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The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett


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Discworld #22: The Last Continent

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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Discworld #24: The Fifth Elephant

 

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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.

 

 

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Discworld #25: The Truth

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William de Worde runs a seasonal newsletter for the well-to-do of Ankh-Morpork and other cities, but due to unusual circumstances he suddenly finds himself running the Discworld's first newspaper. As he tries to get to "the Truth," he finds himself the subject of seething rage from those who are unhappy with the stories he prints, those who want him to print their stories (and nobody else's) and those are desperate for him to print stories about their humorously-shaped vegetables. But there's also a Big Story going on, and William finds his interest in the truth of that story might be hazardous to his health.

The Truth marks a couple of notable moments for the Discworld series, being both the twenty-fifth book in the series and the first published after the new millennium. This may be be more subjective, but it also feels like there's a shift in the series at this point, with the series becoming a tad more serious in its pursuit of subject matter. It still has gags and jokes, but they now feel much more focused in support of the story, whilst in some earlier novels the two did not always work in tandem.

The Truth can be described as "Discworld does journalism" in the same way that Soul Music was "Discworld does rock music" and Moving Pictures was "Discworld does the movies" (the Disc inventing movies before newspapers kind of sums up what kind of place it is). However, this is an area which Pratchett has first-hand experience, as he worked in both newspapers and as a press officer for many years. He famously noted how he saw his first dead body about three hours into his very first day working for a newspaper, "work experience" meaning something back in those days. As a result Pratchett brings considerable knowledge to bear on how printing presses work, how journalists talk to people and the widely-ranging responses people have to journalists, from showing off, lying or exhibiting extreme hostility.

These elements all work well, are interesting and can be quite funny, but The Truth also feels distressingly prescient. Pratchett presents the responses to the arrival of newspapers as hyper-exaggerated events for comedic purposes, such as the setting up of rival newspapers that just make stuff up and enraged people trying to track down journalists for revenge, or accusing journalists of lying when they simply don't like the story that's being told. What was grossly-exaggerated in 2000 fells distinctly less so in 2022. This is an area where the book has perhaps become both less funny but also much more prophetic and interesting. The book's motto of "a lie can spread around the world whilst the truth is still putting its boots on," feels even more resonant today then it did at the time.

Beyond that, The Truth works as a great mystery in its own right. It's interesting that the City Watch is investigating the same crime but since this is not a Watch novel, we don't have any insight to what they are doing. Instead we catch glimpses of their investigation through William's story, and Pratchett juggles having to keep William as his protagonist without suddenly making the Watch into idiots who can't solve the crime themselves. It's a fun balancing act which he pulls off with typical aplomb. The book is also an important piece of Terry Pratchett's worldbuilding growth of Ankh-Morpork, which over twenty-five books (and the following sixteen) has grown from being a Lankhmar knock-off to being the greatest, best-detailed fantasy metropolis in the history of the genre.

The novel is also notable as having arguably Pratchett's greatest tip of the hat to his good friend and collaborator, Neil Gaiman. Mr. Tulip and Mr. Pin feel like a homage to Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Gaiman's TV series (and later novel) Neverwhere, and it's fun to see Pratchett but his spin on those kind of charismatic but evil villains.

The Truth (****½) might be the Discworld novel that's aged the most depressingly, with its hyper-exaggeration of fake news and reporting having become surprisingly accurate. However, it's also Pratchett working at the top of his game, delivering a strong mystery with great villains and some of his most quotable dialogue.

 

 

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Discworld #26: Thief of Time

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In Ankh-Morpork a young clock-maker is given the challenge of making a very special kind of clock, one which can measure time so finely that it can find the gaps between moments. Thousands of miles away, a troublesome apprentice joins forces with a monk to investigate a phenomenon which suggests big trouble is coming and, as so often, Ankh-Morpork will be at the centre of it. Death also gets the call-up alerting him to ride out for the apocalypse, which he cannot interfere with...but he knows a relative who can.

