Reviewed by Ross Murray
It’s 1895 and with the British Empire having defended and vanquished a Martian invasion ten years previous, Earth has become part of a planetary community including Venus and Jupiter. George Fox and his sideshow freak employer, Professor Coffin need a new attraction because their pickled Martian is about to fall to bits. So when rumours of the wildest attraction in the universe – The Japanese Devil Fish Girl – reach their ears they sell up everything and set off in search, a decision boosted by George having a fortune teller tell him the future of the planets rests upon his shoulders. But the Japanese Devil Fish Girl has significance for the inhabitants of Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, and making her a sideshow attraction could well constitute the biggest blasphemy ever. It could even bring about Worlds War 2.
Having been much impressed and amused with Rankin’s last novel Retromancer I was looking forward to The Japanese Devil Fish Girl with some relish. Unfortunately my expectations may have been too high. The Japanese Devil Fish Girl falls short of Retromancer. For one thing the ‘protagonist’ George Fox, well, doesn’t do too much. In fact as a main character he’s a tad passive. Things just seem to happen to him and considering finding the actual Japanese Devil Fish Girl and the fate of the planets rest on his shoulders I would’ve thought he’s make a bit more of a fist of it. When his boss and sometimes evil-minded, Professor Coffin unwittingly sets in motion Worlds War 2 it all takes place “off-screen”. George isn’t even involved. He’s instead arranging to get married. The story also suffers from not having a really devilish bad guy. While Professor Coffin fills this role somewhat he’s not really evil, just a bit of a scoundrel.
There are a few amusing moments and the writing is trademark Rankin (anyone can see he has a formula and he’s sticking to it). However, missing is the quick- fire repartee and sticky situations presented in Retromancer. I’ve only read two of Rankin’s book so I can’t readily say which of the two is the more common, though I suspect Retromancer is the norm. For the most part The Japanese Devil Fish Girl is enjoyable and an easy, quick read, not at all taxing on the brain. For light entertainment it’s worthwhile though I suspect for even diehard Rankin fans this will be a disappointment.