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 →

Strange News From Another Star – The Truth

the-truth-1What was once considered impossible is now quite easily achieved. Kings and lords come and go and leave nothing but statues in a desert, while a couple of young men tinkering in a workshop change the way the world works.

Twenty five novels in and, whisper it, we might be in the middle of a bit of a Discworld golden age. Last week’s The Fifth Elephant brought geopolitics and trade into the mix and as well as the excellent The Truth, we have Thief of Time and Night Watch (many a Discworld fan’s favourite Pratchett novel) still to come. And that’s before Tiffany Aching makes her first appearance, the novels Pratchett has said he would most like to be remembered for.

To hit a run of rich form so late into your career, and to do so after publishing a backlist most novelists will never match in terms of volume, is a staggering achievement. I feel knackered after publishing 25 posts exploring the Discworld.

One area that I have managed to avoid is making this blog some self-indulgent memoir. My life in books, and all that.

Until now. 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 →

Police Story – Men at Arms

men-at-arms-2Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian notion of society; which is a mechanism by which human beings remind another that they are…well…human beings.

When you open Men at Arms, you are confronted with a hitherto unseen thing. Early Discworld books had the odd quote from science fiction and fantasy magazines lauding Pratchett as a comic and literary genius. With Men at Arms, there are the names of The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times. Even OK! Magazine. The Discworld author has gone all respectable. Granted this is a move long overdue because every book since Pyramids (bar Faust, Eric) has been a doozy. 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 →