Thief of Time is very much one of those Discworld books where Pratchett came up with a killer central idea and then never really developed much follow-through. In his best books, Pratchett would develop a great idea which characters and more ideas and themes would develop organically around but, once in a very rare while, this creative alchemy would not take place and the book that he ended with was just okay. There's a neat idea, there's some funny gags, but the spirit and energy of the best Discworld books is wholly missing.

This is the issue with Thief of Time. It doesn't help that Pratchett is taking on a fairly cerebral idea here - of how time itself works and how people messing around with it can cause problems - but trying to explore it in the context of his Discworld comic fantasy series is not a comfortable fit. We've seen a lot of the gags about the Four Horsemen before (in Sourcery) and the Auditors of Reality are among Pratchett's dullest bad guys (even if he does here come up with a way of giving them more character). Novel co-protagonists Jeremy and Lobsang are somewhat undercooked, and even the usually-magnificent Susan Sto Helit (here in her swansong as a major, and underused, character) and her superb can't-be-dealing-with-the-world snark is absent for vast stretches of the book.

It's not all bad, and by this point Pratchett had developed to the point where he could turn almost anything into an amusing read. There's some nice jokes and the idea of a Fifth Horseman who left the group before they came famous is quite well-played. Nanny Ogg also gets a series of enjoyable cameos, a bit oddly, given that most of the Ankh-Morpork Regulars are missing from this novel when most of it is set in the city.

But the novel mostly feels a bit autopiloted onto the page. The pacing is quite poor - this is a 300-page book at best stretched out to closer to 500 - the more subtle character and thematic points Pratchett is making in other novels around this time aren't really there and an apparent romantic subplot that is supposed to be developing is just absent to a lack of chemistry by the characters, to the point it's genuinely weird that it comes up on the closing page.

Thief of Time (***) isn't the weakest Discworld novel and it has some excellent ideas and a few good gags. But in terms of character and story, it's well below-par for Pratchett in this middle part of the series when he was otherwise producing some extremely good books.

 

 

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I remember being very disappointed by Thief of Time when it came out. Hogfather was the book that got me into the series, so the prospect of another Susan Sto Helit instalment had made me quite excited. That said, I reread it a couple of years ago, since to date it is the only Discworld novel to have been translated into Welsh (why this one in particular I have no idea) and found the character of Myria/Unity (the Auditor who commits death by chocolate) more interesting/affecting than I'd thought. The Nanny Ogg cameos were great, and I'm generally easy to amuse with digs at organised mysticism. 

 

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Discworld #27: The Last Hero

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Cohen the Barbarian is one of the greatest heroes in the history of the Disc. He has defeated many enemies, found much treasure and conquered several empires. But his well-earned retirement of riches and power is a bit on the boring side, so he's now come up with a new idea: to return fire to the gods and confront them on their home ground of Dunmanifestin, atop the ten-mile spire of Cori Celesti at the very heart of the world. Unfortunately, this will destroy the Disc and everything on it. Fortunately, the wizards of Unseen University are ready to join forces with Leonardo da Quirm and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch to save the day. Or at least try to.

The twenty-seventh Discworld book is another departure from the standard format of the series. Like the earlier Eric, The Last Hero was written and designed as an illustrated project. Unlike Eric, The Last Hero was never designed to be reissued without its illustrations, and they are more dynamically and essentially integrated into the book.

The Last Hero could be best-described as Discworld: Avengers. Pratchett takes advantage of the enormous cast of characters he's built up over twenty-six previous novels to come up with a story and cast of characters to form a team to save the world. Unfortunately, given the competence rating of the average Pratchettian protagonist is usually in minus figures (especially given the absence of Granny Weatherwax and Susan Sto Helit, and Commander Vimes only gets a cameo), this is not quite the slam-dunk solution it should be. Leonardo da Quirm, Captain Carrot and Rincewind join forces at the not-so-subtle behest of the Patrician and the Unseen University Faculty to stop Cohen's plan, and in the process have to build the Disc's first rocket ship and be the first people to set foot on the Disc's very small moon.

