The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
672
I have seen a few of the TV adaptations [but not all] and thought them so slow and without any of the whimsy and lightness, I have found in Sir TP's writing.
I thought Soul Music was the best but it has been years since I have seen it.
The BBC Radio version of The Night Watch I thought was great... But there again the pictures are always better on the radio...


Yeah, I think the most important feature of the Discworld books is Pratchett's narration. Anything which doesn't have that is always going to be lacking.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #14: Lords and Ladies

Returning to their home kingdom of Lancre after travelling across the Disc, witches Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax discover that a new coven of hip, young witches has arisen in their absence. Magrat is disconcerted to discover that plans for her marriage to King Verence are steaming ahead without her involvement, with guests arriving from all over. On top of those issues, an invasion of beings from another dimension is at hand. It falls to the witches of Lancre and an unlikely assortment of allies - an annoyed orangutan, a legion of ninja morris dancers and a terminally frisky dwarf in a wig - to rise to the occasion.

Lords and Ladies is intriguing as the first Discworld novel to rely heavily on pre-existing continuity, a point Terry Pratchett was so concerned about he includes a warning about it (and a quick recap of prior books) in the start of the novel. The book is the fourth in the "Witches" sub-series following on from Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad, but it also intersects and crosses over with the "Ankh-Morpork Wizards" sub-series, previously established in Moving Pictures and Reaper Man. Think of it as The Avengers of the Discworld Literary Universe, or something.

Those fairly moderate (and likely overstated) continuity concerns out of the way, Lords and Ladies is a fun romp which fairly effortlessly fits into the upper tier of Discworld novels. By this point in the series, Pratchett had moved on from satirising fantasy as a whole and was far more interested in examining the human condition through the idiosyncratic lens of the Discworld. However, he was fairly regularly being bombarded (or at least lightly shelled) by fan letters asking where the elves* were. The Disc had dwarfs, trolls, pixies and fairies after all, so elves should be around. Their only mention thusfar had been The Light Fantastic, where Twoflower mooned over elves as being beautiful and graceful and Rincewind reacted the same way as when someone says, "Well, say what you will but that Mr. Hitler had some good ideas." That idea had clearly been rattling around for a while before Pratchett finally decided to give it a good airing.

The modern epic fantasy idea of elves as graceful, noble beings was a somewhat unusual one when compared to folklore, where elves are presented more as mischievous tricksters, if not outright evil. Pratchett decided to tap that field of inspiration for his elves here, who as much more Aes Sidhe than noble Legolas, and all the more interesting for it. The Aes Sidhe - the elves of Irish mythology - are a fascinating study in cruelty and alieness, and Pratchett's exploration of them here in a fantasy context would remain unmatched until, arguably, Peadar Ó Guilín's recent and hugely enjoyable Call duology.

The novel is divided into two halves. The first is fairly familiar, with the witches dealing with more mundane concerns in Lancre, Magrat getting annoyed at finding out people are trying to arrange her life without asking her and Nanny and Granny trying to deal with the fact that they're not getting any younger and they are risk of being out to pasture by fresh, new blood (with some very odd ideas). This sequence feels slight but still funny, and quite clever (how Granny Weatherwax defeats the younger witch trying to take her down a notch is both), interspersed with a road trip as the Ankh-Morpork wizards travel to Lancre through a series of increasingly bizarre adventures, culminating in one of the funniest scenes in the entire series as their coach is held up by noted lowwayman Casanunda (here returning from Witches Abroad).

The second half of the novel, after the elves show up, abruptly shifts gears into the rather unexpected Die Hard with an Elfgeance as the Lancre regulars have to tool up and take down the elves with a gusto that Professor Hugo Dyson (a noted elf-hater who mocked his friend JRR Tolkien about them rather gleefully) would no doubt approve of. In fact, given Pratchett's general reluctance to use violence as the ultimate solution to problems, the transformation of the story into what is possibly the closest he gets to writing an all-out action novel is rather surprising, even moreso for how accomplished it is. Pratchett being Pratchett, he also has to throw in some clever references to quantum theory along the way, culminating in his unique solution to Schrodinger's Paradox.

Characterisation is solid throughout and Magrat gets fleshed out a lot more than in previous books, whilst Granny Weatherwax continues her evolution into arguably Pratchett's finest protagonist. The book also gives much-needed depth to Ridcully, whose character could formerly be defined as "blusteringly pompous," but here emerges as a smarter, shrewder and more romantic character than previously. There's also some subtle foreshadowing of later novels as Ponder Stibbons' experiences here set up his investigation of other-universe theory, leading to further shenanigans down the road. A slight crack here is the continued degeneration of the Bursar into mental instability and illness and it being played solely for laughs, which feels a bit obvious and risks becoming stale (Pratchett just about maintains it here, but by Interesting Times the joke has worn thin).

In overall terms, Lords and Ladies (*****) emerges as one of the strongest books in the series, and the second part of a formidable one-two punch after Small Gods. Pratchett shows he can play a story more strongly for laughs and even action, and still craft something as entertaining and memorable as that earlier, slightly more serious book about the exploitation of religious faith.

