Tag Archives: Discworld

Small Gods

When people talk about Discworld, they say that the first books are uneven (which is true, but not in a way that bothers me) and that if they were to recommend a place for people to start, it would be with Small Gods. I now understand why that is, although I’m not sure how I feel about it for my own recommendations.

Like, on the one hand, this is a brilliant book that puts into words a lot of my thoughts about the institutions of religion and the tug of war they have with the concept of faith. I would happily recommend it to any person who likes social satire and has an open mind. It is a masterpiece of its genre. But on the other hand, it is so thoroughly divorced from the majority of Discworld novels I’ve read so far that it feels strange sending someone here for their first foray into the series. To the extent that it really is the same world, the smaller part falls into using the setting as a keystone for the brilliant satire I mentioned[1], and the larger part is artificially shoehorned in[2]. On the third hand, I have no idea what I would point to instead? Although Mort, or the first Guards book or the second Witches book all seem feasible. Or maybe the very first book, not because it’s first, but because it’s hard to accept any other Rincewind book later when compared to the other options, if you don’t have an attachment to him by starting there. (Also because Nethack.)

Long story short, I’m glad I read this, and I’m sad it took me so long. Learn from my example, if you haven’t read it yet!

[1] The shape of Discworld as religious tenet vs observable fact. The Turtle Moves, y’all.
[2] The ubiquitous food vendor guy really did seem like, no, you guys, look, it’s still Discworld. See? He’s right here, cutting off his own nose!

Witches Abroad

513Bs4HYbmLI seem to be reading more lately? I dunno. House is more unpacked than not, and things that are left to do, I cannot really progress on without outside interference. Either way, I’ve also been reading more of the partial series I have scattered all over the map, instead of new stuff. In a way that’s good, because progress, in a way it’s bad because there’s so many things I still have no idea about even though they’ve been talked about lately. That is the problem of lacking infinite free time, I suppose.

So I read another Pratchett. In Witches Abroad, he studies the nature of fairy tales, mirrors, and family relationships[1]. Mostly the nature of fairy tales, though the characters say it’s the nature of stories. That said, the characters are analogues for the Fates, so any story they’d be in would have fairy tale elements nearly by definition. See, this one fairy godmother (only distinguishable from any other witch, so far as I can tell, by her possession of a magic wand) died prior to handling all her affairs, so she sets the witches from Wyrd Sisters[2] on a quest to wrap things up. So they head off to Genua, which is to say New Orleans, and proceed about their appointed tasks.

I know I’m very near the threshold where these books are basically always of high quality, so it’s nice to be able to say that yep, this one was really quite good, very funny throughout and with the characters who are currently my favorites. Yay, Discworld!

[1] The last one is a bit of a stretch, in that it’s not untrue but also in that most of these books have been about family to some degree, especially if you accept “the family you choose” as fitting the paradigm.
[2] Who I suppose will be henceforth known as the witches in any of the Discworld “witches” books.

Reaper Man

51qK2OscKWLThe odds that you are a) reading this and b) do not know that Sir Terry Pratchett died last month or b’) why that is tragic and relevant are astronomically low. I’d have read the next Discworld book soon regardless, but I read it sooner still because of the tribute factor that seemed necessary. And then I’ve sat on it for a week or more, because… well, this is not a because that can be finished in the back half of a sentence.

I guess the first thing to be aware of is that Reaper Man is about Death. “I know, I know,” the hypothetical you who is reading this review without being aware of the intersection of facts above is thinking, “of course it is, it says so right there in the name that it’s about death.” Well, by coincidence you’re right, and that’s relevant too, but I mean to say that it’s about the personification of the force of death in the universe, who is about to be forcibly retired by whatever it is that audits the universe, for the crime of being a personification instead of an impersonal force as would be good and proper. So, he decides to take a vacation while he still has the accumulated time off to do that, and then everything stops dying, with probably less predictable results than you’d think.