Compared to the form of thematic depth and rich characterisation Pratchett had hit in the mainline novels by this time, The Last Hero is lightweight and, even by Discworld standards, a bit implausible. The buildup and backstory of most Discworld novels is largely missing, and events unfold at very high speed given the epic scope of the story. But the book also works very well in its first aim, which is being a bit of disposable, knockabout fun of the kind we haven't seen since the early days of the series, and even better in its second, which is to act as a showcase for the artwork of Paul Kidby.

The original Discworld artist, Josh Kirby, passed away around the time this book was published. Kidby, who'd been working on art projects related to the setting for a few years already, had already been set up as his successor-in-waiting and this project was already underway at the time. Kidby would go on to illustrate the covers from Night Watch (the twenty-ninth book) onward, so The Last Hero can be read as a statement of confidence and intent here. And it works very well. Kirby's madcap art had a wit and charm of its own, but fans had long complained of a lack of fidelity to the text. Kirby's Rincewind was decades older than the thirtysomething character in the novels, and his constant depiction of Twoflower with literally four eyes rather than wearing glasses was quite odd. But Kidby's artwork is much truer to Pratchett's text and also much clearer and easier to parse, whilst still retaining its own, unique stylised energy.

The artwork throughout the book is excellent, often eliciting a giggle by itself. Many of the pieces in the book have become familiar art pieces for the setting individually, and these range from epic depictions of the view of the Disc and its supporting elephants and turtle from its moon to more intimate portraits of the characters and creatures. Kidby does a particularly great job at capturing Carrot's charismatic heroism and Rincewind's world-weary fatalism.

The story is thin and a little disposable, but fun. Pratchett layers in some melancholy thoughts about aging and feeling obsolete in your work as you get older, but also some traditional comic references to history and science.

The Last Hero (****) won't rank as many people's favourite Discworld book due to the lack of depth in its story, but the exceptional artwork elevates the work beyond being a mere curiosity or Christmas stocking-filler.

 

 

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I always had such a soft spot for The Last Hero. My biggest point against it is definitely that the setup is quite a bit too fast-paced. Does it even take five pages for the Patrician to bring the crew together? The ending is a bit rushed too, although the final demise of the Kite is very on-brand. But I don't think the very end is that good. Leonard da Quirm has finished his painting. That's where it ends.

But the illustrations, man ... that's good work. And there's a small blink-and-you-miss-it bit of setup for Monstrous Regiment in there as well, where ...

Spoiler

... Offler the Crocodile God decides to kill Nuggan, the control-freak deity of Borogravia. The mad echoes picked up by the country's religious police after Nuggan's death trigger the war portrayed in that novel. 

And of course, the fitting end to the titular Last Hero. 

In hindsight, it would have been epic to see Granny Weatherwax there as well, but I suppose there was no time to bring her in.

 

Another thing worth mentioning about this novel, too: one little thing that always irked me about the Discworld was that we never got a chance for the elephants to play much of a role in the story. Even The Fifth Elephant only uses the hypothesis of a lost fifth elephant as a geological background event. There are frequent references to Great A'Tuin, who even has a moment to shine in The Light Fantastic, but the elephants are all just ... there. Even their names are only ever mentioned on the first page of the first novel (Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerrakeen). The Last Hero takes us underneath the elephants, and they are an awesome sight to behold, but still they're just standing there. I lament that we never got an elephant-centered story out of Discworld. Only this novel and parts of The Colour of Magic take place outside the top of the Disc (with the latter having some brief chapters taking place along its edge), but not much of the story seems to actually happen there. I wish we had a book that did. Couldn't the dwarves have dug all the way through the Disc in one point, for instance? Are there hanging societies on its underside? Could perhaps some malign force once affect one of the elephants, giving the Disc a slight wobble and requiring our heroes to venture to the greatest depths to fix it? There definitely is potential to explore the strange astronomy of the Disc, but Pratchett sadly never got to write such a story. 

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Discworld #28: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

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A band of travellers from Ankh-Morpork have arrived in the town of Bad Blintz. The band consists of a boy with a flute named Keith, a tomcat called Maurice and a lot of rats. A lot of very smart rats. However, as the town suffers from a curiously well-timed rat infestation and Keith and Maurice prepare to enact 'the scam', it becomes clear that something else is at work in the sewers and tunnels under the town. Something that takes an interest in the curiously smart rodents...

