The Antipope, by Robert Rankin – I believe this was Rankin’s first novel, and it’s also the first volume of what came to be known as the Brentford Trilogy. It shows clear signs of what would become Rankin’s signature style, but I don’t think he’d quite figured out how to balance the different sorts of humor at this point. Some of it is based on eccentric characters in a London suburb (I have no idea whether any of them are based on actual people Rankin knew), and some of it more absurd, fantastic comedy. They’re both funny, but the shift between them sometimes seems a bit abrupt. One chapter will be about the fiasco resulting from Cowboy Night at the local pub, and another about a reincarnated Rodrigo Borgia trying to consolidate his power. Worth a read, but probably not the best place to start with Rankin’s far-fetched fiction.
Well-Tempered Clavicle, by Piers Anthony – The latest volume in the Xanth series sees the jokiness being reined in at least a little. There’s still a lot of it there, but more of it seems to relate to the plot than in other recent Xanth books. The plot involves the animated skeletons Picka and Joy’nt Bone joining Princess Dawn on a search for Caprice Castle, where the demon Pundit stores all of the loose puns he can find. Also figuring into the story is Attila the Pun, a man determined to eradicate all puns without realizing that he’s one himself. And since it’s Xanth, there’s a romance between the most unlikely of characters, this time Dawn and Picka. Also returning are the pets of the Baldwin family who appeared in Yon Ill Wind: Woofer the dog, Tweeter the bird, and Midrange the cat. They claim to have returned to Xanth because pets don’t live forever in Mundania, but I didn’t realize they did in Xanth either. That seems to have been a gradual shift in the series, with the earliest books having people age and die normally, and sometimes many years passing in between one volume and the next. Anthony was always reluctant to get rid of main characters, however, and he kind of hit on a solution to this problem when he had his earlier protagonists (Bink, Chameleon, Trent, Iris, and Crombie) partake of the youth water that had already been established as the secret of the Good Magician Humfrey’s long life. Later, however, he had Arnolde and Ichabod from Centaur Aisle show up still alive with no indication that they’d had their youth restored, suggesting that at least certain parts of Xanth can retard aging. I know Anthony is familiar with the Oz books, and he seems to have made a similar shift as far as characters not dying under most circumstances. Perhaps it has something to do with his growing concern with mortality; he’s pretty old now, and he mentions in his afterword that his daughter recently died.
The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi – As I was only familiar with the Disney version of this story, which takes a lot of liberties, I thought I should probably read the original. It’s very episodic, perhaps due largely to its starting out as a serial. Most chapters have Pinocchio entering into a situation, doing the wrong thing, and paying the consequences. The marionette is very willful and lazy in his original characterization; I understand Walt Disney purposely made him more naive in an attempt to portray him as a more likeable character. The Pinocchio of the book does eventually learn right from wrong and become a real boy, but it isn’t until after he’s done a LOT of backsliding, and had some quite grisly experiences. One dark but interesting development that occurred late in the story has Pinocchio encounter Lampwick in donkey form as he’s dying, which does a little more to wrap up the donkey subplot than the movie did.