* Throughout the Discworld series Pratchett uses the more grammatically correct "dwarfs" rather than Tolkienian "dwarves" for the plural of that species, but even he had to admit that "elfs" looks weird and went with Tollers on that one.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #15: Men at Arms

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is getting married. It's an occasion of great happiness and joy, marred by a massive explosion at the Assassins' Guild and the theft of an unknown artefact. The Guilds don't want the Watch involved and the Patrician doesn't want Vimes involved, but bodies are soon piling up. Someone out there has a weapon that kill people instantly at a long, long range and its up to the City Watch and their new intake to stop them. Somehow.

When Terry Pratchett introduced the City Watch in the classic Discworld novel Guards! Guards! it always felt like he was deliberately setting up a premise and cast of characters who could go on to recur regularly through the series. It's a bit surprising that it took him seven novels to get back to the Watch and their adventures, but when he did, he did it with style.

Once again, Pratchett engages with amusing cliches - Captain Vimes is only three days from retirement and we all know what that means in a police procedural - and once again also undercuts a simple satire with some outstanding character and story depth. There's a harder edge to this story than most Discworld novels, with a somewhat higher body count (including among some of the sympathetic protagonists), all arranged around a genuinely intriguing mystery. There's a great nod to hardbitten detective stories, with Sam Vimes as the cynical, weathered old cop doggedly pursuing the case in the face of opposition, with Corporal Carrot as his enthusiastic young sidekick. As you'd expect, though, Pratchett subverts this setup early on and takes the story in more interesting directions.

The novel benefits from being the first one written with Stephen Briggs' Streets of Ankh-Morpork guidebook to hand, meaning that Pratchett could plot things like rooftop chases and the routes of various characters on a big map of the city. This immediately gives the city more of a lived-in feel. But the writing is far more important in giving Ankh-Morpork a lived-in reality to it. Previous to Men at Arms, Ankh-Morpork was simply a great setting. From this novel onwards - and to this very day - it simply became the greatest metropolis ever presented in a fantasy series, a city that absolutely convinces from the tip of the Tower of Art to the depths of the sluggish River Ankh and from the office of the Patrician to the lowliest criminals on the streets. For the backdrop to an ostensibly comedic series, that's quite an accomplishment.

On top of this, Pratchett brings a rich level of characterisation. Both Vimes and Carrot take a step up, and the troll-and-dwarf pairing of Detritus (returning from Moving Pictures, as does Gaspode) and Cuddy is absolutely fantastic. Angua is also a very fine addition to the cast. Pratchett also uses the novel to intelligently investigate ethnic tensions in a divided city as well as political intrigue between the guilds and the government, as well as analysing the dangers of those who live in the "glories" of the past rather than trying to help the present.

Pratchett also still brings the funny. As usual there is intelligent wordplay, some smart references (Detritus's swift promotion to a Full Metal Jacket-style drill sergeant is as terrifying as it is funny) and, when called for, some more straightforward gags peppered through the book.

The real success of Men at Arms (*****) is Pratchett taking things he'd previously been good at in isolation and here combining them into an outstandingly successful combination, furthering the run of the Discworld series' first "imperial period" of quality.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #16: Soul Music

Imp y Celyn, a musician from a druidic society, arrives in Ankh-Morpork to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, the entry fees to the Musicians' Guild are unaffordable and playing without their sanction is a good way of finding out if you actually need functioning hands or not. Joining forces with Glod and Lias (a dwarf hornblower and a troll drummer), Imp finds a strange guitar in a back-alley shop and inadvertently introduces the Discworld to Music with Rocks In. But the music wants to live forever, which means killing its creator. For Susan, the young Duchess of Sto Helit and granddaughter of Death (it's a long story), filling in for her grandpa whilst he takes a break, this presents her a tough quandary in her first week on the job.

Soul Music, the sixteenth book of the Discworld series, interrupts Terry Pratchett's imperial run of form in the series by not being stupendously excellent (after the one-two-three punch of Small Gods, Lords and Ladies and Men at Arms), instead settling for merely being pretty good. Pratchett is retreading old ground here, bringing rock music to the Discworld for study and satire in the same way he earlier tackled shopping malls (Reaper Man) and movies (Moving Pictures).

It's a solid formula and competently executed, but it still makes for something of a formulaic novel. Even the major subplot, in which Death takes some time off and mayhem results (for the third time in a dozen books), feels like we're in familiar territory.

Fortunately, formulaic and competent Pratchett is still pretty good by any standards. It helps that the novel's effective protagonist, Susan, is one of Pratchett's better characters, a sensible young woman who goes through life flummoxed at the sheer stupidity of many of her fellows and constantly trying to work out how to make things work out for the best. Susan does recur in several later novels, though she doesn't quite break through to the top tier of Pratchett characters like Vimes or Granny Weatherwax. There's also a surprising hard edge to her backstory, which relies on foreknowledge of Mort and makes the events of that novel somewhat bittersweet in retrospect.

