The Quanderhorn Xperimentations by Rob Grant & Andrew Marshall (book review).
Like other great comedy Science Fiction novels before it, ‘The Quanderhorn Xperimentations’ is based on a BBC Radio series or, at least so the cover of the book says, though it also claims to have travelled back in time to be written before it occurred and also possibly to be a true story, so who knows what to believe?
There’s echoes of the crazy happenings of Rob Grant’s own ‘Red Dwarf’ series here, along with an inevitable nod to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, but ‘The Quanderhorn Xperimentations’ forges its own wild and chuckle-filled course of absurdity and Britishness.
The year 1952 is now in its 66th incarnation and Brian Nylon awakes in the midst of a New Year’s creature crisis with no memory of who he is or of what on earth is happening. It turns out that having any memory probably would be of no benefit as Professor Quanderhorn and his team, of which Brian is a part, carom from one alien invasion or world-shattering disaster to the next with barely time to take a breath.
Although hailed as a heroic genius, it seems that Quanderhorn’s recklessness may well be the cause of half of mankind’s near-death escapades. The whole thing rattles along apace with no time for the reader to get any kind of grasp on the plot or whether indeed there are any reasons behind anything.
Humour is, of course, rather subjective. I enjoyed a lot of this book and laughed aloud in several places while, at other times, I found the goings-on to be just daft. The parodies of Britishness were fun, with the Martian Guuuurk modelling his speech and mannerisms on Terry-Thomas and Brian Nylon becoming most upset at the suggestion that cricket makes no sense or that queuing is stupid.
Mostly, it seemed that the crazy inventions and endless string of disasters were a means unto themselves rather than part of any meaningful plot. Professor Quanderhorn was oblivious to all but his own genius and the other characters all acted for the most part in accord with a single over-riding characteristic. The entire book takes place over the course of only a few days so there’s not much opportunity for character development, but each individual incident was entertaining enough in its own right.
Towards the end of the book, a cohesion of sorts starts to become evident and some dubious logic ties everything together. The frustration of Brian Nylon having no memory and therefore being unable to give any context to the book is not helped by the other viewpoint characters also making no attempt to offer any explanations in their chapters.
They evidently know more of what is going on, as evidenced by the fact they continually make excuses about there being no time to explain, but, altogether, this just adds to the chaotic feeling that the plot was being strung together as it was written. I suppose this may well be the case if it was adapted from a radio series.
So in the end, I enjoyed the wacky journey through a 1952 that was frozen in time full of stereotypes and crazy retro-futuristic gadgetry. If you enjoy a spot of British daftness and escapism than ‘The Quanderhorn Xperimentation’ will provide you with a light-hearted diversion.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: Gollancz. 464 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-1-473-22402-5)
check out website: www.gollancz.co.uk