The End of the Line – Raising Steam

Steam“Let me tell you, the world changes with every generation and if we don’t learn to surf on the tide then we will be smashed on the rocks.”

Bugsy Malone is a very strange film, and probably an odd one to start a post about a novel on the railway industry with. It’s that rare thing for me, a musical that is deeply enjoyable and a film I have watched more times than I can remember.

It also has a killer ending, where a shootout is abruptly halted so that everyone, good guys and bad guys alike, can make up and have a bit of a song and a dance. It’s sentimental, it kinda flies in the face of what you have just been watching and feels somewhat strange. But it works and that’s why it reminds me of Raising Steam. 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 →

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 →

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 →