The Institute of Fantastical Inventions: Book One (Dave Leys, illus by Shane Ogilvie, Harbour Publishing)
Brilliant super-scientist Leo McGuffin works at the Institute of Fantastical Inventions, a laboratory that delivers creative, high-concept solutions to realising people’s fantasies. Be it a desire to fly, play underwater golf, or know how it feels to be eaten alive, no fantasy is too outlandish. But when spies steal all the institute’s designs, its very existence is threatened. Leys’ debut, an exuberantly silly melange of Doctor Who and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, glides effortlessly between its many disparate episodes. If the connective tissue seems occasionally flimsy—readers may find themselves wondering, how did we get here again?—it’s easily forgotten considering the book’s gleeful inventiveness. The institute’s many creations are great fun: for example, public transport force-fields that penalise the act of manspreading. These creations are introduced to readers thick and fast, in a flurry of lame puns and alliterative nonsense. For all the creativity and imagination on display, however, the novel could have included more female characters. This is a narrative driven almost entirely by irksomely rationalist dudes and boys. It’s a disappointment but, in all other ways, the novel is an absolute treat. Consider it as a reworking of Douglas Adams’ sci-fi tales, written for fans of David Walliams’ humour and kooky characters.
Phil Lesnie is an illustrator and bookseller at Kinokuniya, Sydney