Jump to content

DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY
Sign in to follow this  
Werthead

Book Review: The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett

Recommended Posts

So begins my attempt to reread all of the Discworld books to date (apart from MAKING MONEY, which I read fairly recently, and the YA books, which I haven't read before).

 

The Colour of Magic

 

Ankh-Morpork is the greatest city on the Discworld - a flat planet carried through space on the back of four elephants standing astride a giant turtle - and has seen fire, flood, famine and even the odd barbarian invasion during its long history, but even it is unprepared for the arrival of a much more devastating threat: tourism. Twoflower is the first visitor to the city from the distant Agatean Empire, and is happy wandering around taking 'pictures' of the 'sights' with his magic box and soaking up the 'authentic' atmosphere. This behaviour in Ankh-Morpork would normally result in him having the lifespan of a mayfly confronted by a supernova, but luckily the wizard Rincewind has kindly 'volunteered' to be his guide and protector in return for not having his extremities removed by the city's Patrician, who is anxious to avoid insulting a foreign power with an army in the millions.

 

Unfortunately, Twoflower's attempts to introduce the concept of fire insurance to the hardy and creative business-owners of Ankh-Morpork results in an enforced flight from the burning metropolis and the beginning of a long and very strange journey across the Disc, taking in dragons, spaceships and the fabled temple of Bel-Shamharoth along the way. All the while the only spell that has ever managed to lodge itself in Rincewind's mind is very keen to get itself said, which could be a very bad idea indeed...

 

Published in 1983, The Colour of Magic was the fourth novel by Terry Pratchett. His debut book, The Carpet People (1971), had been a modest success, but The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) had both been remaindered and it looked possible that this might be Pratchett's last published novel unless it took off in a big way. It didn't look too original either, being a fantasy rewrite of Strata (which saw a spaceship from Earth discover a mysteriously flat planet and investigate it). Of course, it was a big success, buoyed by good reviews, and became an eventual bestseller. Pratchett wrote a direct sequel, The Light Fantastic, and then more books set in the same world with different casts of characters. As of this time of writing the Discworld series consists of thirty-six novels with the thirty-seventh due in a couple of months and Pratchett is the world's biggest-selling living fantasy author after J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. Not bad for such humble beginnings.

 

The Colour of Magic, as the first book in the series, of course shows the Discworld in a far more embryonic state than later books. The subtler, satirical streak that develops over the first half-dozen books or so is also missing. Instead, the novel is a much broader and somewhat more obvious pastiche of swords 'n' sorcery. The targets that Pratchett goes after are interesting as Rincewind and Twoflower encounter cultures and monsters that Lovecraft, Howard and Leiber would have found quite familiar.

 

For all its distance from the later Discworld books, The Colour of Magic is still an entertaining and funny book. Pratchett's previous two novels had funny elements, but had broadly been trying to be more serious, 'proper' SF books. The Colour of Magic is clearly written with more confidence and in a more relaxed style. Even today it still raises a smile, possibly as some of Pratchett's targets have come back into vogue (the Cthulu-esque section resonates a bit more these days, especially), and taken on its own merits the book is solidly entertaining. Pratchett's characterisation still needs some work and his interpretations here of Death and the Patrician are notably different from the later books, but it was from this seed that the author began his ascent to becoming one of the dominating forces of modern fantasy, and it still holds up.

 

The Colour of Magic (***) is a bit old-school, but still amusing and entertaining, much faster-paced than his later work but at the same time lacking some of the subtlety and intelligence of other books in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA. Sky One broadcast a television adaption of the book and its sequel, The Light Fantastic, last year, which is now available on DVD in the UK and USA and on Blu-Ray in the UK.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I actually just started into the discworld books for the first time, I've read the Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and earlier today finished Equal Rites. Next up is Mort, I'm quite enjoying the books thusfar.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Light Fantastic

 

At the Unseen University, the wizards are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a blood-red star in the sky, which is getting slowly bigger. With the people 'concerned', the wizards mount an investigation and learn that all eight of the Great Spells must be united to save the Disc from a flaming death. Unfortunately, one of the spells is lodged in the head of the spectacularly inept wizard Rincewind, who was last seen plummeting to his doom...