It’s possible that you’ve already spotted what happened to me over this book, but us nodding knowingly at each other across the miles of fibers and routers is not really the stuff of which a good review is made, so I’ll pretend you have not and continue. You see, I’m reading this book, by an author I like and I know many of my friends love, who has recently died, and the book is about death. About not wanting to die, or about living beyond your term and trying to decide how good or bad that news is, about the impact of death on the world, about the impact of no death on the world.

So, you know what happened, right? I was disappointingly, but also inevitably, underwhelmed. How could I not have been?! Perfect storm, right? But it wasn’t just that. See, the book has three completely unrelated stories in it. There’s the Death on holiday thing I already mentioned, and a wizard who has lived on past his appointed time, and a threat to Ankh Morpork (the biggest city on Discworld) that the other wizards must band together to fight. And okay, I technically lied. All of these events are caused and/or affected by each other. But from a story viewpoint, no. They are not intertwined, they barely come together, and the city threat / wizard fight story that does the most to bring them together at all is by far the worst.

Basically, what I figure is, he had two really good story ideas (and they are, both of them, quite good!) that he figured were each too short to hold a book, but since they were related they could be tied together… and then he came up with nothing much of a much at all for how to accomplish that. But some editor incorrectly thought the joining story was funny and/or relevant, and here we are, with the worst tribute review in history.

Sigh.

Guards! Guards!

This is the point at which, if I understand conventional wisdom, the Discworld novels start to become “good”. Also, more incidentally, this is probably the first Discworld book I ever read, far back in the depths of junior high. (All I remembered is the “mllion to one shot” gag, so, it was basically like reading it all over again.) And most incidentally of all, I’m pretty sure it’s the farthest I had read into the series, so everything from here on will be entirely new, cultural zeitgeist notwithstanding. Anyway, that “good” thing, though: as much as I have enjoyed the last several books on their own merits, Guards! Guards! definitely has some barely definable adult quality that the previous books have not had, though some have grasped at it.

In addition to first introducing Ankh-Morpork’s city night watch and its world-weary, heroic-in-spite-of-himself Captain Samuel Vimes, a group character study that could have carried a book with no plot whatsoever, the novel also for the first time superficially grazes the inner political workings of the city at the dark, ulcerated heart of the Disc. It asks and perhaps answers the essential question of whether democracy or monarchy ought best be left to run amok through the lives of a citizenry that barely comprehends either and tends to cheer whichever of the two it has seen least recently. Also, and here is the only point at which it diverges from any standard reality to which you may be accustomed, there is a dragon.

Wyrd Sisters

510tZcYWM+LI’ve just spent some time[1] looking over my past several Discworld reviews. And my memory matched the apparent reality, which is that Wyrd Sisters is definitely the first one that I’ve liked almost without reservation. It is notably the first one since Mort (my previous favorite) that lends itself to thoughtful examination and analysis. Also, it marks the first book to be populated with characters that seemed real and interesting to me right from the start.

The titular witches, who have recently formed a coven at the dreadfully modern urgings of their youngest member, are accidentally embroiled in politics when the infant heir to the throne of Lancre is deposited at their feet by loyalists fleeing from the scene of the king’s recent murder. They immediately deliver the child to a troupe of actors passing by, by way of removing the political odor as quickly as possible, only to discover that the duke who has taken the throne is bent on ruining their lives anyway. At which point, it’s time to get the heir-turned-actor back onto his rightful seat by any means imaginable.

Plus there’s a lot more and a fair bit funnier that I can’t easily shoehorn into a paragraph of plot description. I was definitely moved to laughter aloud now and then. But as I said, the depth was the best draw for me. On the surface, there are glaring parallels with Macbeth, Hamlet, and the actual life of William Shakespeare, all used to the comedic effect for which Pratchett is justifiably famous. But, and speaking as quite a fan of the Bard, the most interesting piece by far was the witches themselves.

