When Stephen Clarke couldn't get his first three books into print, he self-published them under pseudonyms through a fictional publishing house, Red Garage Books. One, A Year in the Merde, became very successful, and now its stablemate, A Brief History of the Future, is published in paperback by Black Swan. It's a comic science-fiction novel involving the invention of a teleportation machine, gangsters, the Pentagon, a female ex-punk prime minster and the ancestry of Captain James Kirk. I salute Clarke's chutzpah and enterprise, but I have to say that the publishers who rejected it had some reason. It's tame and predictable, with stock characters and without any real tension, and the determinedly facetious style quickly palls.