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Pratchett II: The Wrath of Om


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#1 Werthead

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 05:36 PM

And an excellent place and an excellent book to kick off the second thread:

Small Gods

When Brother Brutha of the Omnian Church starts talking to a tortoise, he merely assumes that he has gone mad. However, when the tortoise turns out to be the great god Om who is having a Bad Day, Brutha finds that his faith is about to be put to the test...

Up to (and including) Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett was an author who wrote books that broadly fell in two categories: books that spoofed or were a satire of modern society in some way, often through broad comedy, and other books that were a bit more serious and had a point to them, though still amusing. The two sides had come very close to coexisting in Pyramids, but arguably just managed to avoid fusing into one impressive whole.

Small Gods is where Pratchett got it right. The entire book, from its first page to its last, is a lengthy, sustained and inordinately clever examination of religion, fundamentalism and blind faith and their conflict with reason, argument and science. And you barely notice, because the story itself is extremely taut, well-told and brilliantly characterised with Pratchett's occasional bursts of silliness kept to a minimum in favour of flashes of wry and at times angry humour. Small Gods is a book that Richard Dawkins would kill to have written, and done so in such a manner that even the most God-bothering evangelical would have still been riveted to it.

Small Gods has the veneer of being just a traditional Pratchett book: there's some jokes about men in togas arguing pointlessly about philosophy (in a world where it is difficult to have a conversation about, "Are the gods real?" when a lightning bolt will come flying through the window five seconds later with a label attached saying, "YES,"), Death has a couple of cameo appearances and there is a running joke about tortoises being nice to eat. But you can tell the subject matter really got Pratchett riled up. His hatred of blind faith and the idea that killing people is okay because some book says so - and, let's face it, that book was written by a old guy who might have been bitten by a donkey that morning and was a really foul mood when he started on the bit about doing unto others with fire and brimstone and was probably not, when you get down to it, an actual deity - really comes through in this novel, but in measured tones.

Character-wise, Small Gods may be Pratchett's strongest book. Most of the cast does not reoccur in the series (Death and a very brief trans-temporal appearance by a certain simian book-collector aside), but Pratchett still has time to paint them in impressive detail. Vorbis may be one of the scariest 'villains' (if that's even a right description) in the whole series. Brutha is certainly one of its most interesting protagonists. Om's pragmatic, tortoise-meets-deity outlook on life is amusing. Even minor characters like Didactylos and would-be rebel leader Simony are well-rounded and given good rationales for what they do.

Almost as importantly, the ending does not suck. Pratchett has a patchy record with endings, with his books sometimes ending okay and others being a bit of a let-down after a strong start and middle section. Small Gods, however, has a fantastic ending, starting with possibly the biggest belly-laugh out of all thirty-odd books in the series (hint: it involves something being airborne which shouldn't be) and proceeding from there.

Intelligent but never preachy, philosophical but never boring, Small Gods (*****) is Terry Pratchett's masterpiece (okay, his strongest masterpiece). It is the strongest Discworld novel and almost certainly the best thing he has ever written.



#2 kuroishi

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 05:47 PM

I've never really got what was the big deal with Small Goods. Of course it's funny and smart, and it has maybe some of the funniest parts in any Discworld book (oh, the discussions on the existence of gods !) but I didn't really liked it more than any other Pratchett book.
I don't know, maybe it's because all the stuff about religion and fundamentalism seemed like a given to me that it didn't really impress me (I was much more impressed by what he did with Night Watch).

#3 Rhadamanth

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 06:00 PM

I'm gonna see if my library has this. I've enjoyed all the Discworld novels I've read so far, hope this ones as good if not better.

#4 Guest_Other-in-law_*

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 12:02 AM

(I was much more impressed by what he did with Night Watch).

Me too.

#5 Jerec

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 01:33 AM

Good to see the reviews keep going. I like seeing your opinions on each of the books. Small Gods was one of my favourites, probably making my top 5 Pratchett. Lords and Ladies next!

My Discworld re-read project is going much slower. I've got to start on Equal Rites at some point, but can't quite bring myself to do so. I'll get there.

#6 polishgenius

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 02:49 AM

Part of the reason Small Gods gets such praise is that for many it marks the beginning of Pratchett's golden phase, whereas Night Watch was written much later (although the latter is probably the one I most see being touted as 'best'). Also Small Gods is a standalone and so a good introduction whereas you need to have read at least one and probably more of the previous City Watch books to properly enjoy NW.


I thought Nation handled the themes of Small Gods better though.