 

The Light Fantastic picks up after the end of The Colour of Magic and is the only direct continuation of a storyline in the entire Discworld series, resolving the cliffhanger from the ending of the first book. The resolution to that cliffhanger is slightly disappointing, to be honest, but given that Pratchett's goal here was to get the story moving again as fast possible, it's not too much of an issue. After that it's pretty much business as usual from the first book, with Rincewind and Twoflower's travelling around the Disc as they meet various eccentric people, almost die, have various misadventures and almost die. You know the drill.

 

The storyline is a bit more focused this time. Whilst the first book was divided into four smaller chunks, The Light Fantastic is one big story (starting Pratchett's habit of refusing to use chapters) which flows quite well. As with the first book, Pratchett's targets here remain common fantasy tropes, with perhaps a bit more of a focus on taking the mickey out of fairy tales. Again, it lacks the subtlety of the later books and the humour is fairly broad, but again it's fairly entertaining. Pratchett also starts laying the foundation of the Discworld mythology here, with the first appearances of Cohen the Barbarian, the Librarian, Ysabel and the Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse. Events build to one of the most memorable conclusions in the series' history, a widescreen epic of a finale which I suspect Pratchett created just in case the success of the first book was a fluke and the series was not going to continue. Obviously it was a big success, and the rest is history.

 

The Light Fantastic (***) is a satisfying sequel to The Colour of Magic and remains fast-paced, funny and entertaining. It's still fairly obvious in places, however, and lacks much of the depth the later books bring to the world. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seems interesting. I rarely read books simply for humor, but I might pick up Pratchett's works. A love Brit humor (Manchild (still can't believe it was so short), Coupling, Office), and I want to read something more lighthearted.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Equal Rites

 

The Unseen University, the centre of magical learning on the Discworld, a building whose endless rooftops make Gormenghast look like a toolshed on a railway allotment and whose faculty are the guardians of magic for the whole world. Of course, wizards are renowned for being incredibly intelligent but not very smart, and when Drum Billet realises his time is almost up he decides to pass on his staff to the eighth son of a poor blacksmith, himself an eighth son. Unfortunately, he neglects to check the baby's gender first...

 

Nine years later, Eskarina is a happy and normal nine-year-old child, happily terrorising her older brothers and learning the ways of the world. Local witch Granny Weatherwax is less happy about the magical staff left to her by the wizard. When Esk's burgeoning magical powers threaten to cause chaos, Granny realises she has to get Esk enrolled at Unseen University, which given that the university specifically prohibits women from joining (on the grounds they'd probably be too good at magic) could be rather problematic.

 

Equal Rites sees Terry Pratchett setting out his vision of what the Discworld series is going to be. No previous characters from the first two books turn up (with one orange-furred and banana-stained exception), and there isn't even any mention of those events. Instead we have new characters having new adventures. Pratchett also starts to use his creation to address real-world concerns here, in this case feminism. He doesn't go too overboard and the humour remains fairly broad, but you can almost sense the author thinking that maybe the funny planet with the turtle and elephants can be used for something more interesting than just poking fun at Lovecraft and Conan, amusing as that may be. Unfortunately, this idea falters a bit since Esk's story is meant to make Unseen University a co-ed establishment, bringing in female wizards and making it more equal. As later books show, none of this happens, Esk is never mentioned again and UU remains a male-only establishment in the latest novels, twenty-odd years after Esk's time. Given how well Pratchett develops his world, this lack of evolution is disappointing and seems to contradict the book's pro-feminist theme.

 

It's also the first appearance of Granny Weatherwax, one of his most iconic characters. She's a mere embryonic shadow of her later self here, but already some of the character's more intriguing traits are developing. We also continue to get through the revolving door of Unseen University Archchancellors with Cutangle becoming an interesting character as the story develops. As usual with these earlier books there are some weaknesses, most notably that Pratchett is re-using the idea that the fate of the whole Disc is at stake as creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions attempt to break through the fabric of reality, which he uses rather a lot in these first dozen or so books.

