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