Bick's thoughts on the Discworld novels

The Ace

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(6) Wyrd Sisters (1988)

This is good book in the series. The plotting is good, Pratchett seems to be honing his storytelling skills with each book, and overall it was a highly satisfying read. The prior books all had a zany charm, but did not (in the main) have the depth that is frequently referenced in positive criticism of the Discworld novels. This is probably the first one where the plot and jokes consistently carry that extra depth and cleverness. Here, Pratchett references Shakespeare a awful lot and he does it well, but also numerous other literary and worldly sources. The characters are good, and in this volume the story finally has a very satisfying arc. I'm undecided whether to go 4½ or 5 stars, but as there is still far to go in the series I don't think I should go the whole hog just yet, as others may conceivably surpass it in quality. Recommended ****½

I found this one interesting because the Duke tried to re-write History with a play. What actually happened was that Shakespeare turned History on its head in, "MacBeth," to flatter the new king (James VI and I) and to clean up the history of illegitimate, traitor and double regicide Malcolm III Canmore, the king's ancestor (as Pratchett himself said, "The true king is the one that gets crowned.").
 

Bick

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I found this one interesting because the Duke tried to re-write History with a play. What actually happened was that Shakespeare turned History on its head in, "MacBeth," to flatter the new king (James VI and I) and to clean up the history of illegitimate, traitor and double regicide Malcolm III Canmore, the king's ancestor (as Pratchett himself said, "The true king is the one that gets crowned.").
Yes, for those reasons, its probably the cleverest novel thus far in my reading... and very nicely done too, I agree.

But Guards! Guards! contains "its a million to one shot... but it might just work", which is not especially clever... just comedy genius.
 

Bick

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(9) Moving Pictures (1990)

For those who might be wondering what happened to Eric, I understand its possibly a YA shorter work, originally published as a 'Tale from Discworld', rather than a main series novel, and I don't have it. So I moved right on to the next published main series novel, Moving Pictures, which is pretty good. It also perhaps marks the start of Pratchett using his Discworld to enable him to make humorous reference to the absurdities of the real world. While Wyrd Sisters is clever and literary, and Guards! Guards! is warm and wittily observant, this is predominately comic allegory with a sending up of modern life. Hollywood gets the Discworld treatment here, and its done rather well. A lot of the jokes are very good and the observations are often sublime. Characters are good, and I'm enjoying how characters return from previous volumes to gradually create a full and rich world. Its a hard book not to enjoy. And yet... its not a five star book for me. The film concept is shoe-horned into Discworld in a manner that doesn't sit quite right. Pratchett brings an aspect of modern world into Discworld in a rather literal and direct way that for me isn't entirely appealing from an aesthetic perspective. Its a minor gripe though - this is pretty good and is recommended. ****
 

The Big Peat

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I'm undecided whether to go 4½ or 5 stars, but as there is still far to go in the series I don't think I should go the whole hog just yet, as others may conceivably surpass it in quality. Recommended ****½

Snowdon may be smaller than Everest, but they're still both mountains ;)


Your reviews remain very in-line with how I rate the books myself so far. It took me a few tries to like Pyramids as the veer from Tom Brown's Days At Assassin School to the Pyramids themselves throws me every time. Agree whole-heartedly about Moving Pictures not truly fitting and the deeper meanings behind Wyrd Sisters' jokes making it a step forwards. I still think Wyrd Sisters might be one of his cleverest books, although a fair way from his best.
 

HareBrain

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I've never got into the Discworld books like a lot of people have, but I have enjoyed the few that I've read -- except Moving Pictures. I had so little investment in any part of it, it's one of the very few books I've abandoned mere pages from the end.

And yet... its not a five star book for me. The film concept is shoe-horned into Discworld in a manner that doesn't sit quite right. Pratchett brings an aspect of modern world into Discworld in a rather literal and direct way that for me isn't entirely appealing from an aesthetic perspective.

I think this is what I found too, but for me there wasn't enough good stuff to balance it.
 

Bick

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I've never got into the Discworld books like a lot of people have, but I have enjoyed the few that I've read -- except Moving Pictures. I had so little investment in any part of it, it's one of the very few books I've abandoned mere pages from the end.
That's interesting - I liked the end as it happens (the inverted King Kong scenes etc.). But it did drag a bit in the middle which is unusual, and I think this is probably because characters such as Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler became less interesting in the middle section when they were affected by 'magic of Holy Wood'. He's funnier and more engaging when he's just selling sausages in Ankh. I did like the role the Librarian plays here though, and the wizards were funny. I believe its better than the first few and worked better on the whole than Pyramids, but only just. Not his very best, I agree.
 

