Death Trip – Snuff

Snuff_cover_low“And now the world is a better place, commander. You have no understanding, Vimes, no understanding at all of the deals, stratagems and unseen expedients by which some of us make shift to see that it remains that way. Do not seek perfection. None exists.”

Since we first found him in the gutter, Samuel Vimes has been as important to the Discworld as one of the four elephants that supports it. Through him, Pratchett has taken us through the changing face of Ankh-Morpork, how it has dealt with race, power, rule of law and sexuality. The early days of the city facing a threat from a dragon are long ago. Now Ankh-Morpork has a working telegram and financial system, with its mixed species police force a paragon of harmony for the wider Disc. Continue reading →

Don’t Fight It, Feel It – Thud!

Terry_Pratchett_-_Thud_0385608675“To win you must play both sides. You must, in fact, be able to think like your ancient enemy…To study the enemy you have to get under his skin. When you’re under his skin you start to see the world through his eyes…And thus we wear down mountains. Water dripping on a stone, dissolving and removing. Changing the shape of the world, one drop at a time. Water dripping on a stone, commander. Water flowing underground, bubbling up in unexpected places.”

One unfair criticism of Terry Pratchett is that he can lay his social commentary rather thickly. I found this particularly strange during my rereading because I had trouble finding any real evidence for it. The only thing that was hammered home repeatedly was the importance of thinking. This gave us the likes of Small Gods, where Pratchett angrily argued against fundamentalism while also examining the benefits of belief, or Men at Arms, which attacked racism but shone a light on all of our prejudices. Continue reading →

Letter from an Occupant – Going Postal

Going Postal BIt was the face, that was what it was. He had an honest face. And he loved these people who looked him firmly in the eye to see his inner self, because he had a whole set of inner selves, one for every occasion. As for firm handshakes, practice had given him one to which you could moor boats. It was people skills, that’s what it was. Special people skills. Before you could sell glass as diamonds you had to make people really want to see diamonds. That was the trick, the trick of all tricks. You changed the way people saw the world. You let them see it the way they wanted it to be…

Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation is the best ever minor character in sitcom comedy, with Frank Costanza from Seinfeld a close second. The reason why is that he is used sparingly. If he appeared every week, his irritant sex-pest playa character would grow tired quicker than you can say ‘Poochie’. But he’s hardly in the show so his hilarious schtick never gets old.

Havelock Vetinari is my favourite Discworld character. The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has never been the main character of a novel. He’s always at arm’s length, so when he is used, you are excited to see what the despotic tyrant of the city is scheming. That’s part of the character’s power; he is always behind the scenes, messing around with something to his ends. But (probably wrong speculation about the intentions of an author alert!) you could imagine Pratchett getting frustrated. He has created a brilliant character but has to use him sparingly in order to make the most of him. Continue reading →

War pigs – Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous_regimentPolly felt questing eyes boring into her. She was embarrassed, of course. But not for the obvious reason. It was for the other one, the little lesson that life sometimes rams home with a stick: you are not the only one watching the world. Other people are people; while you watch them they watch you, and they think about you while you think about them. The world isn’t just about you.

Pet hate time: I capital ‘H’ HATE novels that don’t nail the landing. I detest loving the first two thirds of a novel before it just fritters away into nothing come the last couple of hundred pages. I feel it seems to happen more in literary novels than other types of fiction. It might be a plot thing; I’m going to wildly generalise and say other sorts of books (mostly genre fiction) have a greater emphasis on plot and structure. I don’t understand why it happens. Surely the editing and rewriting process would mean these kinks would be ironed out before publication? Continue reading →

Revolution – Night Watch

Night_watch_discworld“I’m very simple. I just know how things work. I just follow the money. Winder is a madman, and that’s not good for business. His cronies are criminals, and that’s not good for business. A new Patrician will need new friends, far-sighted people who want to be part of a wonderful future. One that’s good for business. That’s how it goes. Meetings in rooms. A little diplomacy, a little give and take, a promise here, an understanding there. That’s how real revolutions happen. All that stuff in the streets is just froth…”

I have to admit, I approached this one with a degree of trepidation. While I had an awareness of the likes of the Tiffany Aching novels during my wilderness years, the ones when I wasn’t reading Pratchett, I had no idea about Night Watch. When I kicked off this reread some six months back, I became aware very quickly that All Terry Pratchett Books Pale In Comparison To Night Watch.

