Beware The Deadly Robotic Coffee Pot!

You're probably already a fan of British comedian and writer Ben Elton, thanks to his work on shows like Blackadder and The Young Ones. But did you know he's also a kick-ass science fiction novelist?

Elton has written about a dozen novels, in between working on comedy TV shows like Blackadder and musicals like the Queen-themed We Will Rock You. His books are a lot bigger in the U.K. than in the U.S., but you can definitely find them here. They're all outrageous, if somewhat obvious, political satires, with broad caricatures of British social "types," but they're also screamingly funny and crazy. (Often approaching Blackadder at its best.) And they frequently include science fictional storylines.

Beware The Deadly Robotic Coffee Pot!

In particular, I'm a huge fan of his early novels, like Stark, Gridlock and This Other Eden. In Stark, it's the near future and the Earth is being destroyed by earthquakes and other disasters, so a handful of rich people decide to build a fleet of rockets and escape to the Moon, to found a new colony there. In Gridlock, an inventor named Geoffrey invents a cheap, environmentally harmless hydrogen-powered car, and so the car industry decides to have him murdered. (In a zany ironic twist, the novel's climax revolves around all the characters trying to get away but being stuck in a traffic jam.) And in This Other Eden, someone invents a type of biosphere called a "Claustrosphere," which allows air, water and other resources to be recycled endlessly, thus allowing its inhabitants to escape from the environmental devastation of the rest of the Earth.

Probably a lot of people's eyes glaze over when they see the words "political" and "satire," but Elton's writing is genuinely funny and demented. It's full of sentences like, "Old Big Beard was as mad as a man with no head who gets a collection of balaclava helmets for Christmas." (I did mention it was very Blackadder-y, didn't I?)

Some of the funniest parts of Gridlock, in particular, deal with the main character Geoffrey, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Elton goes out of his way to base physical comedy around Geoffrey's disability, which might make you uncomfortable — in which case Elton has succeeded in his goal. A running theme in Gridlock is that Geoffrey is able to hide from the auto-industry execs who want to kill him to suppress his hydrogen-powered motor, because nobody ever paid any attention Geoffrey's private life or thought he was capable of anything much, due to his disability.

Geoffrey is a confrontational disability activist who almost changed his last name from "Peason" to "Spasmo," and who tried to start a wheelchair branch of the Hells Angels. He spends a lot of the book outwitting thugs and occasionally actually killing them using only his wits and an assortment of odd gadgets. In the book's best scene, two guys come to kill Geoffrey at his home, and he kills one of them with a robotic arm he's invented to open wine bottles. (The robotic arm stops right next to the man's rear end, and then the corkscrew shoots inside him and pumps tons of compressed air into his arteries.) And then the second man levels his gun at Geoffrey just as another robotic arm lowers Geoffrey's coffee pot full of steaming hot coffee towards the man's head:

As the man cocked his pistol the coffee pot appeared from behind him and levitated upwards until it hovered above his head. Geoffrey had literally only seconds in which to act, but to his lasting credit, he found the time to be cool. Making a huge effort to gain control of his voice he enquired: "Do you take sugar?"

Without waiting for a reply, Geofrrye again hit the button on his remote, and a pint of boiling coffee descended on Frank. Fortunately, Frank did not fire, instead he screamed in agony and began to hop about. Geoffrey's plan, as far as he had one, was at this point to try to get out the door, praying he would have time to stumble out before Frank recovered sufficiently to kill him. However, as Frank hopped about, fate hopped in beside Geoffrey and offered him an altogether more satisfacotry course of action. Frank's agonized jumps had landed him bang on top of the explosive lifting platform. Geoffrey had intended the platform to be used for purposes such as getting wheelchairs into buses, or the paralyzed into bed, but he had no objection to it being employed to fight murderers. It was the work of a moment for Geoffrey to hit his remote for a third time. There was an explosion and the unfortunate Frank sailed out of the window — following exactly the same trajectory that Geoffrey's suitcase had done on the previous occasion. He landed head-first in a flower bed and broke his neck.

It's pretty much all incredibly silly stuff, and you can cut the political lecturing with a spoon. But Elton's novels also whiz along at a hundred miles per hour, with lots of loopy writing, and they carry you along. Well worth tracking down the omnibus volume of Stark and Gridlock, which should take you an afternoon to read.