The novel is funny, packed with references to classic rock singers, albums, lyrics and even cover art (the cover art makes a nod at Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell), though I wonder how some of these references have aged in 2021. Will as many people get the Michael Jackson, Blues Brothers, Buddy Holly, Sex Pistols and Who references now as then? If you do, then the book becomes genuinely a laugh riot as it riffs on real rock and roll events and history (both outright and subtly), gently but affectionately poking fun at the absurdity of the genre.

Still, greatness eludes the novel because it is so similar to previous books, not helped by Archchancellor Ridcully walking around giving metacommentary on how similar the events are to previous books. It also feels a bit odd, given their heroism and effectiveness in the prior novel, that the City Watch (here cameoing outside their own series) are treated as incompetent and ineffective buffoons here.

Soul Music (****) is entertaining and readable, especially if you are a classic rock fan, but still can't help but feel a bit of a letdown after the supreme quality of the books leading up to it. An animated version of the novel, produced in 1997 by Cosgrove Hall, is available on YouTube.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #17: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

The remote and mysterious Agatean Empire has sent a request to Ankh-Morpork, demanding that the "Great Wizzard" be sent to them. After thorough research and exacting study (or about five minutes of asking around), the faculty at Unseen University determine this to be a request for Rincewind, nominal wizard and adventurer-at-large who once had dealings with a representative of the Empire. Rincewind is, reluctantly, rescued from his new home (a tropical paradise which doesn't seem to want to kill him for once) and transported to the Empire, where he finds the politest revolution in history is underway and the capital city is about to be assaulted by a horde of (seven) formidable barbarian warriors. Unfortunately, he finds his exploits and power have been "marginally" exaggerated by his old friend Twoflower...

Interesting Times, our seventeenth visit to the Discworld, marks the return of Rincewind and the Luggage for the first time since the mini-novel Eric, and the first appearance of Twoflower since The Light Fantastic, fifteen books earlier. Pratchett probably chose to revisit the OG Discworld characters due to a sense of occasion: the novel was largely written during the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Colour of Magic, at a point when the series' profile and success were booming. There was also a feeling that recent Discworld novels had become fairly complex in terms of story and character depth, and Pratchett wanted to get "back to basics," as it were, with another Rincewind travelogue adventure.

The problem is that by this point in the conception of the series, Discworld had really moved far beyond being a series of knockabout comedy novels and a return to that format does it little favours. Pratchett does try to make this first visit to the Disc's equivalent of China more interesting, with a full-scale revolution in progress, but he shies away from using the setting to make the similar kind of points he did about religion and politics in the classic Small Gods. He does, laudably, mostly avoid any kind of lazy stereotyping of Chinese culture, though a few clunky lines slip through. Twoflower is fairly underwhelming and low-key on his return, and the Horde feels like the same joke that was already every effectively made in The Light Fantastic being regurgitated for the sake of it. Pratchett also seems a bit uncertain in tackling the Empire storyline, to the point that the book is almost a third done before we even get there, leaving events there also feeling quite rushed and its villain not really developed.

The book does have a few good points. There's some good humour from the meeting of minds that is Ridcully encountering Rincewind, and the Unseen University metastory gets a bit more development as we encounter Hex, the Discworld's first computer. The more sophisticated Pratchett of the mid-1990s does do a good job of making Rincewind a bit more fleshed-out as a character, although this does seem mostly achieved by making him a bit more unlikeable than he was previously. There's also some entertaining gags which do work quite well, like the literal terracotta army that's controlled by the exact same icon scheme as the classic 1991 video game Lemmings.

Interesting Times (***) is not quite the weakest Discworld novel, but it may rank among the most disappointing. Pratchett doesn't use the setting or story to illuminate wider themes, at least very well, and if it ultimately avoids being Carry On Up the Yangtze, it doesn't exactly use its setting to great effect either. Still, Rincewind gets some much-needed development, it is fun to see Twoflower and the Luggage again (if only briefly) and the novel passes the time before Pratchett gets his mojo back again.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #18: Maskerade

Agnes Nitt, formerly of the secondary Lancre witches' coven, has relocated to Ankh-Morpork to become a singer in the Opera House, assuming her phenomenal natural talent would be enough, and so it proves...enough to become the real voice behind a much more photogenic but less-talented, would-be starlet. But a spate of murders has the opera company on edge. Meanwhile, Nanny Ogg has had her cookbook published, but Granny Weatherwax's keen eye suggests she has not been getting the promised royalties. They head to Ankh-Morpork to find the missing money and, just coincidentally, look for a third witch to replace Queen Magrat.

When I embarked on this Discworld re-readathon, Maskerade was possibly the book I was most intrigued to reach. Not because it's the best Discworld book (which it isn't), but it's possibly the most low-key, least-discussed book in the entire series. It's actually quite impressive how constrained it is a novel: almost the entire book (bar a couple of early vignettes as Granny and Nanny travel to Ankh-Morpork via stagecoach) takes place in just one building, with a very focused cast of characters. In fact, given that Discworld stage plays were already a regular thing when Pratchett wrote the book, I wonder if he'd deliberately kept the book restrained and focused to better accommodate stage versions of the narrative.