Bick

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(10) Reaper Man (1991)

Reaper Man represents a bit of a return to form following Moving Pictures, I think. In retrospect, I think Moving Pictures is probably a ***½ star book (I was perhaps a touch generous in my prior review), whereas this is a definite improvement. Many Pratchett readers seem to be big fans of DEATH in the Discworld books, whereas I suspect I'm more of a watch fan, but in this book, Pratchett his doesn't actually overplay DEATH, and he spends most of time as an alter ego, Bill Door, and his scenes were very good. I liked the general concept here, I really liked the undead support group, and the wizards' silliness. I liked the snow globe-shopping trolley stuff much less, though and felt that part of the story detracted from my satisfaction with the book. Sometimes, I feel Pratchett's silliness goes to far, especially in his endings. So, this was a solid effort, enjoyable to read, but not perfect. ****
 

The Big Peat

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Good to see you back at it Bick! I love Reaper Man and for me, this is the start of classic Discworld. I am a big Death fan, but generally as a camero character rather than a main... but this is his book. Here he makes sense as the star of the show and I love the message - “What can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the Reaper Man?”. And he carries it well enough I can overlook some of the silliness.
 

.matthew.

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Pratchett said:
Bjorn didn't waste time asking questions. A lot of things become a shade urgent when you're dead.

"I believe in reincarnation," he said.

I KNOW

"I tried to live a good life. Does that help?"

THAT IS NOT UP TO ME. Death coughed. OF COURSE.... SINCE YOU BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION.... YOU'LL BE BJORN AGAIN.

He waited.
 

Bick

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(11) Witches Abroad (1991)

Witches Abroad sees a return of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, as the eponymous witches, here travelling far and wide to parts 'forein' in their quest to set things straight. Pratchett generally takes a theme for each book and runs with it and in this instance, its 'Discworld does fairy tales'. Revolving around the idea that stories have an inevitable arc and life of their own, Witches Abroad enables Pratchett to riff off many old stories and fairy tales to spin his yarn. Here are Hammer Horror-styled vampires, the Wizard of Oz, the three little pigs, little red riding hood and most notably, Cinderella. Its a nice enough idea, and fits within the Discworld perfectly well, but the jokes here are mostly in the scenarios, rather than the one-liners. This book has fewer outright witty jokes than some, though the plot is stronger than many. To compare directly with the previous witches book is interesting. While Wyrd Sisters was very clever in its use of literary quotes and play on Shakespeare, this one is less clever and insightful for me. Wyrd Sisters is a better book, with more depth. That said, this is an enjoyable fantasy romp, and the characters of granny, nanny (especially) and Magrat are always entertaining. ****
 

Bick

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As I slowly make my way through these enjoyable books, I occasionally slightly reevaluate my scores, and have commented already that I should have given Moving Pictures ***½. I also find it useful to keep a list altogether. So, with those things in mind, and to bring things up to date, these are my ratings so far:

1. Colour of Magic ***
2. The Light Fantastic ***
3. Equal Rites ***½
4. Mort ****
5. Sourcery ****
6. Wyrd Sisters ****½
7. Pyramids ***½
8. Guards! Guards! *****
9. Moving Pictures ***½
10. Reaper Man ****
11. Witches Abroad ****
 

Bick

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(12) Small Gods (1992)

Small Gods sees Pratchett taking aim at the corruption and perversion of organised religion by those who follow man-made traditions more than the core original beliefs. Full of both humour and with Something-To-Say, this is a superior Discworld book, and possibly marks a further advancement in the quality of the series. I'm not saying its necessarily better than Guards! Guards! or is the best book in the series up to this point, but it's probably the one where Pratchett balances the three key pillars of his series with the greatest overall success: i.e. commentary, humour and zany plotting. The plot is well conceived and actually ends well (a rarity in the Discworld books to be honest), and the gags and puns are good. But its the clever, pointed and persuasive criticism of how organised religion distorts and brain-washes free thought and decency that is the greatest strength of the book. Highly recommended *****
 

Bick

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Quite some time has passed since my last reading in the Discworld, and for those who were waiting with bated breath, I can only apologize for the inexcusable delay. The sands of time continue to fall unceasing while our backs are turned, though from Great A'Tuin's perspective, I suppose it's been but a moment. In any event, I have an update at last...

