option, Stuart Lavin came up with a third possibility - that the
board was destroyed immediately after the dart struck, and that the
feathered projectile was thus held to have fallen out of the board,
the game wasn't finished and the Swan held the trophy by default. This
had *no* supporting evidence whatsoever, but rather amused the SFRAQ
maintainer who reserves the right to be arbitary in the matter of what
gets included here.

WARNING: Spoiler for The Sprouts of Wrath follows

j) Were there two different endings to 'The Sprouts Of Wrath'?

Yes. Observent readers owning recent copies of TSoW will have noted
that it was first published in 1988, but that it is copyrighted by
Robert in 1988 and 1992. Comparison with the original reveals that
the whole sequence with Bob the Bookie in "Chapter: The Last" was
grafted on for the book's rerelease as a Corgi paperback. For the
benefit of those who are reading this spoiler without having first
read TSoW, I'm not going to reveal the differences in the endings
in detail (mail me if you really want to know). Suffice it to say
that Omally's observation to Pooley in TCaAU (written in 1991), that
Rankin had killed them off at least twice to his reckoning only
makes sense in the context of the original ending to TSoW...

SECTION 3: Alt.Books.Robert-Rankin and Other Internet Resources

a) How come he's got a newsgroup devoted to him?

A number of people thought it was a good idea. Sadly, none of us did
anything about until the 26th October 1995, with the result that Rankin
fans would fire occasional references at each other on other newsgroups,
where they went completely over the heads of the other readers (in the
absence of a good publicity campaign for the group they still do and
they still do).

Then, one day, someone posted a message to one such group asking for
anyone prepared to take on the task of creating a newsgroup. Stupidly,
someone waved their hand and said "I'll do it". Martin is now older and
wiser and will keep his head down when someone asks for volunteers.

Since then, traffic levels have been somewhat erratic and at one time
or another the group has had:

i) it's propagation increased by virtue of the volume of traffic, which
was actually largely SPAM

ii) more posters than readers (see above)

At the time of writing, the newsgroup has a good core of posters including
such influential and important people as the two James (Shields and Bacon)
of SproutLore and MJ 'Simo' Simpson of SFX Magazine. So that's all right

Well, actually we'd like some common people as well. Come on in. Invite
your friends. Have a party.

As a result of a) above, the group is now widely distributed and appears
in the "official" alt.* lists at UUnet. A number of people have complained
however that they still can't see the group and there is little hope that
Martin will establish a mailing list with a gateway to the newsgroup any
time soon. He apologises for the inconvenience, but not with any notable

b) Do we have a tradition, or an old charter or something?

The following was included in the newgroup, not that that counts for

Condensed Charter:

Alt.books.robert-rankin is intended to provide a forum for the
discussion of Robert Rankin's works, and issues relating to
these. It should be able to additionally act as a channel for
information on new releases, signing tours etc. Topics not
relating to any of the above are considered to be outside the
scope of this group.

...and from the first version of the SFRAQ, the following note on the
Condensed Charter was included:

This reads a little bit like a typical net.dictator rant, which in
fact is probably is. But seriously folks, the "issues relating to
these" should be broad enough to cover most eventualities, short of
out and out competition with :)

In more recent times the question of how 'off-topic' postings should
be viewed raised its head however and prompted James Shields to suggest:

Okay, how about this:

Nobody may post to this group unless
(a) the post is relevant to Robert Rankin or his works
or (b) the post is about humorous or strange events or fiction
or (c) they really want to.

This should cover it.

This has now been unilaterally adopted by the SFRAQ maintainer as our
new posting charter, with the following caveats - binaries are banned,
posts containing HTML are strongly discouraged (and posters insisting
on confusing USENET articles and Web pages are liable to be held up to
public ridicule by the SFRAQ maintainer) and good nettiquette should
always be followed (so no overlength lines please, and keep sigs to
a respectable length - four lines is favoured, but I won't start
draining people's blood for obscure experiments until they exceed six)

c) What does "ABRR:" in the subject line of a post mean?

Regular visitors to will be familiar with their
system of 'tagging' articles to indicate whether the content is
strictly relevant to the newsgroup or not. "ABRR:" in the subject
line of an article in alt.books.robert-rankin was originally proposed
as a similar tag, but only to indicate that the article wasn't spam
(the group suffered badly in its early stages). A proposal was briefly
floated to provide additional categorisation types, but was met with
the group's inimitable blend of apathy and pragmatism ("nobody will
remember to use them anyway"). In the unlikely event of the scheme
being resurrected, any commonly used tags will be described in future
versions of the SFRAQ.