The narrow scope helps Maskerade improve on its immediate predecessor, Interesting Times, which might be the least-cohesive Discworld novel of them all. Here, the tight focus and clearer stakes makes for a more enjoyable read, though an imperfect one.

Ostensibly this is a book in the "Witches" sub-series, picking up after the events of Lords and Ladies, in which Magrat departed the coven to become Queen of Lancre after they saved the kingdom from an invasion of transdimensional elves (as you do). It is, refreshingly, much more focused on Nanny Ogg than it is on Granny Weatherwax, and seeing Nanny use her natural charisma and charm to infiltrate the Opera House and ingratiate herself with everyone is quite entertaining. Granny Weatherwax is surprisingly low-key, with several notably powerful moments but spending a lot of the book in the background as Nanny and Agnes Nitt take on the lion's share of the action. This may actually be the start of a trend where Pratchett has to bench some of his most hyper-capable characters for parts of the story because if they were properly involved from the off, they'd have the problem licked in five minutes.

It's a funny book, riffing hard on The Phantom of the Opera but easily-missed lines lampoon everything from Shakespeare to Cats to "a play about a miserable guy called Les." It is, once again, "Pratchett does xxx but in Discworld," where xxx is the opera, having previously been rock music (Soul Music), religion (Small Gods), shopping malls (Reaper Man) and the cinema (Moving Pictures). This format has resulted in some of the best Discworld books but can also get formulaic, with Pratchett settling for making funny references rather than using the satire to inform more powerful points. Maskerade probably tilts more towards the more formulaic end of the spectrum, but formulaic Pratchett is so much better than a lot of authors on their very best days, that that's not much of a criticism.

The book rattles along until a very amusing, meta-fictional big curtain call, taking in (and riffing on) every famous musical and operatic tradition you can think of. There is a bit of a missed opportunity here, though, as the City Watch gets involved in the story but only through a new character and cameos for Nobby and Detritus; Sam Vimes does not show up in person, which could have been entertaining in a Javert kind of way. Of course, that could have led to an Avengers-style team-up between Vimes and Granny Weatherwax, arguably Pratchett's two most popular and competent protagonists, but alas that is not to be. A subplot about Greebo occasionally reverting to the humanoid form he last inhabited in Witches Abroad also feels somewhat underdeveloped.

Maskerade (****) is the Discworld series at its most relaxed, reliable and laidback. It's not challenging Night Watch or Small Gods' claim on being the best book in the series, but it is a fun read and a good time. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #19: Feet of Clay

There has been a murder in Ankh-Morpork, which at first glance is not unusual. But the nature of the murder intrigues Commander Sam Vimes and Captain Carrot of the City Watch. Their investigation of the case, aided by new forensics expert Cheery Longbottom, exposes an ambition that could plunge the whole city into chaos. Once again, Sam Vimes and his officers are the thin blue line between order and chaos in a city where it's hard to see where the one ends and the other begins at the best of times.

Feet of Clay is the nineteenth Discworld novel and the third to focus on the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, following the excellent Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms. Once again, the City Watch must rally to solve crimes and stop a threat to the safety of the city, through a combination of Commander Vimes's cynicism, Carrot's good-natured optimism, Colon's stoic experience, Detritus's massively impractical siege weaponry, Angua's nasal intuition and, er, whatever it is Corporal Nobbs does. The Watch is here reinforced by new arrival Cheery Longbottom, a dwarf forensics expert with something approaching a secret.

You might expect the novel to be predictable - the City Watch sub-series is, at least in potential, Pratchett's most procedural sequence of books - but as usual Pratchett takes some delight in wrong-footing expectations. This is still a funny book, as Colon's close encounter with a psychotic lunatic of diminutive size and then a very angry bull can attest, but there's more of a serious side to it as well. Existential debates on the rights of sentient beings when no one can agree if they're sentient form a key part of the story as well, as Pratchett introduces the Discworld's golems, here used almost as robot slave labour until it turns out that they can think and feel, after a fashion, which raises thorny ethical questions.

The book is also marvellously, intricately constructed. Some other Discworld books feel like Pratchett has aimed an Idea Cannon at a wall, blasted out whatever came to mind and then assembled the resulting narrative morass into something resembling a coherent plot. That worked extremely well for some novels and not as well in others, but Feet of Clay definitely feels more pre-planned and structured. There are more distinct character arcs, not just for Vimes but for Carrot and Angua's relationship, new recruit Cheery whose quiet confidence over gender expression rapidly sparks a cultural revolution among the city's dwarfs, and even for series stalwarts and standbys Nobby and Colon. The former gets drawn into what feels like a Game of Thrones subplot, whilst Colon - distressingly several weeks from retirement - has a solo mini-adventure that he was not expecting.

There's even foreshadowing at work here, as Vimes visits his childhood neighbourhood and we get the feeling of unspoken secrets about his background. These will, eventually, give rise to one of Pratchett's great masterpieces in Night Watch, but that's still quite a few books off.

