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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 27 October 2004
I don't normally write reviews, but I was moved to do so in this case after reading some of the earlier comments. In short, there's nothing at all wrong with this book except that it isn't Red Dwarf. But, you know, we have to accept the fact that nothing else will ever be RD, and move on. A suitable period of mourning has elapsed, I think.

Although Incompetence has a plot, of sorts, it isn't really that important. And maybe the characters are a bit like cardboard cutouts, but that isn't important either. Incompetence is really a vehicle for the author to make jokes about situations that piss him off. Now, if you can identify with these situations, you'll find the book funny. If you can't, you won't. No particular life experience was necessary to be able to appreciate RD. You may, or may not, have enjoyed its particular brand of lavatory humour and insults; but if you didn't, it probably wasn't because you don't have sufficient life skills. But Incomptence only makes sense, I think, if you have a particular mind-set, and have seen a bit of the world. For example, if you don't understand why the idea of a caterer being compelled to employ a waiter with Tourette's syndrome is funny, it won't help if someone explains it to you. Either you get it or you don't.

For my part, I started laughing from the first paragraph, and carried on laughing until the last page. In places I laughed so hard I thought I'd swallow my own eyeballs. At the same time, I can imagine a bunch of RD fans scratching their heads, and complaining that there's only one fart joke in the whole book.

In summary, the humour in this book is more like that in Dilbert than in Red Dwarf. Like Dilbert, the plot and the characters are sketchy. Also, like Dilbert, if you don't understand it, it's because it's about you. :)
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on 6 May 2012
This is a somewhat of a curious book. A kind of futuristic, comic noir. Its strengths are some very well written, clever and genuinely funny scenes. The weaknesses the unevenness and disjointedness of the whole work and the fact that story is pretty much all surface and no depth. Essentially the book consists of a set of linked set pieces framed within a future united Europe that is overly bureaucratic and largely dysfunctional. Everything is subordinate to the gags in the set pieces, which means the characterisation consists of little more than caricature, and the plot is loosely strung together. The story probably would have worked more effectively if the plot and characterisation had come first, and the humour infused into them. I almost stopped reading the book at a couple of points because the narrative was stretched so thin and some of the scenes are below par. I persevered though and was rewarded by some excellent set pieces. Overall, a book that both frustrates and entertains in pretty much equal measure. The truly first class bits though are worth the effort.
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on 11 August 2005
I have been a huge fan of Red Dwarf for many years and so I eagerly waited any further book from Rob Grant or Grant Naylor. This superb book by Rob Grant is in my opinion as good, if not better, then anything he has written for Red Dwarf. The book centres around the misfortune of a secret agent as he tries to save the world while dealing with the incompetence that is everywhere.
This book is so funny I had to read it in one sitting, and had to read it in my bedroom as it was getting annoying for everyone I live with as I was collapsing in fits of laughter every two minutes. If you liked his previous book "Colony", you will love this!!!
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on 27 February 2004
Rob Grant is one of the best comedy writers I have seen, better than Ben Elton in my opinion. His style and humour are brilliant and he would have had me rolling about on the floor in hysterical laughter if it wasn't for all the dog hair.
The book is based on Europe in the not distant enough future, Europe is now known as the United States of Europe and incompetence is a way of life. Political correctness has gone mad and discrimination is not allowed no matter what a persons sex, age, race or incompetence. In fact the worse you do the quicker you will climb the ever so slippery ladder of sucess. This is a bit of a problem for Harry Salt, you see he is actually good at his job - too good! Harry Salt (just one of his many identities but the one he goes by mostly in the book) is an agent working for an establishment mearly known as The Agency. He's abit like a private detective but with a bigger expense account, more authority and the ability to dispose of anyone in his way - okay so not very much like a private detective but he does solve crimes, and a hell of a lot better than the police.
The plot is predictable and the solution even more so, but it is not that that makes the book a worthwile read. It is the journey there and the characters Harry meets along the way that will have you in stitches within minutes.
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on 17 February 2004
If you liked Red Dwarf; think PC has got out of hand, and politicians have lost track of the realities of real word, you will love this.
The story line is thin, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest, because it’s the ideas and descriptions that make this the funniest book I have read for quite some time. Hopefully someone will turn it into a film…
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on 15 July 2006
As a complete non-fan of Red Dwarf I was initially wary of this book but I was soon won over. Although it's a comedy the thriller element works very well and the humour blends in nicely - it doesn't try too hard, which is where a lot of "high concept" comedy falls down. I also liked the central character who's cynical but not so cynical as to be unlikeable. And the mad Italian cop who blows his top at the drop of........well, anything - one of the best characters ever created IMO. I look forward to a sequel.
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on 9 January 2012
Before writing books Rob Grant created the TV show "Red Dwarf" . If you know the show you might got an idea what he comes up with in a book. The story is simple enough.
Under the guise of a federal Europol officer, secret agent Harry Salt investigates a series of suspicious deaths in Rome and Paris, while trying to make contact, and rendezvous, with his colleague, Klingferm. Harry is pursued across the continent by a maniacal Italian police captain with anger management problems, and soon finds himself wanted for a murder that he didn't commit (even though he might have liked to).The interesting bit of Grant's near future Europe is that by law, nobody can get fired from their jobs because they are incompetent . So our protagonist finds himself
in countless embarrassing day to day situations.A pilot with vertigo or Harry trying to order room service made me roll on the floor with laughter.It's the right book for cold , dull , grey winter days.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 November 2006
"Incompetence" is a satirical black comedy set in an extreme near-future world. Rob Grant has taken trends he perceives in modern society, extrapolated them ad absurdum, and had fun seeing how ludicrous he can make the consequences.