#7 lockesnow

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 03:41 AM

I thought Nation handled the themes of Small Gods better though.


I agree. much stronger, fuller characters too. Small Gods made me laugh and think. Night watch made me laugh, and think and tear up. Nation made me laugh, think, cry and damn near drop into a depressive state. :-p

I've been picking up discworld hardcovers to fill out my collection, I've only got three left to get (Maurice, Wee Free Men, and Hatful of Sky), I'm getting the British editions because I understand there was quite a lot of changes to make it friendly to American kids who can only read American but can't read English. (Sadly it was my experience that American kids can't read American either, if I recall the complaints that The Yearling and Mark Twain were impossible to read because they're written in dialect.)

Edited by lockesnow, 17 October 2009 - 03:43 AM.


#8 Ser Howsmelly

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 06:18 AM

My Discworld re-read project is going much slower. I've got to start on Equal Rites at some point, but can't quite bring myself to do so. I'll get there.


Equal Rites.... *shudders*

I loved Nation. It was not even on my radar when it was released, I spose coz its not strictly a Discworld novel, but i love it. Got the Hardback edition n I remember that as soon as I finished it the first time I had to begin again n do an immediate re-read.
Hmmm... that might be a bad habit picked up from all this ASOIAF posing/waiting...

#9 kuroishi

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 07:06 AM

Part of the reason Small Gods gets such praise is that for many it marks the beginning of Pratchett's golden phase, whereas Night Watch was written much later (although the latter is probably the one I most see being touted as 'best'). Also Small Gods is a standalone and so a good introduction whereas you need to have read at least one and probably more of the previous City Watch books to properly enjoy NW.


I thought Nation handled the themes of Small Gods better though.


Good points about Small Gods being a standalone (and maybe one of the best), that makes it a good entry point, indeed. I haven't read Nation yet, it looks like I should.

#10 deedles

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Posted 18 October 2009 - 04:47 PM

Loved "Small Gods", I know I loaned it out to someone, but damned if I can remember who, and it must have been more than 2 years ago. Obviously this means that I now need to rebuy it, so I can reread it, loan it out again and start the cycle all over again. Hmm.

Having said that, I finished Unseen Academicals last week and I just, well, I just didn't care. Glenda, didn't care, Nutt, didn't care, Trev didn't care. Lord V and Lady M, to be honest, I didn't care. I still liked the book, but it had no emotional resonance. I'm glad I read it, but doubt I'll ever reread.

#11 Werthead

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 01:57 PM

Lords and Ladies

Returning to their home kingdom of Lancre after various misadventures elsewhere, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are disconcerted to discover a new, younger and more hip coven of young witches has arisen in their absence. Whilst they deal with the situation with their traditional patience and thorough levels of understanding, Magrat finds that arrangements for her marriage to King Verence are steaming ahead and the invitations have been sent out already. One recipient is Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork who decides to attend on a whim (and the prospect of excellent fishing), dragging the terminally confused Bursar, the simian Librarian and the very keen young Ponder Stibbons (whose favourite word is 'quantum') along for the ride.

The wedding suffers a series of complications of the kind that are to be expected and some that are not, most notably a full-scale invasion by beings from another dimension. Naturally it is up to the witches of Lancre (plus an annoyed orang-utan, a legion of ninja morris dancers and a terminally frisky dwarf in a wig) to rise to the occasion...

Lords and Ladies is the fourteenth Discworld novel and the third featuring the Lancre witches' coven (and the fourth to feature Granny Weatherwax). Despite the novel working perfectly well as a stand-alone, Pratchett was sufficiently concerned about the book's continuity ties that he provides a thorough synopsis of Wyrd Sisters and a somewhat briefer one of Witches Abroad before cracking on with the tale, which is a nice touch but unnecessary.

One interesting device Pratchett starts employing in these middle-era Discworld books is taking a concept or idea mentioned very briefly earlier in the series and fleshing it out into a full-sized novel. For example, a running-gag in Reaper Man about a con artist and his trained mice eventually turned into The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents whilst the Hogfather was mentioned a few times before finally getting his own book. Similarly, Lords and Ladies builds on a very brief mention in The Light Fantastic where Twoflower starts dreamily talking about beautiful elves and Rincewind reacts the same way you would to someone saying, "Well, Hitler wasn't a completely bad person..." And of course, fans had been asking for a while where the Disc's elves were, since the dwarfs and trolls had been very much in evidence. With this book Pratchett delivered the answer.

