Rating the Discworld – Part One

Massif_LCS_mainRanking is brilliant. I know there are high-falutin arguments about the subjectivity of art and how your opinion should be no more valid than anyone else’s because of the unique way each and every one of us sees the world etc etc etc.


‘[THIS] is better than [THAT]’ is at the heart of what we read, what we watch and what we listen to. Finding someone you agree with, and talking through what you loved about something is fun. Finding someone you disagree with, and finding out why they found joy in something you didn’t is arguably even more rewarding.

Until The Shepherd’s Crown is published in a few weeks, I am going to spend that time bending the Discworld into some sort of order. I’ll also make a stab at justifying my choices and discussing what, if anything, has changed since I first read them.

The reader reaction to this whole Pratchett Job thing has been a surprising joy, either on this site or via various conversations I have had with Discworld fans. I’ll try and include some of their defences of books I don’t like, or criticisms of those that I do.

I hope you enjoy. Or decide to lead some sort of Twitter lynch-mob against me. Either is perfectly acceptable.

40. Unseen Academicals

Not a lot to add about this, unfortunately. It was the only Discworld novel not to get a full Pratchett Job exploration and that’s because the book was unreadable. Horrible flabby monologues, a plot that just crawled and an overwhelming feeling of sadness that the Embuggerance had damaged such a bright brain.

Since my post of sorts was published (it’s at the end of my Making Money write-up), I have seen a few defend it. They haven’t argued it is a good book, but said it has more merits that I gave it. One raised the interesting suggestion that Mr Nutt was Pratchett’s way of writing about his Alzheimer’s.

39. Sourcery

This had the worst excesses of early Pratchett – repetitive plotting and poor pacing. Its story aped that of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, but it was the first Discworld novel where you felt Pratchett was moving backwards, rather than forwards.

38. The Last Continent

Oh Rincewind. How my complete ambivalence towards you seemed to annoy so many others. It turns out Discworld fans are not 50/50 split between Team Weatherwax and Team Vimes (I’m the former). I felt the Disc’s most cowardly wizard was a poor protagonist and this book was when my patience ran out. No more than a series of comic set pieces about Pratchett’s beloved Australia, it offered very little beyond a few laughs.

37. Snuff

This was a strangely popular post, something I found doubly odd given how few fans of it seemed to be out there. It’s another depressing example of how the Embuggerance had eroded Pratchett’s writing skills. The mystery at the centre of the novel does give it enough momentum to harry the reader along but the ponderous dialogue and its brutal unsubtlety are a pain.

36. Soul Music

Unbelievably frustrating. I said at the time this was one of my teenage favourites but could not abide it the second time around. It felt like how a critic of Pratchett would describe the novels – all poor Pythonic punnery, whimsical japes and silliness. Clearly when I was 12 years old, these things were really important to me. As a thirtysomething, this was a bump in the road amid a good stretch of Pratchett novels.

35. Raising Steam

I can’t dislike this. It’s not great but it’s a soppy sentimental goodbye to everything. Nope, not having it.

34. Thud!

I have thought about what would have happened to the Discworld if the blasted Embuggerance had never existed. Taking the blindingly obvious (and infinitely more important) benefits to his friends and family aside, I have daydreamed about how the Disc would have moved further into the modern world. A book exploring tax was hinted at. Would we have seen automotives, flight, further space travel?

A more worrying train of thought is ‘what if the books got worse?’. Because Thud! suggests the books were getting heavier, more didactic, angrier and less playful. It was one of the last pre-Embuggerance novels, but it suffers from the cloying stuffiness that Monstrous Regiment sometimes was guilty of. You felt you were being told things, rather than being challenged.

33. Making Money

When writing about this the first time, I said I had trouble working out what it was actually about. I still don’t really know. There are some phenomenal concepts but what was published reads like a first draft.

32. Interesting Times

Strangely, the two Discworld books that still exist from when I read the series first time around comprise this novel and Soul Music. When I flew back home for Christmas, I was somewhat surprised to see those two sitting on my mum’s bookshelves. Could I not have found a pristine paperback of Pyramids? (I think that’s in the roofspace. God knows where the other books have ended up)

This is one of Rincewind’s best, but it really suffers when you place it alongside The Last Hero, which shares a lot of its themes and is one of the strongest books in the series. I still think the treatment of the Agateans is ignorant and uncharacteristically thoughtless from Pratchett.