The preface to "Incompetence" reads as follows:

"Article 13199 of the Pan European constitution: `No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity at any level by reason of age, race, creed, or incompitence'" (sic). I presume the spelling mistake is deliberate - I wonder if Rob Grant had the same problem I did in preventing the software he was writing in from automatically correcting it !

"Incompetence" is described as "A novel of the far too near future" and is set in a united Europe in which "Non Specific Stupidity" is a registered disability which cannot be used to hold back promotion prospects, waiters have Tourette's syndrome, airline pilots have vertigo, etc. The story is told through the eyes of an undercover agent who is not what he appears to be, on the trail of a mass-murderer who is all too competent.

"Incompetence" works well as humorous entertainment: most of the book could be seen as supporting a political view (e.g. hostility to the European Union and to big government), but anyone who reads it for political reasons may be disappointed, particularly in the ending.

Overall I found this book to be very amusing and highly recommend it.

If you enjoy "Incompetence" because you enjoy funny writing, and not because you agree or disagree with any particular political view which may be satirised within it, then another book which you may also enjoy is "Jennifer Government" by Max Barry. However, the irony is that while these two books came out at the same time and use much the same type of humour, the trends which they extrapolate ad absurdum and the targets they take aim at are diametrically opposite.

It says something about how complex the trends in our society are that Rob Grant in "Incompetence" and Max Barry in his book could use the same technique to satirise opposite trends, and yet both books contain enough truth to be funny. Perhaps it also demonstrates that satire is so universal in its applicability as to be highly effective as a means of entertainment but much less so as a means of putting over a political argument.
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In the all-to-near future, the European Union is well on its way to becoming a single federalised state. Unfortunately, due to the passing of Article 13199 of the Pan-European Constitution ("No person shall be prejudiced from employment in any capacity, at any level, by reason of age, race, creed or incompitence,"), the continent is grinding to a halt. One detective is assigned to track down a dangerous killer, but finds his investigation complicated by blind nightclub bouncers, octogenarian male lap-dancers, priapic train stewards and airline ticket salesmen with attention disorders.

Incompetence, originally published in 2003, was the second original novel by Rob Grant, better-known to many SF fans as the co-creator of Red Dwarf. One of Grant's favourite topics, shown sporadically in Dwarf but reaching a kind of insane art form here, is the sheer, mind-numbingly unbelievable insanity that bureaucracy is capable of. Obviously the EU, with its perchance for fining corner-shop greengrocers who sensibly refuse to use measurements its customers find incomprehensible thousands of pounds for each infringement, is a tempting and irresistible target for his humour.

The result is a book driven by the type of comedic raging fury of the kind that Basil Fawlty would have channeled should he have ever chosen to write a novel (although this would be an admittedly difficult task for a fictional character) about the European Union. Our 'hero' is on the trail of a deadly killer but the case is interrupted by every five minutes by increasingly bizarre and convoluted brushes with EU law or regulations. He hires a car, but in the interval between hiring it in the office and crossing the parking lot to where his hire-car is waiting for him, it's been clamped for being parked in the wrong place. Trying to get on a train takes 22 pages of insane, and at times life-threatening, wrangling. The police attempt to stop a runaway car but can't come up with a way of doing it effectively so end up deploying anti-tank weaponry. And so on.

It's a very, very funny book. The laughs start on the first page and don't stop until the last. And it's not even as if the author is really succeeding at making a serious point about the EU. The situations the main character finds himself in are so insanely over-the-top they will almost certainly never happen, although there's a few that do seem somewhat plausible (like the one about the old guy who is accidentally declared dead and his wife receives a fat cheque from the government, so they decide to keep up the pretense he is dead).

In addition to the non-stop comedy and satire, there are a few nice moments of understated writing as well. There's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment towards the end where our (unnamed, by the way, I haven't just forgotten what his name is) protagonist proves how competent he is, even if the rest of Europe isn't. And to be honest the main, more serious plot is never really given a lot of time to develop, due to the constant misadventures and brushes with bureaucracy along the way.

But that's not too much of a problem. Incompetence (****) is extremely funny from start to finish and constantly entertaining. The book is available now in the UK, but unsurprisingly not in the USA (possibly for fear that Americans would accept it as a serious and well-informed factual book about the EU), although has some import copies available.
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on 18 January 2004
This books is set in the far too near future, when European Law has become far too PC. According to Article 13199 of the Pan-Europen Constition: 'No person shall be prjudiced from employment in any capacity, at any level, by reason of age, race, creed or incompetence.' This isn't the only stupid law that has been passed in the United States of Europe, people are prosecuted for selling the wrong colour of carrot, Shoes are now made of vegetable skins, the list is endless.
The story is told in the first person, and it follows a detective on the trail of a brutally competent killer across Europe.
At times you wonder if the main joke of the story has gone a little too far, but it never got dull or repetitive. There are numerous set pieces through the book which are vaired, somewhat ludicrous but alway funny.
If you like Red Dwarf or Ben Elton I'm sure that you will enjoy this.
As it says on the cover sticker 'As funny as Ben Elton or (your money back - crossed out) our apologies.'
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