It turns out that the Discworld's elves are a bunch of merciless and easily-amused homicidal maniacs with a perchance for toying with their prey before killing them. This leads to some of Pratchett's most effective horror and tension-filled sequences, not something he is renowned for but given how good he is at them it may be a style of writing he should have tried employing more often. Magrat's running battle with a bunch of elves in Lancre Castle stands out as one of the series' best action sequences, though still laced with some brilliant moments of humour (such as the introduction of the Schroedinger's Greebo paradox).

Granny Weatherwax, one of Pratchett's most complex and interesting characters, gets some very fine character development in this novel as we see some more of her past and also get a glimpse of the other lives she could have lived if things had turned out differently. Ridcully, hitherto one of Pratchett's more straightforward creations, also gets some much-needed depth to his character as well. The Bursar provides some amusing comic relief, but is thankfully not over-used. Some later books, most notably Interesting Times, are actually bogged down by his mindless babbling, but here it is more restrained. The return of Casanunda the permanently horny dwarf is also welcome and gives rise to several sequences which are among the funniest in the whole series (his lowwayman hold-up of Ridcully's coach is a classic scene).

After Small Gods, the best book in the series, Pratchett could have been forgiven for resting on his laurels and maybe bashing out a quickie Rincewind travelogue comedy or something. Instead, he cracked on and produced a book that is a strong candidate for the most relentlessly funny and entertaining book in the series, with a twisted dark side (possibly influenced by his then-recent collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens) and some great character development thrown in for good measure.

Lords and Ladies (*****) is available now in the UK and USA. Can Pratchett make it a five-star hat-trick with Men at Arms? We'll see soon (although I have a couple of other books to get through first).



#12 The Pita

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 05:42 PM

To be honest, I wasn't as impressed with Lords & Ladies as it was hyped. I'm not a Witches fan, I admit. Give me another Watch book any day. Or a Rincewind. Or a non-Susan Death.

#13 Ser Howsmelly

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Posted 23 October 2009 - 07:39 PM

Lords and Ladies is the book that made me fall back in love with the Witches. Before that I had really not enjoyed Wyrd Sisters (perhaps because of a shoddy cartoon version I'd watched as a youngling). But yea I can pick up Lords and Ladies for a re-read anytime, any day.

And I had not previously made that connection between Pratchett's association with Gaiman affecting his writing style. Something to keep in mind for my next re-read....

#14 Artas

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Posted 24 October 2009 - 02:19 AM

"Lords and Ladies" is my favourite witches novel. The pairing of Granny and Ridcully was inspired.

#15 Jussi

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Posted 24 October 2009 - 05:32 AM

Lords and Ladies, Men at Arms and Night Watch are my three favourite Discworld novels. It's great to see a five-star review for LaL, Wert, MaA should get one too.

#16 lockesnow

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Posted 24 October 2009 - 08:52 AM

I need to reread Lords and Ladies

#17 Wastrel

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 07:36 AM

To be honest, I wasn't that impressed by Lords and Ladies - I thought it was a definite step down, not only from Small Gods but from Witches Abroad, although the elves were brilliant, and the wizards were good.

That said, I haven't read it for years - maybe a decade - and I should probably read them all again to judge properly.

--

I agree with Jussi. If MaA doesn't get five stars, I will have to doubt Wert's sanity!

---

Regarding Unseen Academicals, I put my reaction in a blog post, here.

However, in summary: yes, I agree with deedles. Distinct lack of emotional engagement, although basically enjoyable. On the other hand, I think it's better than his recent books (in the main sequence - haven't read Nation or the Tiffany books), it's somewhat more sophisticated in terms of plot/themes, and it suggests that he could find a way to write a really good book again in the future. But this isn't it.

#18 Renasko

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 03:49 PM

Wert, your constant reviews of Pratchett is making me want to go back and reconsider my opinion on his books. :lol:

Back to Colour of Magic, it is, I guess...

#19 LugaJetboyGirl-irra

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 05:34 PM

For me, Small Gods was funny in a thoughtful beautiful way. I think it also stood out so much because it was the first book in the series that really REALLY seemed to embody the Discworld that we all love - because, if I recall correctly, I read it out of the proper order. But anyways, it was definitely the first one that, for me, combined all the nostalgic sappy heartwarming and sad humor of Pratchett. I lovedlovedloved it!

Lord and Ladies was when I became afraid of Nanny Weatherwax. Holy shit! She's such a badass in that book.

#20 Ginafae

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 05:59 AM

Love Pratchett

Would like to see a series of feature length screen adaptations involving the night watch, starting with 'Guards, Guards'.