Incompetence by Rob Grant is funny. In case you didn’t know, Rob Grant was one of the writers of Red Dwarf and I suspect he was the one who wrote most of the jokes.
Incompetence is set in the United States of Europe in the not too distant future. A detective for a secret organisation who goes by the name Harry Salt (among others) is trying to track down whomever it was that killed another member of his team. He is hindered somewhat by the fact that in the future United Europe no-one can be discriminated against for gender, race, weight, age, etc but in particular they can’t be discriminated against for being utterly incompetent.
That is the entire plot and there are very few surprises. It really doesn’t matter though because Incompetence is all about the jokes. Because of the incompetence law pretty much everyone he meets is utterly useless at their jobs. This is the main theme and the constantly recurring joke throughout the novel. There are waiters with Tourette’s syndrome, stupid or unbelievably angry policemen, petty minded station guards, and so on. The characters he meets provide the humour throughout the book. At times they can verge on slightly tiresome but that is forgiven as Incompetence is consistently amusing and has some superb set pieces and situations.
There isn’t really a lot of Science Fiction in it – the premise is there to basically tell gags and rant against stupid rulings coming out of Europe. Consequently, the humour is quite British. There are some good moments which couldn’t quite happen right now. For example, even though you can’t be discriminated against for incompetence, you can be busted for pretty much anything and held in a holding cell. With the constant stream of ludicrous laws coming out Brussels this is causing a lot of arrests. At one point our hero gets arrested and is taken to the temporary holding cells. These are vast rooms with plastic partitions. He is then led down a staircase and there’s another series of colossal cells. He then descends further and further with each floor being identical and full. Finally 20+ floors down he is put in a cell. In the corner there is a digging crew that works 24 hours a day tunneling downwards to create more cell space. Again this isn’t giving much away. The humour and enjoyment of this scene is a character he meets in the cell.
There are a few more ideas like this but nothing really new. The plot, as stated is pretty basic. What makes Incompetence a good read is the fact that it will make you laugh. If you aren’t expecting much but simply want a fun, easy to read, fast-paced, mock-noir, holiday type book then I can highly recommend Incompetence.