Discworld occupies such a huge part of Sir Terry Pratchett's output that it's sometimes easy to forget his other career, that of a bestselling children's author. Thanks to the animated TV show, Pratchett was as well-known for his Truckers trilogy of children's fantasy as he was his adult Discworld series for a while, and his other books aimed at children were also huge successes. His Johnny Maxwell trilogy was the first of his works adapted for live-action television.

It's therefore interesting that it took twenty-eight novels for Pratchett to write a Discworld book for children, and it's also quite remarkable the impact it had on his career. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents was published in 2001 and won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction. Although a British award, it seems to have had a strong impact in the American market, with Maurice being the book that apparently finally broke through and established Pratchett as a solid-seller in the US after years of very patchy performances for the earlier books. Pratchett's performance in the UK also seemed to pick up, and indeed his already-incredible sales performance in the UK (1% of all books sold in Britain in the 1990s were apparently Pratchetts, which was remarkable at the time) would have likely broken even more records had he not also been overtaken around the same time by a certain other fantasy series about wizards and magic. Pratchett no doubt cried about this into his handkerchiefs made of £100 bills.

The Amazing Maurice is an an interesting novel, most notably because Pratchett makes almost exactly zero concessions to his apparently intended audience (his other books are not exactly awash in nudity and swearing). The novel is written in the same manner as his adult books and in fact is actually among the most disturbing Discworld novels, with the revelation of the antagonist in the book being one of Pratchett's more revolting moments. It may have talking rats in it, but the tone is closer to Watership Down (complete with some pretty savage fights and deaths) than to Beatrix Potter. Pratchett seems to do this deliberately, with the rats' belief in a utopian future of animal cooperation stemming from reading a children's book called Mr. Bunnsy Has An Adventure, which becomes a totem of their tribe. Pratchett paints the internal divisions of the rat gang and each character in some detail, with his traditional economical-but-effective storytelling. The book has a darker tone than most of his novels, and whilst there are still a few laughs here, it's a more intense book than many of the Discworld series.

The novel also has some great riffs on folklore, on the allure of storytelling and the inhumanity of humans to both other humans and the natural world. Pratchett is at his best when he's angry about some injustice, and he fires up his anger quite nicely here, particularly on how people treat animals.

It's also quite snappy, coming in at a breezy 270 pages, avoiding the bloat some of the later Discworld books intermittently suffered from. Pratchett sets up his plot and characters, tell his story with impressive depth and characterisation and gets out all in the time that some more traditional fantasy authors are still using to clear their throats and get the protagonist out of his starting village.

There aren't many negatives aside from one, which was outside the author's power: at the time of his grossly premature passing in 2015, Pratchett had a sequel to this novel planned, in which the Amazing Maurice becomes a ship's cat. It's a grievous shame we'll never read that story. But the book is getting another chance to shine, with an animated film based on the novel scheduled for release in late 2022, starring Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, David Tennant, Gemma Arterton, Himesh Patel, David Thewlis and Peter Serafinowicz.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (****½) is Pratchett at his most impressive, telling a darker story than normal but with his trademark wit and skills at character-building. It's also a complete stand-alone, with no connections at all to the rest of the Discworld series and can be read completely independently.

 

 

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The Guardian: ‘I think I was good, though I could have been better’: Terry Pratchett and the writing of his life

 

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Inevitably, Terry’s advances grew, too. They went from £51,000 a book to £200,000 a book, and then to £400,000 a book. And they would have carried on growing if they hadn’t met resistance from an unlikely source: Terry himself. After the six-book Gollancz deal which had floated him away from the safe harbour of full-time employment and which ended with Witches Abroad in 1991, he decided he no longer wanted the pressures of such a long-term arrangement, the responsibility of which seemed in practice to worry him more than make him feel secure. He instructed his agent Colin Smythe to strike deals for no more than two books at a time.