Feet of Clay (*****) is one of the best Discworld novels, if not quite at the absolute-best tier of Small Gods and Night Watch. It's well-constructed, naturally funny whilst supporting more serious ideas, and as marvellously characterised as Pratchett at his best. It deepens the worldbuilding of Ankh-Morpork, the Greatest Fantasy City of All Time™, and sets the stage for intriguing developments to come. The novel is Pratchett at his best: erudite, thoughtful and smart, creating a work where fantasy, satire and detective elements meet perfectly.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #20: Hogfather

The Discworld is preparing to celebrate the great festival of Hogswatch, when young children receive presents from the Hogfather. However, someone has marked the Hogfather's card and given the task to the Assassins' Guild of Ankh-Morpork to carry out. Bewildered at the idea of executing a mythical being, they give the task to their most creative and ruthless inhumer, Mr. Teatime. As the plan unfolds and the Hogfather goes missing, Death steps in to fill the void, commanding his granddaughter Susan to, under no circumstances, search for the missing Hogfather.

Hogfather is the twentieth Discworld novel and the Big Christmas Special of the series. Pratchett had occasionally mentioned the festival of Hogswatch in previous novel and with his Discworld novels usually being published at the end of the years and being an annual Christmas gift in some households, it was a reasonable move to actually write a novel about Christmas, or at least the Disc's typically idiosyncratic version thereof. Christmas therefore joins the various other topics - like films, rock music, crime, fundamentalist religion and Shakespeare - that Pratchett has covered over the series to date.

The novel also acts as the fourth novel to focus on the character of Death, and the second on his granddaughter of Susan Sto Helit (following Soul Music). Death's character has been explored pretty thoroughly in three previous books, so Pratchett splits the story here between Death and Susan, with more focus on Susan as she explores the mystery of why the Hogfather has disappeared and why someone would want to kill him. It's a sold spine for the book, and it's fun following the path of clues which eventually leads to the solution. Susan remains one of Pratchett's more underrated and capable protagonists, as he puts it, a "Goth Mary Poppins," so it is surprising she makes so few appearances (aside from this novel, she only appears in Soul Music and Thief of Time).

One of the biggest surprises about Hogfather is how dark it gets. Pratchett's reputation for comedy and laughter belies the fact that he can get quite venomous and biting when he wants to, and it's probably not a coincidence that his darkest novels - Small Gods, Night Watch and Nation - are among his very best. Hogfather doesn't go that far, but it does feature an unpleasant gang of criminals with rather unpleasant habits and tics. In Mr. Teatime it also features possibly Pratchett's most psychologically damaged and unhinged antagonists, someone who is not a nice guy and who isn't going to be won over by witty speech by the lead character. This gives the novel a surprising amount of bite for what is supposed to be the Discworld Christmas Special.

The book does falter a bit in its pacing. Once again, the presence of the Unseen University faculty slows things down to a drag. There are some nice gags here - Death communicating with the primitive AI, Hex, and the Senior Wrangler going on a date - but once again the Bursar's mental illness being played up for laughs and the other faculty going through their routines is something that was played out in Reaper Man, at the very least, and should have been retired by now.

Beyond that problem, Hogfather (****) is a very solid novel with some of Pratchett's most accomplished and unpleasant villains, which normally would be a good thing but I'm not sure it works within the context of a Christmas story. Great characters and a nicely knotty plot overcome pacing problems and some repetitive story beats to make for a rare Christmas fantasy novel that is worth reading. The book is available in the UK and USA now.

The book also has the distinct honour of being the first Discworld novel adapted for the screen in live-action (animated versions of Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music were produced a decade earlier). Sky produced a two-part TV adaptation of Hogfather in 2006, starring Ian Richardson as Death, Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) as Susan Sto Helit and Marc Warren in a very memorable role as Mr. Teatime.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #21: Jingo

An island has appeared in the Circle Sea, roughly halfway between Ankh-Morpork and the great empire of Klatch. This of course makes it Strategically Important, with both Ankh-Morpork and Klatch eager to use force to back their claim. One problem: Ankh-Morpork has no army (standing or otherwise), no money to hire mercenaries and no equipment to use (because they've sold it all to Klatch). For Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and now a reluctant noble with the right to lead a company of men (and misc.), this is just the first problem he has to overcome. But not to worry, it'll all be over by Hogswatch.

Terry Pratchett brought many subjects under the microscope of his forensic satire during his long career. Small Gods, possibly his single finest novel, angrily but intelligently dissected the evils of religious fundamentalism and how it perverts faith into a force of destruction. Seeing Pratchett bring that same kind of analysis to war - the "last refuge of the incompetent" as Isaac Asimov said - is an interesting prospect.

Unfortunately, Pratchett isn't quite able to marshal the same level of eloquent, witty rage in this novel, the twenty-first in the Discworld series. This is mainly down to the book's structure. For the first two-thirds, it proceeds as a City Watch procedural in much the same vein as its three excellent predecessors, Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms and Feet of Clay. Whilst the war drums are beating, a crime takes place in Ankh-Morpork and Vimes and his officers hit the streets, following a trail to solve the crime but also hopefully stave off the war. However, in the latter third of the novel it turns into a road trip to the front, which is where the narrative starts wobbling.