It would be nice if people remembered to tag their posts, but
failure to do so will *not* result in hostility from the rest of
the readership. Probably.

d) What other sources of information are there on him?

Depends on what you are looking for. Those with WWW access are
recommended to visit James Shields' excellent pages which abound
with information, links and of course promotions for:

SPROUTLORE: The Now Official Robert Rankin Fan Club


with membership details, and a list of back issues of The Brentford
Mercury, featuring previously unpublished work by - you've guessed it,
Robert Rankin.

Annual Membership costs UKP 5 (Ireland),
UKP 7 (UK),
or UKP 11/$18 (Rest of the World)

Send a cheque/PO to: Sproutlore, 211 Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin 7,
Ireland. Contributions of fiction, book reviews and artwork are always

Nobody is quite sure of the strange and terrible relationship between
Sproutlore and The Flying Pig bookshop, but James Bacon (editor of the
Brentford Mercury) positively insists I mention it :)

Per Ekman's Robert Rankin page, previously recommended by myself as
the best starting point for Rankinphiles is sadly no more, although
(at least for the moment) Per is making the old site contents
available via ftp. The files are in tar/gzip format though, so
non-UNIX users may have some difficulties. I'll see what can be
done to put up any details that aren't currently available elsewhere
on another site. The status of The Forbidden Zones ftp archive is
currently uncertain.

Those wanting to check what is still available from Per should visit

e) Does he post here?

The short answer - no!

An explanation from James Shields (Our Man at Sproutlore):

Anyway, last I heard, Robert was having difficulty finding a modem
compatible with his Remmington typewriter. However, I gather from the
interview in the latest issue [ed.: issue 6, IIRC] of SFX magazine (well
worth a read) that he's got a lady to do his typing and doesn't even
keep that around any more.

And one from Martin:

The root of the problem lies I suspect with the occasional presence of
Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett on their respective groups.
There tends to be, particularly at certain times of the year, influxes
of posts saying "Does he really post here?" This leads to a unbelievable
expenditure of sarcasm, and decreases the signal to noise ratio still
further. If Robert isn't going to be posting here, we will at least be
spared the rumours leading to the "Does he really...." syndrome. I think
it should be an addition to the SFRAQ though. [ed.: consider it done]
Anyway, it can be our badge of distinction. The next time someone says
"Well on group so-and-so the author himself gets involved" you can tell
them that OUR preferred writer is too busy writing books and spending
his money to bugger around on USENET :) (And if Terry or Douglas are
reading this, or some b***ard cross-posts it, I didn't mean it,
honestly. No sod it, no apologies).

And from the man himself: (Transcribed from a postcard)

"Dear Mr. O'Nions,
Please consider yourself UTTERLY IGNORED!
Robert Rankin.
P.S. And that goes for your mates too."

See section 1b) for what this says about Robert Rankin...

SECTION 4: About This Document

a) Why is this document a SFRAQ and not a FAQ?

Well, as the group had only been going a few weeks at the time of the
first issue, there weren't really enough questions being asked frequently
enough to warrant a FAQ. Hence the SFRAQ. Obvious, really.

Since then, the traffic level in alt.books.robert-rankin has remained
sufficiently low for us not to have changed the name...

So here it is. The Robert Rankin newsgroup. Dedicated to helping people
find their feet in the surreal world.

b) Credits:

Thanks go to Darrell "Missing, no longer presumed catalysing but apparently
computing something instead" Ottery <> for
taking version 1.0 of the SFRAQ and hammering it into the basic form you
see here in versions through to 1.3. Although he claims that occasional
articles by him mean that he's not really missing at all, I see no reason
to spoil a good tag.

Others worthy of credit (so far):

Per Ekman, for the WWW page, the Forbidden Zones, and the List of
Ultimate Truths.

Dave Harbud, James Shields, and James Bacon for answering questions,
and the various posters who've given up their hard won insights into
what it's all about into the public domain..

All those not already included above who've actually posted something

c) Legal stuff

This article is provided as is without any express or implied
warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of
the information contained in this article, the
author/maintainer/contributors <take your pick> assume(s) no
responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from
the use of the information contained herein.

Copyright (c) 1996-98 by Martin O'Nions, all rights reserved. This FAQ
may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, or BBS as long
as it is posted in its entirety and includes this copyright statement.
This FAQ may not be distributed for financial gain. This FAQ may not be
included in commercial collections or compilations without express
permission from the author.

The presented texts may contain copyrighted material. Trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1998 Uwe Milde

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Last edited on 27.12.98.