Terry also had strong and, some might even say, puritanical ideas about how much money he should accept in advance of a book’s publication. If he couldn’t be confident that the advance would earn itself out inside three years and that the book would go into profit and yield royalties, he refused to accept it. At one point, for example, Transworld offered Terry £125,000 for a book. This was in the mid-1990s, when a generous offer for a book of its nature would have been in the region of £25,000, so that six-figure offer was an emphatic demonstration of confidence in Terry’s writing. Colin, naturally, was excited to tell Terry about it. The conversation they had was short and pointed. Colin then found himself ringing Transworld and saying: “I have conveyed your offer to Terry, and I’m afraid he is not at all happy with it … No, he says it’s far too much and he would like me to agree a deal with you for less.”

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There it was again – that anxiety about being paid too much, getting caught out and thereby destroying his good name for ever. And it never left him. In 2006, I was with Terry when the offer came in for a collection of his nonfiction writing – the book which eventually became A Slip of the Keyboard. The sum was £750,000. Terry was appalled. These publishers were all mad, flinging money around. “It’s just testosterone,” he exclaimed, in high dudgeon. “I withdraw the book.” The book remained withdrawn for eight years.

It was this fear that drove him to put up on the wall of his office a large picture of WH Smith’s book-pulping machine. It was there, he said, to remind him to write a better book.

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2 hours ago, Jussi said:

I read it yesterday; it was a really good article. Loved the description of the writing of Good Omens

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...they were also two guys who operated at different ends of the day. Neil, at this point in his life, was largely allergic to the morning and would wake around lunchtime to flurries of crisp answerphone messages from his collaborator, which were generally variations on the theme of “Get up, you lazy bastard”.

 

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I've jumped into Discworld entirely in the wrong place starting with Thief of Time.  Mainly out of curiosity since it's been mentioned to me by others.  I went looking for an audio book and landed on this book read by Steven Briggs.  His voice acting is hysterical and I've since learned that he has done a number of Discworld audio books.  Now I know there is a slew of books starting with the Color of Magic and I came across the first four books recently.  So I have started those and eventually I'll work my way through the rest.  Hopefully in order.

I love them.  Thanks for all the reviews! Here is Steven Briggs reading Thief of Time:

Edit:  It disappeared!  That's too bad.

 

Edited by LynnS
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On 9/25/2022 at 6:14 AM, LynnS said:

Now I know there is a slew of books starting with the Color of Magic and I came across the first four books recently.  So I have started those and eventually I'll work my way through the rest.  Hopefully in order.

 

You don't actually need to read them in order. Most fans recommend not to since the first few books are weakest, so if you don't love them you might as well just skip on, but you might as well keep on if you do enjoy them.

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22 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

 

You don't actually need to read them in order. Most fans recommend not to since the first few books are weakest, so if you don't love them you might as well just skip on, but you might as well keep on if you do enjoy them.

Yes. My Dad read bits of Pyramids aloud to me when I was around nine years old, and a year or so later I read Hogfather. Afterwards Wyrd Sisters, Reaper Man and Feet of Clay. And onwards, until I soon had to wait for Terry to release a new book... A lot of people have suggested that Guards, Guards! the first City Watch book could be a good starting point.  

Edited by dog-days
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4 hours ago, polishgenius said:

 

You don't actually need to read them in order. Most fans recommend not to since the first few books are weakest, so if you don't love them you might as well just skip on, but you might as well keep on if you do enjoy them.

I'm a little torn on this. I definitely think The Colour of Magic is among the weakest Discworld books, but it and the direct sequel The Light Fantastic contain so much essential worldbuilding and introduction of key concepts and locations, that the other books introduce very piecemeal or only mention in passing. I really can't think of a better place to start, despite the drawbacks of these books (and definitely the first one).

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5 hours ago, polishgenius said:

 

You don't actually need to read them in order. Most fans recommend not to since the first few books are weakest, so if you don't love them you might as well just skip on, but you might as well keep on if you do enjoy them.

Indeed.  I am quite enjoying the Thief of Time read by Steven Briggs.  He acts out all the characters and has the voice acting repertoire to make it hilarious.  I just finished the Color of Magic and I'm starting the Light Fantastic.  I think this would be an excellent series for my nephew who is 13.

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