My Friend Mr Leakey, by J.B.S. Haldane – There was a chapter from this book in an anthology my grandmother had, and I saw several other mentions of it later on, but had a hard time actually finding it. I ended up buying a used copy. Haldane is mostly known for his contributions to biology, having demonstrated genetic linkage and come up with the idea of primordial soup. It’s rumored that he said the Creator was inordinately fond of beetles, but nobody knows whether he ever actually said that. He also supported Stalin, but nobody’s perfect. The volume contains six stories, three about the titular magician and three others that are unrelated but similar in style and theme. There are a lot of details in the book that lend verisimilitude to the idea of a magician in the modern age. Mr Leakey turns a man who has lost his legs into an octopus, keeps a dragon that wears asbestos boots (obviously this was before the harmful effects of asbestos were discovered), has a magic purse that can’t produce paper currency because of when it was made, and comments on how radio waves give stomachaches to jinn. The magician also states that people in his profession have to belong to at least eight different religions “so as to know how to deal with different sorts of spirits,” but admits that reciting the names and dates of the Kings of England can work just as well as the last two chapters of the Quran for frightening off jinn. Another tale has Mr Leakey throwing a party attended by a devil and the angel Raphael, and turning the guests into different forms of their choice. I think it’s worth checking out.
Web Site Story, by Robert Rankin – It’s been a while since I’ve read any Rankin, and this 2001 book is pretty typical of his work in many ways. It has an evil force threatening Brentford, conspiracy theories, a dorky guy hooking up with an attractive woman, a lot of running gags, and a convoluted ending where it’s not entirely clear what’s actually true. The plot plays on Y2K hysteria, positing that the debugging was a front for installing sentient computer chips that cause the machines to play games with humanity. There are references to several actual early video games and trivia about them, including the room in Adventure with the programmer’s name. A few familiar Brentonians, including Old Pete and Rastafarian used-car dealer Leo Felix, make appearances. And while Hugo Rune is apparently no longer alive in this vision of the future, his absurd ideas about language and footwear have been adopted by much of society. There are a fair number of inside jokes, like how the Brentford Poets who play a role in the story were apparently founded in real life by Rankin himself, but it’s funny even if you don’t get all of them. I think I’ve read most of Rankin’s output by now, and I know some of his others are available as eBooks. Some of his most recent works, however, look to only be sold through mail order, and I can’t really justify the shipping charges from England. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on them someday, as they sound funny.