There are some nice ideas in this latter part of the novel - the Patrician, Nobbs and Colon making for the most unlikely buddy team-up ever - but it does feel disjointed, like a Rincewind novel has crashed and merged into a City Watch novel towards the end. This isn't helped by some potentially amusing one-page gags (Nobbs going undercover in a harem as a woman) getting drawn out past their natural lifespan to the point of tedium. It also doesn't help that, for once, other people are ahead of Vimes and he ends up being very reactive to events through the book, only regaining his equilibrium when the book is pretty much over.

I suspect part of the problem is that once he'd hit on the "Discworld goes to war," theme, Pratchett didn't really have anywhere to take the idea. War is bad, sure, but that's pretty much obvious, and of course the situation is often more nuanced than that: defending yourself from an aggressor is a necessity. Pratchett is specifically calling out pointless wars over strategic spits of land that don't remotely justify the blood spilled, and once that point is (eloquently) made, he doesn't have a huge amount more to say, resulting in the book becoming a succession of knockabout, madcap scenes. Some are funny and work well, some not so much.

Jingo (***½) is two-thirds of a great Discworld novel about the City Watch, but that story runs out of steam and transforms into being a knockabout travelogue adventure. The main theme of war being bad is very effectively explored, but Pratchett's deeper, more thoughtful examination of his central idea is here missing. The book is fine, but disjointed.
 
Last edited:

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #22: The Last Continent

The Unseen University Librarian has fallen ill, a magical malady that can only be fixed by someone who knows his real name. Unfortunately the last person to know that, Rincewind, vanished some years ago. The Unseen University faculty set out to find him. Meanwhile, Rincewind is up to his neck in danger on the remote continent of EcksEcksEcksEcks (XXXX, aka Terror Incognita) and is trying to find his way home.

The Last Continent is the twenty-second Discworld novel (carrying us into the second half of the series) and sees Pratchett checking back in with Rincewind, the original Discworld protagonist. As the series has gone on, Rincewind's appearances have become more and more sporadic, mainly because the gag with Rincewind, that he's a coward who always runs from danger, has long since run out of gas. Rincewind's tendency to turn up in remote corners of the Disc does make him a useful character for exploring other cultures, however.

Having last used Rincewind in Interesting Times to explore a China analogue, Pratchett uses him here to investigate a fantasy version of Australia. This is quite unusual, with Australia rarely showing up in a fantasy setting. Unlike China, which Pratchett had little experience of and so shied away from in-depth cultural ideas, he had far more hands-on experience of visiting and spending time in Australia and is more comfortable satirising its culture and stereotypes whilst also touching base with more serious ideas like the impact of colonialism on the indigenous population (although only briefly).

This is all fine, but it does feel like he really had too few ideas to explore fully in The Last Continent. The novel is split almost exactly in half between Rincewind trying to escape and the Unseen University trying to find him and getting marooned on a tropical island in the process. The book flips back and forth between the two storylines, which are so completely disconnected that they feel like two 200-page novels that have been merged into one 400-page one. This structure is unsuccessful, mainly because the Unseen University wizards really work best as supporting characters in someone else's story (as in, say, Moving Pictures). Making them the focus of half the novel really only reveals how shallow they are as characters, and we don't really learn much more about them that's interesting here. Ridcully is blustering but much smarter than he lets on, Ponder Stibbons is smart but easily exasperated by his less intellectual fellows and the Bursar keeps having funny turns and needs to eat dried frog pills. This is all stuff that was well-explored ten books back in Reaper Man. There's some interesting stuff on evolution and time travel in this storyline, but it's buried under a lot of repetitive, played-out running gags.

There are some interesting twists in Rincewind's story, with nods to the idea of how dreams and reality can get mixed up, but it can all be bit vague, not helped by a lack of interesting supporting characters. Rincewind was always helped in his early appearances by an entertaining back-up crew, whether that was Twoflower or Cohen the Barbarian, but here Rincewind is mostly flying solo and most of the characters he meets are below Pratchett's usual quality, being whacky or just mad for the sake of it. Even the Luggage is reduced to barely a cameo, which is disappointing (especially given its low profile in Interesting Times).

The Last Continent (***) is an odd book, with a structure that doesn't quite work and a lot of ideas that don't really come together. But, below-par Pratchett remains capable of spinning out some interesting ideas and some good gags. There's an interesting line on how people suddenly decide that war is a great idea during a time of peace and plenty, and there's some thoughtful musings on evolution and predestination paradoxes. But in terms of plot and character development, this is one of the weaker entries in the Discworld series. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #23: Carpe Jugulum

King Verence of Lancre has welcomed travellers from across the Disc to the naming of his daughter and heir. Amongst the visitors are Mightily Oats, of the Church of Om, and dignitaries from Uberwald who like their drinks glasses to be warm and filled with blood. This sounds like a case for the Lancre witches, but young Agnes is suffering from divided attention and Granny Weatherwax has gone to ground, prompting a search by Nanny Ogg. The undead have come to Lancre, and don't seem keen to leave...