No pressure on whether I like it or not. The great thing is that I did. It’s a novel that rewards fans of the series, has a meaty slice of Pratchett poking at your thoughts again and is wrapped up in a smart piece of revolutionary plotting. The brainiacs at L-Space have drawn attention to the novel’s similarities to Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities. I have read neither so you are stuck with me tackling this on its own merits. To arms! Continue reading →

The Modern Age – The Fifth Elephant

the-fifth-elephant-2‘When people say “We must move with the times,” they really mean “You must do it my way.” And there are some who would say Ankh-Morpork is…a kind of vampire. It bites, and what it bites it turns into copies of itself. It sucks, too. It seems all our best go to Ankh-Morpork, where they live in squalor. You leave us dry.’

Ever since Twoflower stepped off a boat at Ankh-Morpork dock, becoming the Discworld’s first ever tourist at the beginning of The Colour of Magic, there has been a thread of modernity and progress running through each Discworld novel. I haven’t really touched on it so far, even though we have seen gonnes, submarines, political attempts to increase the racial diversity of the Ankh-Morpork, arcane computers, progressive monarchs and women not being bound by class or gender. To be quite honest, when I start thinking about what I *haven’t* had a chance to look at, I feel like doing a mass delete of every post, sticking the books up on eBay, taking my ball and going home.

Then I wise up. Continue reading →

Toy Soldiers – Jingo

jingo-2Never mind who started it, never mind how it was fought, they’d want to know how to deal with things now. They represented what people called the ‘international community’. And like all uses of the word ‘community’, you were never quite sure what or who it is.

For an author so set on exploring humanity, what makes us tick and why, it is somewhat curious it took Terry Pratchett more than 20 Discworld books to tackle war. Jingo was published in 1997; four years shy of 9/11 and all that followed, but close enough to the British Army’s involvement in both Northern Ireland and what was Yugoslavia that an experience of his nation at conflict would have been easy to recall.

Two years ago, Pratchett was interviewed by Cory Doctorow. It’s a splendid Q&A and well worth the time spent reading. In it, Pratchett talks about his thoughts about authority, an area where he is curiously conservative. Speaking about Vetinari, he says: “I don’t mind authority, but not authoritarian authority. After all, the bus driver is allowed to be the boss of the bus. But if he’s bad at driving, he’s not going to be a bus driver anymore.” Continue reading →

Rebel, Rebel – Feet of Clay

feet-of-clay-2He said to people: you’re free. And they said, hooray, and then he showed them what freedom costs and they called him a tyrant and, as soon as he’d been betrayed, they milled around a bit like barn-bred chickens who’ve seen the big world outside for the first time, and then they went back into the warm and shut the door—

Discworld fans will know that Pratchett is fond of revisiting old plots. I’m not breaking any new ground here; it’s something I’ve touched on on earlier posts. The Death novels are perhaps the guiltiest of this – the Grim Reaper needs a break, learns about humanity and the distance keeping him/her/?self from what makes us human, he talks IN CAPITAL LETTERS and then we close the book.

This is the third novel featuring the Watch. Both Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms have had threats to the Patrician at their heart, as someone looks to knock the supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork out of town and place their own puppet in charge. Feet of Clay is no different. But whereas there’s a roll of the eyes when you realise ‘great, Death is a bit bored. Again’, Feet of Clay is fantastic. From a pure craft perspective, it’s astonishing. So why does it work where Death (and others) don’t? Continue reading →

East of Nowhere – Interesting Times

Interesting-times-coverHe wanted to say: how can you be so nice and yet so dumb? The best thing you can do with the peasants is leave them alone. Let them get on with it. When people who can read and write start fighting on behalf of people who can’t, you just end up with another kind of stupidity. If you want to help them, build a big library or something somewhere and leave the door open.

This was my last Discworld novel. I remember enjoying it when I first read it in the mid 1990s but by the time Maskerade was published, I’d moved onto other things. So this is interesting to me in two ways – why did I like it but why did I stop?

I initially thought it could have been a Rincewind thing. He’s become increasingly tiresome a protagonist as the series has gone on and I felt he’d really progressed as much as possible by the time we hit Faust, Eric. But this is the best book to feature Pratchett’s first (cowardly) hero. It has one of the great endings of any of his novels, with the Discworld’s equivalent of the Terracotta army rising to fight against a hostile takeover of Agatean Empire. There’s an absolutely epic scale that his earlier apocalyptic third acts just failed to match. Continue reading →

I fought the law – Guards! Guards!

Guards-Guards-coverI can play on their horrible little minds like a xylophone. It’s amazing, the sheer power of mundanity. Who’d have thought that weakness could be a greater force than strength? But you have to know how to direct it. And I do.

The Watch has finally arrived and all is well. Books featuring this hapless band of law enforcers, led by the mighty Sam Vimes, are seen as among Pratchett’s best. Our first encounter with them is a flawed novel but a fascinating one. While Pyramids is the better novel, this is the more interesting book.
Continue reading →