I’ve only ever heard ‘wyrd’ in the context of witches and fortune tellers and the like, and I thought I knew that it meant something generally pertaining to that kind of job. To my surprise yesterday, wiktionary defined it as ‘fate’. Which fit very well in that the witches, despite their best efforts, are being forced to take a hand in the destiny of the entire kingdom, if only to maintain their own reasonably comfortable lives. But it fit far better as and pulled sharply together for me what a profound (if unconventional) fit they are for the Fates. Magrat the newly confirmed Wiccan, painfully naive in the ways of the world, eager to be accepted by her sisters, and entangled in a hilarious romantic subplot, is clearly the Maiden. Nanny Ogg can hardly go two sentences without reference to one of her seemingly infinite brood, and she’s as bawdy as they come. And Granny Weatherwax, despite not seeming to be old enough for the role, definitely contains the no-nonsense attitude, certainty of her own superiority in all things, and barely held-back ire that… okay, these qualities are not automatically what I would have expected from the Crone before today, but they work so very well that the urge to say I did is almost overwhelming.

All of which to say this: in addition to being as funny as he’s been yet and providing his best characters yet, this is the book where Pratchett became not just funny, but also very clever in subtly high-brow ways. I don’t think he’s quite where I expect him to be on coherent plotting, but the odds and ends that seemed off to me are partially explicable by the oddness of his world, certainly less glaring than in some previous volumes, and for the most part have already faded from my mind, replaced by everything I was happy about. So they can’t have been as bad as all that.

[1] Okay, not just; more like several hours ago. It’s not like you’d ever find out, or even know the difference. But I could never lie to you, baby, you know that.

Sourcery

It’s been a while, here. Not for lack of reviewing, but my consumption has dropped dramatically, and I have no idea why. Don’t expect it to last. (For one thing, there’s another Horrorfest in November.) There’s no good excuse for the lack of movies, though, and the lack of books is part of the topic at hand, so onward!

After months of failure at finding it used, I gave in to the Amazon gold box and picked up the fifth Terry Pratchett book, Sourcery.[2] Upon cracking it, however, I took forever to read it. I’ve been pondering this for a while, and the best explanation I can come up with is that, well, it wasn’t all that good. I mean, it was frequently giggle-worthy, but I didn’t feel like I was reading a funny book. It wanted very much to be epic, but kept getting tripped up by trying to be funny, or derailed by the introduction of each new non-wizardly character, almost none of whom impressed me over the long term and none of whom seemed to actually accomplish, well, anything. They were funny sometimes, sure, but if they had never appeared again after Rincewind left them, the plot would have been hardly different at all.[1]

All that kvetched, I have gained a solid appreciation for Rincewind himself that was missing before. There was a theme all through here, about being true to yourself and about how badly things will go when you don’t. And it was a good theme, of which Rincewind was the ultimate realization. In addition to which, the more he was onpage, the more epic the plot seemed to be. Like I say: I never really got him before, as anything more than a silly little man who is terrible at magic. But that has all changed, and for much the better. I’m a bit sad that, now I finally appreciate him, he probably won’t be in the next several books.

Still and all, I liked Mort a lot better. But I’m glad that Discworld’s scope is expanding, as that promises to make up for a lot.

[1] Not entirely true, but close enough for the amount of pages they were given to get there.
[2] Interesting note: Before I grabbed the book for the first time, I had no idea what it would be about. Thusly, I had a failure of pronunciation. This is Sourcery as in “source of magic”, not as in “sourpuss sorcerer”. And now you know!

Mort

41Q2E9H3D0LI have purchased more than half of the Discworld books by now, but I haven’t read any in a long while, because of a continued failure to find the actual next one. Then, last month, I finally did, which means books and books stretch before me before I need to have found the next missing link. Which is nice. I like it when little stresses disappear. I mean, it shouldn’t be a stressor at all, except that I wanted to read the books. So, then.

Also good is the book itself, Mort. For one thing, it is unquestionably funnier than its predecessors, relying a lot more heavily on situational humor rather than bits of random oddness. The random oddness is there, as it should be; it just isn’t the centerpiece. Also and perhaps due to the same root cause, the story is a bit deeper than at least the first two, if not necessarily Equal Rites. In Mort, our titular hero takes a most unusual apprenticeship and learns that even the least common of jobs can have their ups and downs.

