Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Vertigo

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Football is the main focus of Unseen Academicals but, as always, all sorts of other subjects receive broadsides from Terry Pratchett’s satirical pen along the way. The staff of Unseen University must field a football team to launch a new and somewhat more controlled style of football as compared to the mayhem of the thinly disguised riot that is, naturally, the norm in Ankh Morpork.

I begin each new volume of the Discworld with apprehension; is this the book that is first going to reveal Pratchett’s sad, debilitating Alzheimer’s? Whilst there were a few passages that felt to me a little more confused than I have normally found in his writing, Unseen Academicals still very much Pratchett on top form; full of his signature, merciless insights into our modern society. Not just football (and its associated thuggery) that is the main topic, but along the way he, sometimes whimsically and sometimes pitilessly, examines many subjects, including racism, fashion, politics, intolerance and sexism. I find Pratchett unique in his ability to one minute gently, almost lovingly, poke fun at one activity and the next to savage something much more serious and yet still maintain a light humorous touch throughout.

Unseen academicals did not disappoint and had me chuckling and occasionally laughing out loud throughout. I keep putting off reading the next volume as I dread coming to the end of them!

5/5 stars
 

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I'm afraid you're right at the brink, Vertigo - Snuff clearly shows the sad progress of the Alzheimers, whereas Raising Steam is very obviously dictated, without much editing. There are several points in the last three books where I thought "No. No, Vimes (or whoever) would never have said this, or at least phrased it like that." It's most noticeable in characters that have been around since the glorious height of the Discworld, around Men at Arms.
 

Vertigo

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I'm afraid you're right at the brink, Vertigo - Snuff clearly shows the sad progress of the Alzheimers, whereas Raising Steam is very obviously dictated, without much editing. There are several points in the last three books where I thought "No. No, Vimes (or whoever) would never have said this, or at least phrased it like that." It's most noticeable in characters that have been around since the glorious height of the Discworld, around Men at Arms.
Yes, sadly, this is exactly what I suspect.
 

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I wasn't so impressed by Unseen Academicals. I received it as a Christmas present in 2009** and made a note here about it here in the following February:

Well, I finally got round to finishing it over the weekend - and since I picked it up with great delight on 27 December and I usually read a book in a day, that tells you a lot already.​
Like Daisy-Boo, I found it didn't capture me at all at the beginning - I managed to get as far as about page 120 and just gave up. After a couple of abortive attempts to get back into it in January, I made myself go through to the end this month, but I was no more impressed.​
I didn't find any of the new characters sympathetic, and the only one to my mind who was really psychologically convincing was Pepe. Pratchett has always been one for social commentary, but I can't remember him laying it on with such a trowel before** - I felt I was being repeatedly bludgeoned about Nutt, who never convinced me in the least.​
** but I deliberately haven't read 'Nation'​
Did anyone else feel the whole thing was a little rough around the edges - like it was a good draft that hadn't been polished, or not properly edited? I'm sure at one point Glenda comes out with 'egregious' - and since she was a stranger to 'fecundity' I can't believe that one would have tripped off her tongue. And the continual jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint within a scene I found disruptive.​
Not one of his best, certainly.​

I also noted that to me it felt that it had been written by rote, to a template, and it was only when I found myself picking up flaws in the writing that I began to wonder if his dementia was responsible since before that I'd assumed Unseen Academicals had been planned and at least part written before the illness took hold.

Nonetheless, I was still looking forward to Snuff as I adore Sam Vimes, but my comment on it at the time

I've started Pratchett's Snuff and after 100 pages, I'm thinking that dictating a novel rather than typing it can only be successful if someone (a) is Barbara Cartland, (b) does a lot of preparatory work first or (c) has a very ruthless transcriber/editor. Unfortunately...​

I never did finish it -- my father had dementia at the time, and I found the continual repetition and going round in circles without getting to the point of his conversation was exactly mirrored in the writing -- and I couldn't bear to buy Raising Steam as I guessed it would be even worse. So if you want to leave Pratchett's work on a high, Vertigo, I'd suggest you stop now and re-read some of the older books.


** 11 years ago??? Where's all the time gone?
 

Vertigo

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I wasn't so impressed by Unseen Academicals. I received it as a Christmas present in 2009** and made a note here about it here in the following February:

Well, I finally got round to finishing it over the weekend - and since I picked it up with great delight on 27 December and I usually read a book in a day, that tells you a lot already.​
Like Daisy-Boo, I found it didn't capture me at all at the beginning - I managed to get as far as about page 120 and just gave up. After a couple of abortive attempts to get back into it in January, I made myself go through to the end this month, but I was no more impressed.​
I didn't find any of the new characters sympathetic, and the only one to my mind who was really psychologically convincing was Pepe. Pratchett has always been one for social commentary, but I can't remember him laying it on with such a trowel before** - I felt I was being repeatedly bludgeoned about Nutt, who never convinced me in the least.​
** but I deliberately haven't read 'Nation'​
Did anyone else feel the whole thing was a little rough around the edges - like it was a good draft that hadn't been polished, or not properly edited? I'm sure at one point Glenda comes out with 'egregious' - and since she was a stranger to 'fecundity' I can't believe that one would have tripped off her tongue. And the continual jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint within a scene I found disruptive.​
Not one of his best, certainly.​

I also noted that to me it felt that it had been written by rote, to a template, and it was only when I found myself picking up flaws in the writing that I began to wonder if his dementia was responsible since before that I'd assumed Unseen Academicals had been planned and at least part written before the illness took hold.

Nonetheless, I was still looking forward to Snuff as I adore Sam Vimes, but my comment on it at the time

I've started Pratchett's Snuff and after 100 pages, I'm thinking that dictating a novel rather than typing it can only be successful if someone (a) is Barbara Cartland, (b) does a lot of preparatory work first or (c) has a very ruthless transcriber/editor. Unfortunately...​

I never did finish it -- my father had dementia at the time, and I found the continual repetition and going round in circles without getting to the point of his conversation was exactly mirrored in the writing -- and I couldn't bear to buy Raising Steam as I guessed it would be even worse. So if you want to leave Pratchett's work on a high, Vertigo, I'd suggest you stop now and re-read some of the older books.


** 11 years ago??? Where's all the time gone?
I have a feeling I will stop with this book, though I might go back on this decision later, you never know.

I agree that it was a little rough and felt like it lacked some needed editing; as I said there were passages that felt confused and certainly left me confused even after rereading them. You mentioned that Snuff was dictated but this one also appears to have been at least largely dictated, from the dedication: "This book is dedicated to Rob Wilkins, who typed most of it and had the good sense to laugh occasionally." I suspect this is responsible for some of that roughness, however that does not really excuse the lack of editing. Any book of Pratchett's will inevitably have good sales and surely deserves good editing.

I'd also agree that Pratchett seems to have got on a bit of a social high horse in this book, and his satire did become a little more ascerbic than was his norm, nevertheless I did still enjoy it and loved the humour. However my 5 stars for this one might reflect a degree of making allowance for his emerging condition at the time. I suppose if I was being rather more unbiased I'd probably have given it 4 rather than 5 stars.

That said I did still enjoy it and didn't find it a struggle to read.
 

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