31. Faust, Eric

One wonders, especially after reading The Last Hero, whether the fully illustrated version of this would have substantially improved the rather slight novella. It’s fun and there’s very little wrong with it, but its highlights struggle to come to mind when thinking about it again.

When my regular proofreader had a look at this, she chided me for being overly negative. Perhaps I have been – I know people in particular love both Interesting Times and Soul Music. But that’s all of my negativity out of my system. There is some gold ahead. Next week, I’ll take a look at numbers 30-21.


  1. I remember the Last Continent playing on my mind for about two weeks after I read it, as my fan-boy mind struggled to like what I’d just read: square block fitting into a circular hole scenario.

    That feeling of there being nothing really substantial behind the plot troubled me in other books which featured the Wizards also… I’m thinking Hogfather and Reaper Man.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. That’s interesting re: Reaper Man and Hogfather. The former is among many people’s favourites. I like it a lot but felt the whole malevolent shopping mall thing was a bit weak.

      I like the Wizards – they are a great comic bundle of lunacy. When they work well, like in Moving Pictures, they are hilarious.



      1. Yeah, it was the malevolent shopping mall thing which I was thinking of…

        Agreed on Moving Pictures though, and I’ve only ever read the first of the Science novels but the Wizards were a welcome bit a light-heartedness between chapters in that.

        Interesting what you’ve been saying about Monstrous Regiment though, when I first read that book I thought the slower plotting was all intentionally done due the subject matter being a bit darker than usual – as oppose to just bad writing. Now I’m slightly more torn on what to think.


      2. I think it helps if you don’t see it as ‘malevolent shopping centre’, but as ‘reification of the capitalist hyperreal’…

        Monstrous Regiment: I was liking it, but then it all became rubbish. That’s my memory of it, anyway.


  2. I’d defend a few of those here:

    – Sourcery: funny, and very intelligent, and some good dramatic scenes too. Its main crime is simply not being that memorable.

    – Soul Music: one of Pratchett’s most emotionally sincere novels? Filled with a real exuberance and joy in music, but also pain and fear. Susan is a great teenage protagonist for a coming-of-age novel that happens to also feature some puns.

    – Snuff: I thought at the time it was a return to form. Not to best form, but I much preferred it to Thud, or Unseen Academicals, or Making Money.

    – The Last Continent: maybe Pratchett’s funniest book. Though, admittedly, ideally two thirds of this would be edited out and burnt (the whole of the Rincewind plot).

    That said, I cannot really argue with any of these as bottom-quartile material. Probably Soul Music is the one I’d be most likely to elevate. On the other hand, something has to go, because The Light Fantastic is the worst of the lot (it’s like Sourcery, but much less good).

    Liked by 1 person


  3. I thoroughly enjoyed Unseen Academicals, but it does come across a lot better on audio book than reading the paper copy. The long periods of conversation suit that format better. I’m not sure whether I’d describe it as a good book, but it was a very interesting take on the early origins and modern problems with football

    Liked by 1 person


  4. I can’t agree to the place of “The last continent. The problem of time travelling alone makes it so interesting and horizon-widening not to speak about the God of evolution. Two brillant themes and as a bonus the famous “Priscilla”. No, definitely wrong place. It belongs under the first 10.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. You are far from the only person to have said this! I didn’t think the time travelling was that great but I agree with you about the God of Evolution – that was a neat concept.

      I think the placement of it and Interesting Times have been the ones that have irked people the most 🙂



  5. I’ve read Snuff twice and both times it moved me to tears. Thought it was very contemporary and political. Raising Steam takes a while to get into, but then it picks up steam and it’s a hoot

    Liked by 1 person


  6. We started following your blog only a few weeks back but are enjoying going through the posts. Interesting Times is one of our favourites and we feel it is a little unfair to rank it at 32.

    Liked by 1 person


  7. I loved Raising Steam…someone above mentioned that it takes a bit to get into and they are right. I enjoyed the selection of characters he used…Moist for one (who is awesome). When I was finished, I almost started over just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.



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