Okay, that was trite even for cover-copy, much less a review. It’s like this. Death (the anthropomorphic personification, thin fellow, carries a scythe) opts to take on an apprentice, pass on the trade as it were. Mort learns the importance of the job that might one day be his, Death learns the importance of a vacation, and the reader learns, at excruciating repetition, the way that light and dark work on the Disc. But really, other than that (which I’m sensitive to after the last Anita Blake book), this was a fun, breezy book. The breeziest examination of causality and predestination I’ve ever read, in fact.

Equal Rites

61qUrH54OmLAnother week, another Pratchett. Although I expect that ratio to drop off a bit now. This time, Equal Rites, the story of a young girl trying to make her way in the world as a wizard. Which should be no problem, except for how only men can be wizards. (And suddenly, the title makes all kinds of sense.)

Here’s the thing. I know these are funny. I’ve read at least three of them, even before this latest spate. And the common knowledge is that ER is substantially better than even The Light Fantastic, but I found that they were mostly equivalent. Well, for the humor value, at least. ER had the better story, but it was a little too obvious for me, I guess.

Except, that’s not it either, exactly. It was more travelogue than battle of the sexes. So I guess part of my complaint is that it failed to meet expectations, and then once they got to the part I was expecting, it seemed rushed and simple. After a fairly contrived ‘nobody else could have accomplished this!’ moment that seemed to have nothing to do with gender, suddenly girls are allowed. Maybe I just didn’t get it.

Disclaimer: Still very enjoyable light reading. I think it suffered from inflated expectations more than any other single problem. I’m ready for the series to be as funny as I remember, though, and am starting to fear it’s the age difference. (That part probably shouldn’t have been in the disclaimer, but I’ve been trying to get this written for almost a day, and I’d rather be done than clear or concise.)

The Light Fantastic

5123VpObYZLJust as I predicted, The Light Fantastic removes most of the complaints I had about The Colour of Magic. Despite being published three years apart, it’s clear that these are one book split in half. Which is nice for me; I’d intended to read something else in between, but there was an unfortunate circumstance whereby I got called away on my weekend suddenly and forgot to grab a new book to read. Luckily, tLF was still in my trunk from when I borrowed it, though.

So, over the past five days, I’ve gone through that at a pretty quick pace. (Quick for me, anyway.) In addition to making up for the abruptness of the previous book, it’s also much more internally coherent and rather a lot more funny as well. Pratchett certainly improved between the two books. Not only that, but the lead characters became less inscrutable (Twoflower) and more likeable (Rincewind). On the whole, then, this was the perfect fluff book to read while hanging about in hospital rooms. I look forward to more of them.

The Colour of Magic

516nJNmb2xLWeird. I’ve read a few Discworld books, mostly in high school, and I’m quite sure that one of them included Rincewind and the Luggage. But it wasn’t this book, and it doesn’t seem to be the next one either. So I’m a little puzzled on that score, but it’s okay. For one thing, this is brand new, completely uninfluenced by my memory, so that’s good, I guess.

Unfortunately, I can’t really add anything that’s not already been said on the topic. It was amusing, but not nearly as funny as I remember Pratchett being. Rincewind is a barely sympathetic character, the Luggage is more menace than lark, and Twoflower is okay, but he’s written as too mysterious to really get into him.

The plot was fine, but great sweeping swathes of it were missing for no clear reason and it ended with essentially no resolution. The Light Fantastic appears to be a direct sequel, and perhaps he already knew he was writing it when The Colour of Magic came out, but it was a bit jarring of my expectations since I know that these are traditionally stand-alone.

Mostly I’ve complained, so I will say that I got the occasional laugh and never regretted the time I was spending reading it. Plus! Now I understand the Tourist from nethack, so that was worth the price of admission.