Carpe Jugulum, the twenty-third Discworld novel, returns to the Kingdom of Lancre and the adventures of the witches' coven led by Granny Weatherwax, one of the most popular sub-series within the larger series. It's a book that has a straightforward narrative, boiling down to vampires vs. witches, but also uses its straightforward story and structure to tell, in the best tradition of Pratchett, a more complex story about good, evil, morality and responsibility.

In the novel we meet "reformed" vampires. Through years of mental training against superstition and stereotypes, they've overcome many of the weaknesses of their kind. They've also trained themselves to "sip" from victims, keeping them alive for repeated use rather than killing lots of people. The vampires claim that this is progress, and they have overcome evil in pursuit of the common good, with the best results for both vampires and humans. However, it quickly becomes clear that this has just provided them with another form of control and oppression. The overt, cliche-ridden face of evil has instead been replaced by a bureaucratic, over-explained form of it, which feels even worse. The vampires beg the question, is slavery better than murder, and if so, does that still make slavery a good thing?

This leads to one of Pratchett's best encapsulations of the nature of evil and sin: people treating other people not as complex individuals worthy of respect, but as things, reducing them to statistics and not caring about their own volition; talking at people rather than with them. It's one of the Pratchett's most powerful arguments and it resonates through the novel as he explores it from different angles.

Pratchett is at his best when he is angry about something, as he was with fundamentalist religion in arguably his best novel, Small Gods (here echoed in the character of Oats, who is also a member of the Church of Om which was central in that book). His anger here is somewhat cooler, but he makes his point extremely well.

This overcomes a potential weakness of the book in terms of its basic plot and structure. "Vampires show up, take over Lancre, and get into a struggle with the witches and their allies," is extremely close to "Elves show up, take over Lancre, and get into a struggle with the witches and their allies," which we've already seen in Lords and Ladies. Although the specific plot points are different, the overall feeling of the novel is familiar. But still, if you can't tap yourself for ideas and inspiration, who else can you? And it helps that Pratchett uses a familiar structure to make an important thematic point about morality.

There's also some nice continuity moments in the book, like the first appearance of the Nac Mac Feegle in force (a solitary example appeared previously in Feet of Clay) who go on to play a major role in later books. The book is also quite amusing, with Pratchett satirising many elements of the horror genre, and the vampire genre specifically, without relying on the most obvious (and long-exhausted) gags. If there is another weakness, it's that the book dabbles with the idea of characters with split personalities, but doesn't engage with the idea as fully as perhaps it could.

Carpe Jugulum (****½) has a familiar and somewhat predictable structure, but Pratchett uses that to his advantage to relay a powerful message about the nature of good and evil, develop his characters (especially Granny Weatherwax) and trigger some good laughs along the way.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
Discworld #24: The Fifth Elephant

To the distress of Sam Vimes, he has been appointed the new Ankh-Morpork Ambassador to Uberwald, a position he feels as well-suited to as a herring to the role of architectural consultant for a non-fish-related building. At the Patrician's insistence, due to Uberwald's vital role in the international fat trade, Vimes heads off to witness the coronation of the new Low King of the dwarfs*. Of course, there is a crime and, of course, Vimes can't leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, the werewolves of Uberwald have their own crisis going on, drawing in Angua of the City Watch and her boyfriend Carrot. This leaves the Ankh-Morpork Watch under the command of Sergeant Colon...which may not be the idea situation.

The Fifth Elephant is the twenty-fourth Discworld novel and the fifth to focus on the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Arguably, this is the most popular of Pratchett's sub-series due to its large cast of colourful, well-characterised characters with emotional and character arcs that unfold across multiple books, with the cynical Commander Vimes as one of Pratchett's most popular protagonists. The Fifth Elephant is also one of the more epic books in the series, adopting a multi-stranded, multi-POV approach more reminiscent of epic fantasy than most other Discworld novels.

The book divides itself into three main plot strands: Vimes as the Ambassador to Uberwald, getting entangled in political intrigue that would make George R.R. Martin at least somewhat nod in approval; Carrot, Angua and Gaspode the Wonder Dog getting into hijinks with the werewolves and non-were wolves of Uberwald; and Sergeant Colon being promoted beyond his ability and leading the City Watch into abject disaster at home. Pratchett's done multi-stranded plotting before, but rarely as accomplished as he does here, rotating between these three primary storylines and several significant subplots: Nobby forming the Disc's police union; a complicated vampire/werewolf/dwarf rivalry; Cheery Longbottom's ongoing crusade to allow dwarf women to be women; the onward march of the Igors; and the mysterious activities of Vimes' newly-appointed attache. There's a lot going on in The Fifth Elephant, maybe more than in any Discworld novel before it, and it's to Pratchett's credit that he juggles these ideas with skill and in a very disciplined 450 pages.