 

Equal Rites (***) is another funny and fast-paced read, but you can start to see Pratchett developing some more sophisticated ideas of what he can use the Discworld series for. The book suffers from being somewhat slight and insignificant (aside from Granny Weatherwax's first appearance, the events of the book have next to no impact on the wider world and series) but is still moderately entertaining. However, from the next book Pratchett is starting to roll out much bigger and more intriguing guns.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mort

 

Young Mort is unsuited to follow in his father's footsteps, so is put up to apprentice in another trade. Unexpectedly, Death himself decides to train up Mort as a neophyte Grim Reaper so he can have a few days off. After all, what could go wrong? Well, as it turns out...

 

Mort was the point that a lot of people started taking more notice of the Discworld series. Smaller in scale than the first three books, Mort features Death as a main character and some thoughts and meditations on the nature of death and what may (or may not) come after. This is Pratchett in a more thoughtful mood, but he doesn't neglect the comedy. There are quite a few funny moments and passages, and we meet some more soon-to-be-iconic Discworld characters like Albert as well. But it's the serious thinking about life and the place of people within it that makes Mort stand out a little bit more than some of the other early books. Pratchett is also quite disciplined here, with a focused and tight plot that doesn't ramble like some of his other novels (which is sometimes entertaining, sometimes not), and this works quite well.

 

Mort is also interesting as the Discworld book that has been optioned several times as a big-budget Hollywood movie, but Hollywood has so far been unable to make it as they decided they wanted to remove Death from the book as his presence would be too much of a downer for American audiences to handle. Unsurprisingly and possibly thankfully, the film has never been made.

 

Mort (***½) is a step-up in quality from the first three books, with Pratchett stretching his author's muscles and discovering some new and interesting tools in his writing box. The next phase of the Discworld series, a more solidly entertaining and interesting series of works leading up to the series' first undisputed classics, begins here. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, mort was great. It was the book that made me realize that this series might last longer then I thought it would. as for Equal Rites, I consider it discontinuity since it seem unlikely that Granny Weatherwax would know less than the wizards about magic, considering what we seen her do in later books

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sourcery

 

There was an eighth son of an eighth son who was, naturally, a wizard. But, for reasons too complicated to get into now, he also had seven sons. And then another one: a source of magic, a sourcerer. The Discworld hasn't seen a sourcerer for thousands of years, since the Mage Wars almost destroyed the world and caused an awful racket which annoyed the gods. Soon enough the re-energised wizards of the Disc are engaged in all-out warfare and the Apocralypse draws nigh (provided the Four Horsemen can get out of the pub in time). It falls to a wizard who doesn't know any spells, a box with lots of little legs, a mighty barbarian warrior of three days' experience, a timeshare genie and a homicidal hairdresser to save the day.

 

Sourcery sees the return of Rincewind and the Luggage as the Disc faces its greatest threat so far. Whilst previous books seemed to have end-of-the-world plots tacked on, this one embraces the concept to the fullest and is probably as 'epic' as the series ever gets. Fortunately, Pratchett seemed to get the end-of-the-world-is-nigh story out of his system with this book and whilst dire consequences would still abound in later books, things would never quite get as huge as this again.

 

Still, Pratchett has fun with the concept. Deep in the heart of every fantasy author is the burning desire to unleash a story with magical duels, vast magical towers exploding, evil grand viziers twirling their moustaches and unreconstructed, mighty-thewed barbarian warriors smiting legions of disposable extras with a broadsword so huge that it had to be forged from a gantry. There's some nice typically Pratchett twists on the concept though, and the humour is well-constructed throughout, particularly involving the Librarian who gets one of his biggest starring roles in the series. However, there are only a few new introductions to the Discworld mythos here, most notably Wuffles (an elderly dog).

 

As entertaining as it is, Sourcery is also a little bit obvious as a story, and as with Equal Rites it does feel that this story should have had much more long-lasting ramifications for the history of the Disc, even moreso given the epic scale of the novel. These problems can be borne for the strong characters, entertaining humour and the unexpectedly sad ending (which remains effective even when you know what happens in later books, particularly Eric).

 

Sourcery (***½) is a strong comic novel which showcases Pratchett's growing confidence and ability. It is available in the UK and USA right now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wyrd Sisters

 

The King of Lancre has died of natural causes. As everyone knows, it is very normal and even traditional for a king to die from a stab wound to the back followed by a swift plummet down a steep staircase. As is also traditional, the king's heir and his crown have mysteriously disappeared and it's no doubt only a matter of time before he grows up and returns to reclaim his birthright etc etc. Some things are Traditional. Unfortunately, the new king and his scheming wife aren't hot followers of Tradition and as a reign of terror falls on Lancre, it falls to three local witches (and a psychotic cat called Greebo) to take a hand in events...

