Tag Archives: humor

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.

Unicorn Being a Jerk

51rt0NUfXwLMy girlfriend got this book for Christmas from her brother, and I read it myself over the course of about five or ten horrified minutes. You see, on the one hand, Unicorn Being a Jerk is an extremely accurate title. On the other hand… every time I thought I had a handle on how big of a jerk Unicorn was, I would turn a page and learn that I was the Jon Snow of this book.

If your reaction to things too horrible to look at is laughter, this is the book for you. If not… at least it’s short and there isn’t a whole lot of text? I suppose if you were kidnapped and forced to read it against your will, you could kill time figuring out the correct timeline of Unicorn’s life and how all the events relate to each other.

But, yeah, it was pretty funny.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

51wAAzcD2uLAs you probably know if you’ve spent much time on the internet over the last five years, there’s a bizarrely drawn website about (mostly) childhood, dogs, and/or mental health called Hyperbole and a Half. What there’s a slight chance you don’t know is that the creator of that site has also released a book compiled partially from what’s already on the internet and partially from new essays.

She’s funny, often relatable, and the book reads quickly. I’m not sure you’ll get a deeper insight into the human condition, although if you’ve never dealt with depression, maybe you would learn something? But people often don’t, if they haven’t seen it themselves, so maybe not. By and large, it’s a humorous essay book, and they all cover the same thematic ground. The specific circumstances of this one? Yep, funny.

I do really wonder about her self-image, though. Her drawings are all on par with each other, rough but good enough that you can tell there’s some real talent going into them. The dogs start out looking like caricatures of bad dog drawings until you realize how well she captures different poses and moods. All of the people look like people, and so forth. Except, her self portrait is of a worm with a blonde sharkfin, wearing a tubesock. This is universally true, every time, even amidst other perfectly normally (but still roughly) drawn people. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, I just… like I said, I cannot help wondering what it means, on the inside. The answer to that question does not, as far as I can tell, reside within this book.

But it’s still worth reading!

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories

Remember that time when you watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and it was funny and poignant even though Felicia Day’s character ended up being wasted? And then nothing else ever happened, since it was a writer’s strike project for fun that didn’t really go anywhere, despite solid DVD sales? And you wished the story could continue? Well, albeit in prequel format, that very thing has occurred! Although perhaps a little pricey for the speed of the read, it was consistently interesting and funny both, and I hope to see more of the same sooner rather than later. The best of a good lot followed the Evil League of Evil’s rampage through the city, while the superheroes were all off on a forest retreat, getting back to nature or something.

If none of the premises in the previous paragraph are valid, I have the show on DVD and will happily watch it with you at any time. You’ll be glad you did!

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.

The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs

The convenient thing about having a friend who owns and is willing to lend out the second Order of the Stick prequel novel is the increased likelihood with which he will own and be willing to lend out the first one. (Signed by the author with a drawing of Belkar, no less! Which, if you knew the guy, Belkar was definitely requested art.) The upshot of which is that I snagged and read it as well. And will return the book no later than Friday, if you happen to see this, Ryan. And, y’know, because of the borrowing, I read it way out of the order I would otherwise employ. Which is cool, as it provided good perspective between the books.

On the Origin of PCs does the same thing as Start of Darkness, except for the good guys. What motivates them? How did they meet? Why are they on the trail of a douchebag lich? The stories are every bit as funny as in the other book and in the comics themselves, but there’s one stark difference between the books that also highlights a difference in the comics. When the PC prequel was written, the comic was a lot more about humor and a lot less about story depth. Which is not to say that the comics have grown less funny, only that the plot has become increasingly more important. But it happened so gradually that, without a comparison point such as between these, highlighting how much better of a story was present in the other book, it would be difficult to see how much the main sequence comic has improved.

Still, though: this one was funny and had nuggets of pretty awesome information that have yet to pay off in the comic itself, years later now. That is pretty good news, if you ask me.

The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness

OOTS99_7in72dpi_RGBdsFirst of all: if you now or have ever played Dungeons and Dragons, why aren’t you reading the Order of the Stick? It’s a long running webcomic that combines humor based on the role-playing game, actual humor, and a globe-spanning epic quest to save or destroy the world, depending upon what character viewpoint any given comic is following. And the art, you will be retrospectively unsurprised to learn, is based around stick figures. So now you know, and you should read it!

But you probably already are, and like me, you probably never got around to buying the prequel graphic novels that are only available in published book form. Luckily for me, I know people who did, and I performed a borrowing of opportunity while at a fireworks show a couple of days ago. Start of Darkness is a quick (if not light) read chronicling the rise of the douchebag lich and the sympathetic but ultimately flawed goblins who follow him in his quest to destroy some gates that will in turn destroy the world. You know how these evil mastermind plans go. The point is, though, the stories here are just as funny, though a bit grimmer than the online version. It is about bad guys, and all. And the stories are definitely as affecting as the online version. (Did I mention that between the humor and the D&Dness of it all, there’s a genuine story here, with emotional highs and lows? My hand to God.)

Plus, secret bonus for long-time readers: Rich finally turns a spotlight on the scary monster that’s always hiding in the dark!

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!