It's also the book that brings in one of the biggest worldbuilding changes to the series: the clacks. Discworld started off as a medieval-aping series, with Ankh-Morpork an effective carbon copy of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar. Since then, the setting has shifted down the timeline (although, fortunately, guns have not caught on). The introduction of the clacks - a continent-spanning semaphore system - starts to shift the setting more into the early 19th Century, with the Discworld steadily gaining a more steampunk, industrial feel to it which sets it apart from other fantasy settings. Pratchett handles this shift with subtle ease (to the point where you can forget the setting has advanced about 500 years in far less than a human lifetime), and it's fun to see it starting to happen here.

There's also a tremendous amount of successful worldbuilding here. We got a taste of one small corner of Uberwald in the previous novel, Carpe Jugulum, but the enormous country is covered and explored in more detail here. In particular Pratchett delves into the society and culture of his dwarfs more than in any previous book, and more than in most fantasy setting, where they're just kind of hanging around without a lot of development.

On the negative side of things, there's perhaps a few too many ideas being fired off here, with several promising plot strands and side-characters underserved due to the concise page count. This might be the Discworld novel most deserving of being longer so Pratchett could explore more ideas in more detail. I'm also not particularly convinced by the idea that even Sergeant Colon could nose-dive the City Watch into the ground within just a couple of days of being left in charge. Whilst never the brightest spark in the plug, Colon has never been the vindictive idiot he's made out to be here. It's particularly bizarre that his fall from grace happens so fast after his successful work alongside the Patrician in Jingo.

That aside, The Fifth Elephant (****½) is a triumph, with Pratchett delivering a large-scale, epic storyline spanning multiple characters and subplots and doing it extremely well, with some of the best worldbuilding in the series to date. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

*Pratchett has no truck with the cooler-looking, but ungrammatical, spelling "dwarves" in his setting.
 

Overread

Searching for a flower
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
4,279
Location
Hunting in the woods
I think the key with Sergeant Colon is that he's a natural Sergeant and nothing more. He's the prime example of someone who has been promoted up to the highest point he can reach. Promoting him higher results in disaster less out of malicious intent, but more that he's not got a clue what to do and falls apart. It's a classic situation that many have seen in offices when someone good at job A gets promoted into a managerial position and suddenly they are a disaster. Because they haven't got Management skills, they are outside of their skill set.


And yes you are right, the biggest thing with Discworld, and one big reason I always advocate people read them (for the first time) in publication order; is the evolution of the setting. It's always a huge shame that we never saw the end (not that I think there was one) or at least saw more of Terry's evolution of his setting.
 

Elentarri

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2022
Messages
47
For me it will always be "dwarves". Dwarfs are those pint-sized garden ornaments with red caps.
 

CupofJoe

Some medals you wear on your heart not your sleeve
Joined
Mar 29, 2019
Messages
1,024
I think the key with Sergeant Colon is that he's a natural Sergeant and nothing more. He's the prime example of someone who has been promoted up to the highest point he can reach. Promoting him higher results in disaster less out of malicious intent, but more that he's not got a clue what to do and falls apart. It's a classic situation that many have seen in offices when someone good at job A gets promoted into a managerial position and suddenly they are a disaster. Because they haven't got Management skills, they are outside of their skill set.


And yes you are right, the biggest thing with Discworld, and one big reason I always advocate people read them (for the first time) in publication order; is the evolution of the setting. It's always a huge shame that we never saw the end (not that I think there was one) or at least saw more of Terry's evolution of his setting.
Someone once explained to me, that the role of a Sergeant [in the Army] was as someone who could use their initiative when but would not be expected to take the initiative. I think Colon is an example of this for comic effect.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

Small beautiful events are what life is all about.
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
Messages
354
Location
The Heart of Nowhere
I always had the impression Sir Terry was using the character of Sergeant Colon here (yes, somewhat unfairly, in my opinion) to humorously illustrate the idea that power corrupts character, and possibly also to show the result of just how necessary Carrot and Vimes have become to the running of the Watch. It didn't really have to bother with being consistent with the rest of Colon's characterization, because he just wasn't as important as that plot concept. Pratchett always seems to have multiple different tiers of characters that he treated all differently, some being caricatures and some being plot devices and others being fully-fleshed protagonists, and Colon and Nobby never really did make it out of the realm of caricature along with the others as the stories went on. The more serious stories moved beyond them, and they just stayed as they were, the sergeant and corporal pair from the original four-man Watch.

And really, it feels a bit nostalgic in retrospect. Those two are fixed points in a changing world, so to speak.
 

Pyan

Verbo et ictu, sed flare primum.
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Jul 29, 2005
Messages
10,671
Location
Clausentum
I've always pictured Nobby and Colon as Stan and Ollie. Not their characters, but how they'd look from behind, proceeding down Treacle Mine Road...
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,170
I've always pictured Nobby and Colon as Stan and Ollie. Not their characters, but how they'd look from behind, proceeding down Treacle Mine Road...
They're inverted, though. Nobby is wiry, thin and very short (shorter than tall dwarfs, according to TP), Colon is tall and rotund.
 

Top