 

Wyrd Sisters sees Pratchett stepping up to the plate a bit more. Whilst the improvements in his writing skills have been clear and steady over the first five Discworld books, it was with this one that he really hit his stride, balancing moments of drama, comedy and even romance (of the awkward, stuttering kind) very nicely. The story is wholly unoriginal, being essentially a Discworld cover version of MacBeth (with a bit of Hamlet thrown in as well, not to mention too many clever references to performers from the Marx Brothers to Charlie Chaplin), but Pratchett doesn't worry about that and instead just revels in the sheer joy of writing here.

 

The town of Lancre and its somewhat crazy collection of inhabitants is vividly described, and the three witches (Granny Weatherwax, returning from Equal Rites, and newcomers Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick) are among Pratchett's better-written creations, but what makes Wyrd Sisters work is its thematic underpinning. Pratchett had previously toyed with using the Discworld setting to explore various real-life ideas and here addresses the idea of propaganda, the notion that the winners decide what history is and the general power of the written and spoken word, which can sometimes override reality and the truth. Pratchett doesn't harp on about it at tedious length (as he does in some of the weaker books in the series) but uses this theme and idea to inform the action and story, and pulls it off very well, if not quite as well as in the very best books in the series (some of which are coming up quite soon).

 

Wyrd Sisters (****) is a funny and smart book that sees Pratchett's writing skills stepping up a notch. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sourcery

 

There was an eighth son of an eighth son who was, naturally, a wizard. But, for reasons too complicated to get into now, he also had seven sons. And then another one: a source of magic, a sourcerer. The Discworld hasn't seen a sourcerer for thousands of years, since the Mage Wars almost destroyed the world and caused an awful racket which annoyed the gods. Soon enough the re-energised wizards of the Disc are engaged in all-out warfare and the Apocralypse draws nigh (provided the Four Horsemen can get out of the pub in time). It falls to a wizard who doesn't know any spells, a box with lots of little legs, a mighty barbarian warrior of three days' experience, a timeshare genie and a homicidal hairdresser to save the day.

 

Sourcery sees the return of Rincewind and the Luggage as the Disc faces its greatest threat so far. Whilst previous books seemed to have end-of-the-world plots tacked on, this one embraces the concept to the fullest and is probably as 'epic' as the series ever gets. Fortunately, Pratchett seemed to get the end-of-the-world-is-nigh story out of his system with this book and whilst dire consequences would still abound in later books, things would never quite get as huge as this again.

 

Thief of Time?  (The glass clock of Bad Schuschein, part of the auditors' plot to stop time and end existence, along with the return of the Horsemen?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pyramids

 

Young Prince Teppic is sent forth by his father, the ruler of the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, who sends him to Ankh-Morpork to join the Assassin's Guild. Teppic is successful in his studies there, but, seven years later, the death of his father sees him recalled to take up the mantle of pharoah.

 

Unfortunately for all concerned, Teppic comes home with some strange notions about plumbing and the benefits of feather mattresses, which is not good news to the head priest, Dios, who prides himself on how things are run in the kingdom precisely as they were seven thousand years ago. New ideas are not welcome in the Old Kingdom...

 

Pyramids (subtitled 'The Book of Going Forth'), the seventh Discworld book, is one of several 'sleeper' hits in the series. Much more attention is lavished on the book preceding it, Wyrd Sisters, for introducing the popular characters of the Witches, whilst the succeeding volume, Guards! Guards!, gets a lot of props for introducing the City Watch and also for being one of the best books in the series. Pyramids by contrast tends to slip beneath the radar, which is a shame as it is a very good book indeed.

 

It's a stand-alone with not too many continuing story elements, but it works well for that. Rather than simply doing a story about someone with new, radical ideas turning up that the priesthood gets annoyed by, Pratchett throws in some excellent mickey-taking of philosophers and also some nice commentary about SF. Around the time Pyramids came out a lot of 'approachable' SF had been discarded in favour of brain-expanding stories about time travel and non-linear space or something, and Pratchett's constant use of "It's probably quantum!" to explain every single possible plot hole in the novel is a nice bit of satire.