(13) Lords and Ladies (1992)

It seems hard to credit that Lords and Ladies was first published 30 years ago, as it came out at a time when I'd stopped paying very much attention to the Discworld books upon release (fool that I was) and so in my mind's eye, it registers as a 'later' book. It's not really, its an early-middle period novel, and a favourite of many. This is a witches book, and the characters of the three main witches are, as ever, one of the main joys in the novel. Comprising mixed plot threads of Magrat Garlick's impending nuptials with the King of Lancre, and the invasion of elves, from their parallel universe, this is a superior tale, combining Pratchett's trademark quips and wisdom with a rather good fantasy plot. It's less of an allegorical tale than some (such as Small Gods), being closer to a straightforward fantasy romp, but it does provide more world building than many DW novels, fleshing out the magic and nature of the world in fun and interesting ways. Rather good, if perhaps not quite up there with the finest Discworld novels. ****

------
I've already moved on to the next in the series, Men at Arms, which is the second 'Night Watch' book, and if it's anything near as good as Guards! Guards! I should enjoy it a good deal. I'm aware many place this near the top of their favourite DW books, so fingers crossed.
 
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The Big Peat

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Excited to see this back! Although I think there's a decent portion of allegory - or thinkiness, as I'd rather call it - on the nature of history and folklore's part in it. There's so much about fitting people into it, what you can change and what you can't, and where that leaves people when custom demands they be more than just themselves.
 

Bick

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Excited to see this back! Although I think there's a decent portion of allegory - or thinkiness, as I'd rather call it - on the nature of history and folklore's part in it. There's so much about fitting people into it, what you can change and what you can't, and where that leaves people when custom demands they be more than just themselves.
Yes, I may have overstated my point, or more likely explained it badly. There is definitely a good deal of metaphor in it. My thinking on allegory was that the metaphor and commentary was aired here on more of an ad hoc basis than as a prolonged allegory for the duration of the story arc. Or something; i.e. it's perhaps not an allegorical novel, in the same way Small Gods is, though it has allegory and metaphor in it. Not sure if that makes sense, and it's only my impression anyway.
 

Bick

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(14) Men at Arms (1993)

The second book in the highly regarded 'Watch' sub-series, Men at Arms is a very good Discworld book. As well as returning us the characters of Nobby, Colon, Carrot and Vimes, Pratchett introduces some great new characters and provides something that's not always his strongest suit: a satisfying story arc and conclusion. Often his books are very funny, offering lots of witty observations, but lack a great ending. Not here. The idea of an assassin trying to bump off senior figures with a newly invented 'gonne' allows Pratchett to reference a lot of modern culture (the rooftop gunman reminded me of Dirty Harry) as well as enter into commentary on such diverse subjects as racial diversity and gun control. Different DW books often take on the style and story clichés of other genres, and this one is a 'detective thriller', only set in Ankh Morpork. It's terrific, but is it in the top few DW books? Hard to say, it's up there, but the character development that takes place for Carrot and Colon, especially, actually detracts slightly - they were dafter and sillier in Guards! Guards! and that was better and more fun. Here, Carrot especially is a touch too competent. ****½
 

Bick

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(15) Soul Music (1994)

Returning to the Discworld after a year away was quite a pleasant experience, with a reading of Soul Music, a novel that sends up the music industry, and which is also a DEATH book. The music industry has had send ups before, of course, most notably with the film Spinal Tap, and this is more of the same. Filled with daft jokes and silly puns (especially of band and song names, such as 'The Surreptitious Fabric', and 'Pathway to Paradise') it has its moments, but lacks much of the razor sharp Pratchett commentary on the world that I'd become used to. The jokes tend to be thin and lack depth or allegory. Whereas many of Pratchett's books riff on quite meaningful themes, such as divinity and faith, or the nature of choice, this book seems to be saying "modern music can be made fun of". Well, yes, but it's hard to keep this interesting for over 400 pages. Soul Music features DEATH once again, and overall I tend to find the DEATH books a little underwhelming. For one thing, he's usually not in them much, as he commonly seems to be suffering from some sort of midlife crisis and someone else has to take over - a theme which is getting a little stale. Secondly, it doesn't make enough of the role of DEATH or his granddaughter Susan enough until the end, and Susan's story arc is unsatisfying from a reader's perspective. In short, this is probably one of the weakest of the Discworld books, though still mildly amusing. If you want more Spinal Tap daftness set in Discworld, jump in, but if you're wavering you could skip this book and just rewatch the movie. ***
 

The Big Peat

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This inspired me to pick up Soul Music myself; I'm currently trying to see if I can pry a layer of meaning.

For me the big theme of the Death books is Who You Are vs What You Do and what it means for your mind, particularly when you change the latter. Transition is quite an appropriate theme for the Grim Reaper, after all.

And I can see glimmerings of the theme. I'm just not sure they're as good as in the other Death book.

I do think it's helpful to think of the Death books as not being about Death himself though. I know people who recently read Thief of Time and complained about Death/Susan not being in it enough and, well, that's expectations for you.

I do think I agree it's one of the weakest though.
 

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