I, Robert is not so much an autobiography but rather a series of loosely connected anecdotes which when read as a whole coalesce into an autobiography. It is by no means in true chronological order, apart from the second half of which more later, but rather a series of chapters, each just a handful of pages long, which deal with one or more aspects of his life. The title is of course based on the Isaac Asimov short story I Robot and the cover picture shows Rankin as Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet so you get two puns for the price of one which is very much in Rankin’s style. I have read a lot of Robert Rankin’s works in the last two or three years and have even reviewed his first book ‘The Antipope’ on this blog back in April 2019. Reading my way through Rankin’s books was the perfect antidote to sitting at home during the coronavirus lock downs, I own a shop so my business was closed down by the government for long periods of time, his humour largely helped to keep me going so I was really looking forward to reading this book and I wasn’t disappointed.
I, Robert was self published as a limited edition in 2015 and at the time of writing he still hasn’t sold out of the 5000 copies that were printed so if you are interested it can be found here.
The second half of the book is a series of chapters each about some aspect of one of his books in chronological order. Here he tells stories about how the books came to be written, problems with publishers and who the various characters in his books were actually based on. Rankin himself is apparently Jim Pooley, a long standing character from the Brentford series of books that is about to reach its twelfth (and apparently final) volume with Normanghast. In total thirty four books are discussed in some depth written between 1981 (The Antipope) and 2012 (The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the World). There is also a section at the end where he discusses losing his contract with Orion and deciding to self publish, which is what he exclusively does now, and also the final ‘contractual obligation’ book when Orion realised that right at the beginning of his contract with them he had been paid for three books but only written two. This was actually by agreement with his editor at the time but she had moved on and they wanted their pound of flesh so in 2013 his final mainstream published work (The Chickens of Atlantis and Other Foul and Filthy Fiends) came out, it’s not bad but not one of his better works.
There are also tales of misidentification in the book including spending a remarkably quiet three week signing tour in New Zealand because they had booked the crime writer Ian Rankin but the publishers had sent Robert leading to all publicity about the tour being hurriedly removed at the book shops he was going to and hardly anyone turning up. Some time later the two writers met and Robert told him about his lovely all expenses paid holiday with his wife and apparently Ian Rankin was not amused. This leads to the final page of the first half of the book which I will just leave here as it is pretty well explanatory apart from knowing that the picture on the left is the Marquess of Bath whilst Robert Rankin is on the right.