 

Teppic makes for an engaging protagonist, although he's one of Pratchett's more familiar archetypes (a general do-gooder whose attempts to do good go wrong but he sorts it all out in the end). Dios is one of the series' more interesting protagonists, and the various pyramid-builders and embalmers make for an amusing secondary cast as well. On the minus side, the book's humour is a little bit too obvious in places (there's a few obvious Cleopatra jokes and the employment of mummies for comedic purposes), but there's still a few good belly-laughs in there as well. The theme of the book also seems a bit vague, except that ossification should be avoided by embracing new ideas, which is a bit of a no-brainer.

 

Pyramids (****) is a solid entry to the Discworld series, funny and entertaining throughout. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My favourite scene from Pyramids is when we are told that in each conflict, generals learn from what was done in the last one. So both sides get to work. Then we see a soldier in one of the wooden horses that one side has just made get out, and he looks across the battlefield to see...the enemies wooden horses, lined up and waiting to be dragged into a city. Hilarious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Guards! Guards!

 

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is not a happy man. He has a thankless job, a bunch of incompetent subordinates and he doesn't get no respect or, more accurately, actually gets no respect. The arrival of a fresh, eager-eyed new recruit (a six-foot-tall dwarf named Carrot - long story) whose relaxed and literal approach to policing (such arresting the head of the Thieves' Guild for being a thief) is another headache for Vimes to deal with. At the same time, the Unseen University Librarian is upset over the theft of a book that could be used to summon dragons and, in an almost certainly unrelated incident, people over the city are vanishing, leaving behind only fine traces of ash and scorched brickwork. Yes, things are definitely afoot...

 

Guards! Guards! is Terry Pratchett's tribute to detective novels and all those hapless extras dressed in chainmail who's only job in films is to run into the grand hall and get cut down by the hero. No-one ever seems to ask them if they want to or not. Oh yeah, and possibly dissatisfied with the imaginary dragons of The Colour of Magic, Pratchett cuts loose here with the real deal, a fire-breathing behemoth of a creature who is permanently in a bad mood. The book's real success is bringing the great city of Ankh-Morpork to life as never before seen in the series, giving the city a real sense of life (and frequent, screaming death) and community. In various polls over the years, Ankh-Morpork usually tops out as the most detailed and convincing fantasy city ever created, and Guards! Guards! is really where the city starts getting its character and identity.

 

On the cast side of things, a whole slew of major Discworld characters are introduced, most notably the complex Captain Vimes (almost certainly Pratchett's most fully-realised character), Nobby Nobbs (the missing link between man and rat), Sergeant Colon, recruit Carrot, the formidable Lady Ramkin, Detritus the troll and, of course, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, purveyor of dubious sausage-in-a-bun products to crowds and/or rioters. Established characters like the Patrician also get a lot more screen-time and characterisation than previously established, and the revelation of how the Patrician ensures he can survive any palace coup launched against him is simultaneously hilarious and deeply disturbing. Despite temporal evidence to the contrary, I am convinced Machiavelli was one of the Patrician's students who didn't quite measure up.

 

Pratchett's writing takes another significant upward swing with this volume, exuding a greater level of confidence than ever before. He's funny when he wants to be, dramatic when he needs to be, even touching when it is required. The story threads are laid out, developed and then resolved with impressive efficiency and maximum impact. The way the last few paragraphs hilariously resolve very minor story points from a hundred pages previously is very clever. Particularly nicely done are Carrot's letters back home. Read them one after the other and you can see how his attitude to the Big City changes over the course of the book in a very well-done manner.

 

Guards! Guards! (*****) is not the best Discworld book, but it's certainly right up there. Funny, dramatic and just brilliantly entertaining from start to finish. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Guards! Guards! = One of my favorites. Followed by Thud! and Reaper Man.

 

Great writing and great characters. Each character has a voice and story. It is a fully realized environment rarely achieved in Fantasy worlds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eric

 

Eric is a demonology hacker who is trying to summon a demon to answer his worldly desires. Unfortunately, due to a slight malfunction, the demon he summons turns out to be a wizard called Rincewind. To Rincewind's own bemusement, he ends up helping Eric achieve his goals, but wasn't reckoning on the side-trips to a remote jungle kingdom, the greatest war in history, the dawn of time and hell...

 

Eric is a bit of an oddball Discworld novel. Although listed as the ninth book in the overall series, it's not published by Corgi but by Gollancz instead, with a different cover design as well. It's also the shortest book in the series by far, coming in at 150 pages. The explanation is rather straightforward: it was originally a large-format illustrated book written by Pratchett primarily as a vehicle for the late Josh Kirby's artwork. As a result the story had to be streamlined and more of a travelogue of various locations rather than having a deep and complex narrative. In fact, it's reminiscent of the later book, The Last Hero, with the difference that Last Hero has been kept in print as an illustrated book rather than becoming a 'proper' novel.

 

Shorn of its illustrations, Eric is a rather simplistic and lightweight tale. It does some good stuff, like resolving Rincewind's cliffhanger ending from Sourcery (although leaving him on another one here), and there are a few good laughs, but it's all rather shallow, to be honest. Pratchett's depiction of Hell here seems to be at odds with the rest of the Discworld multiverse and although it becoming a bureaucratic, middle-manager's paradise is a funny idea, he doesn't really have the space or time to go into it in much depth. Essentially the book is an excuse for a bunch of obvious gags and filling in a few more locations on the Discworld not previously seen.

 

For all that, it raises the odd smile and, more interestingly, I have been informed by Gollancz that they are planning to reprint the fully-illustrated edition in the future, which should be worth checking out.

 

For now, Eric (***) is a very fast, briefly entertaining diversion from the main Discworld sequence. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Moving Pictures

 

The Guild of Alchemists have created a new form of entertainment - moving pictures! Soon Ankh-Morpork is gripped by this latest craze and everyone's trying to break into the business as more and more 'clicks' are made out at Holy Wood. The speed with which the phenomenon spreads is quite strange and soon reluctant actors Victor Tugelbend ("Can't sing, can't dance, can handle a sword a little,") and Theda Withel (aka 'Ginger') are caught up in epic events set against the backdrop of a world gone mad! With a thousand elephants! Once the order arrives, of course...

 

Moving Pictures is a bit of a 'fallback' Discworld novel. That is, whilst still entertaining, funny and enjoyable, there's also the feeling that Pratchett simply came up with a cool idea and let it meander around for a bit aimlessly rather than being really fired-up and inspired by the concept. His taking of a real-life phenomenon and turning it into a Discworld novel is a pretty consistent way generating stories throughout the series (he also does Discworld takes on the theatre, the post office, rock music, organised banking, Christmas, war and newspapers in future books, with football and taxation still to come), but it does feel like he hasn't put much more effort into the book than what he did with, say, police procedurals in Guards! Guards!

 

Of course, Pratchett on an off day is still considerably more entertaining than a lot of fantasy authors at their best, so Moving Pictures is still a decent novel. Pratchett is clearly a big movie fan and it's fun trying to find all the references to various films in this book, from Gone with the Wind and Charlie Chaplin through Laurel and Hardy to The Blues Brothers and Back to the Future, not to mention a particularly hilarious inversion of King Kong. There's also some nice prescience on Pratchett's part: the book is now twenty years old and his comments on product placement and the culture of celebrity seem more relevant today than ever before. Characterisation is also pretty good, and the regular cast continues to grow with the arrival of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Gaspode the Wonder Dog (don't ask) and most of the regular cast of Unseen University, led by the formidable Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully (finally ending the tendency of UU archchancellors in the series to have the lifespan of a colony of terminally depressed lemmings living near the Grand Canyon).

 

The book has a rather unusual problem for Pratchett, which is pacing. Pratchett usually handles pacing pretty well in his books, with a slow introduction to the story followed by rising action and a (usually) well-handled climax. Moving Pictures isn't quite like that, and stutters a few times with a start-stop feel to the action. In fact, it appears that the main problem has been solved two-thirds of the way through the book, followed by the 'real' grand climax in Ankh-Morpork which also turns out to be a fake-out before we get the final, somewhat anti-climatic, ending in Holy Wood. It's a bit all over the place, to be honest. In fact, it feels like on of those really big Hollywood action blockbusters which goes on for about half an hour too long after the movie should really have ended, which I suppose is quite appropriate.

 

That said, whilst Moving Pictures is not one of the stronger Discworld novels, it's still better than the earlier, less-well-written books and many of the individual characters and episodes in the book are funny and intelligently-handled, as always.

 

Moving Pictures (***½) is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Reaper Man

 

The Auditors of Reality are unhappy with the Death of the Discworld, who has shown signs of individuality and - shudder - a personality. They decide to fire Death and recruit a replacement. Death accepts this decision stoically, and decides to spend his last few days of existence sampling life, adopting the alias of handyman Bill Door and going to work on a remote farm.

 

Unfortunately, Death's absence causes some anomalies. Windle Poons, the oldest wizard on the Disc, is upset to discover that, despite dying, he can't move on to the next life. As a result, he has to spend the interim as a zombie but, thankfully, he finds some help from Ankh-Morpork's resident undead rights movement. At the same time, an unusual plague of odd novelty items is afflicting the city. The wizards of Unseen University investigate and discover that something rather unusual is taking shape outside the city walls...

 

Reaper Man is, in the sometimes complicated hierarchy of Discworld novels, the second book to feature Death in a major role (following on from Mort and running ahead of Soul Music) and the first to feature the Unseen University wizards in a major role (although, confusingly, many of them appeared in a supporting capacity in Moving Pictures and the Librarian has been around since The Light Fantastic). Some of the City Watch (from Guards! Guards!) also crop up.

 

This slightly complicated arrangement probably adds to the schizophrenia of the novel. In all of the Discworld books prior to this, the storylines usually converge at the end and the story is usually quite focused. Reaper Man instead sprawls, with Death/Bill Door's adventures and the subplot of the wizards/Windle Poons not really gelling together. There is a vague link between them, but otherwise the two stories don't really intertwine, resulting in a rather disconnected feeling to the book. This is added to by the wizards stuff being quite funny and the Death stuff being quite serious (the advent of the Death of Rats aside).

 

Pratchett is also pursuing another satirical target here, following on from films in Moving Pictures and police procedurals in Guards! Guards! Unfortunately, the target is rather weak - Pratchett apparently doesn't like shopping malls, hates muzak and isn't keen on combine harvesters - and there's a distinctly half-hearted feeling to proceedings here. The book never really seems to come together and fire up like the best books in the series, despite many individually good moments and some funny lines. Ultimately this appears to be a case of Pratchett trying to be serious and even moving but also trying to throw some chaotic comedy into the mix as well, and it doesn't work. It's notable that when Pratchett separates the two out - as he does in the double-whammy of the more serious Small Gods and the funny Lords and Ladies - he does very well, but the mix here does not work as effectively.

 

Reaper Man (***) is readable and interesting, but definitely one of the less successful books in the series. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My absolute favorite book in the series is Mort.  However, my favorite character is Nanny Ogg.  She's just so delightfully crass!  I love her!  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Witches Abroad

 

When a fairy godmother learns she is about to die, she realises she must pass her vital mission onto a wise and respected witch to complete. Unfortunately, the only witch on hand is Magrat Garlick. Suddenly given an onerous and responsible quest to undertake, Magrat is soon off on a journey to the distant city of Genua, accompanied by Granny Weatherwas, Nanny Ogg and the latter's psychotic feline companion Greebo.

 

As they calve a trail of mayhem across the continent, they learn that in Genua all the stories must have a happy ending. Whether the people involved want one or not...

 

Witches Abroad, the twelfth Discworld novel, is the second novel to focus on the Lancre witches (and the third to feature Granny Weatherwax). With Lancre recovering from the events of Wyrd Sisters, Pratchett decides to take the witches off on a jobbing holiday. This neatly divides the book into two halves: the first covers the witches' journey from Lancre to Genua via various castles, villages, dwarf mines and boats and run-ins with wolves and vampires, whilst the second covers events in Genua. The former is highly enjoyable, if rather episodic, whilst the latter is rather cleverer, featuring a Discworld spin on the legend of Baba Yaga and is basically Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella mashed up and set in New Orleans. This works a lot better than it may sound.

 

Pratchett's grasp of character, humour and pacing is as expertly-handled as ever. The characters of the three witches continue to expand and be explored in greater depth (Nanny Ogg in particular benefits from a deeper exploration of her character) and whilst Pratchett is on familiar ground here, exploring the idea of myth and stories, he still comes up with some great ideas. He even has a - somewhat uncharacteristic - 'twist' in the ending which is unexpected and works quite well.

 

On the negative side, there is a rather artificial plot device designed to raise tension where Granny Weatherwax refuses to tell the other witches what's going on, even though there is no real reason for her not to. An interlude in which Greebo becomes briefly human also appears to be there only because Pratchett thought it would by funny to see Greebo as a human (as indeed it is) rather than because there's a real reason for it in the plot.

 

Still, these are not major issues in what may be very much a typical Discworld novel, but still a good read. Also watch out for the debut of Casanunda, master swordsman and both the World's Greatest Liar and its Greatest Lover (stepladder-assisted).

 

Witches Abroad (****) is a solidly entertaining and decent entry to the Discworld series, although it isn't its most exciting instalment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Small Gods

 

When Brother Brutha of the Omnian Church starts talking to a tortoise, he merely assumes that he has gone mad. However, when the tortoise turns out to be the great god Om who is having a Bad Day, Brutha finds that his faith is about to be put to the test...

 

Up to (and including) Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett was an author who wrote books that broadly fell in two categories: books that spoofed or were a satire of modern society in some way, often through broad comedy, and other books that were a bit more serious and had a point to them, though still amusing. The two sides had come very close to coexisting in Pyramids, but arguably just managed to avoid fusing into one impressive whole.

 

Small Gods is where Pratchett got it right. The entire book, from its first page to its last, is a lengthy, sustained and inordinately clever examination of religion, fundamentalism and blind faith and their conflict with reason, argument and science. And you barely notice, because the story itself is extremely taut, well-told and brilliantly characterised with Pratchett's occasional bursts of silliness kept to a minimum in favour of flashes of wry and at times angry humour. Small Gods is a book that Richard Dawkins would kill to have written, and done so in such a manner that even the most God-bothering evangelical would have still been riveted to it.

 

Small Gods has the veneer of being just a traditional Pratchett book: there's some jokes about men in togas arguing pointlessly about philosophy (in a world where it is difficult to have a conversation about, "Are the gods real?" when a lightning bolt will come flying through the window five seconds later with a label attached saying, "YES,"), Death has a couple of cameo appearances and there is a running joke about tortoises being nice to eat. But you can tell the subject matter really got Pratchett riled up. His hatred of blind faith and the idea that killing people is okay because some book says so - and, let's face it, that book was written by a old guy who might have been bitten by a donkey that morning and was a really foul mood when he started on the bit about doing unto others with fire and brimstone and was probably not, when you get down to it, an actual deity - really comes through in this novel, but in measured tones.

 

Character-wise, Small Gods may be Pratchett's strongest book. Most of the cast does not reoccur in the series (Death and a very brief trans-temporal appearance by a certain simian book-collector aside), but Pratchett still has time to paint them in impressive detail. Vorbis may be one of the scariest 'villains' (if that's even a right description) in the whole series. Brutha is certainly one of its most interesting protagonists. Om's pragmatic, tortoise-meets-deity outlook on life is amusing. Even minor characters like Didactylos and would-be rebel leader Simony are well-rounded and given good rationales for what they do.

 

Almost as importantly, the ending does not suck. Pratchett has a patchy record with endings, with his books sometimes ending okay and others being a bit of a let-down after a strong start and middle section. Small Gods, however, has a fantastic ending, starting with possibly the biggest belly-laugh out of all thirty-odd books in the series (hint: it involves something being airborne which shouldn't be) and proceeding from there.

 

Intelligent but never preachy, philosophical but never boring, Small Gods (*****) is Terry Pratchett's masterpiece (okay, his strongest masterpiece). It is the strongest Discworld novel and almost certainly the best thing he has ever written.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anyone read Unseen Academicals yet?

Thats the new one involving football, (soccer to any none europeans although do people from countries like brazil, argentina and mexico call it fooball or soccer?)I say involving not actula being about football as it isnt. Which is a pity cause its ripe for satire and mockery.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Has anyone read Unseen Academicals yet?
I have. Pretty good. Good quote from Vetinari: "If there is any kind of supreme being, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...