You need to get over to Twitter and look at the #bookadayuk hastag because if nothing else it’ll prove how much reading makes teenage life easier to cope with. And I’ve put up a pic or two of my Discworld books.
I’ve been dipping into the collected Tor.com essays of Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great and wondering why I don’t re-read more. When I had limited choice I used to do it quite a lot. In fact the ‘keeping rules’ for my shelves are that a book has to be unread (a lot shelf space), special (mostly signed, part of a collection, favourite author or proofs) or I have to want to re-read them, which is why I still have The Great Game trilogy by Dave Duncan (as I want to re-read it) but not Lord of the Rings (I didn’t even finish the last book). I have re-read The Hobbit a few times though that went to charity not so recently.
A friend just re-read The Song of Achilles, which resulted in a flood of tears for the third time. Another finds comfort in the Harry Potter series and is on their 30th re-read. For me re-reading Pratchett is always a pleasure. I’ve re-read The Hogfather as a Christmas tradition for quite a few years though I think I’ve re-read Sourcery the most out of the Discworld series. I’ve been re-reading very very very slowly the City Watch thread but I think The Witches will always be my favourite. I’m need to crack on and read Jingo – goodness it’s been over a year since I read Feet of Clay!!
I’ve re-read The Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix and wanted to re-read them before reading Clariel. I’d also love to re-read the Polity books by Neal Asher as the more I read the more I see how clever he is at using the universe he’s created. Then there is a duology by James Stoddard, called The High House and The False House, which I wish had chance to become a trilogy and I’d love to be more widely read.
I guess what I’m convincing myself of is that I actually do enjoy re-reading. And I used to do it more but over the last several years I’ve not indulged – last year wasn’t a good reading year for me anyway. As seen in my previous post I’ve got a pile of first reads that I want to explore. So why do I feel a big urge to re-read Harry Potter?
Jo Walton re-reads a lot but as she points out in her introduction she needs to read forward so she has new things to re-read but I think for me I need to re-read more in order to enjoy reading more.
Another wild romp through Discworld! Corporal Carrot, a young dwarf, is newly in charge of the recruits guarding Ankh-Morpork. Edward, the 37th Lord d’Eath, has just discovered that Ankh-Morpork, kingless for generations, has a sovereign ruler, who must be convinced that he is, in fact, the King. The fate of Ankh-Morpork rides on a young man’s courage, an ancient sword’s magic and a three-legged poodle’s bladder.
You know what? Re-reading the City Watch books was an outstanding idea. There is something comforting about it. I know it’s taken me a little while to get through the next one after Guards! Guards! but I have been reading it off and on (between other books or when I’ve just wanted a book cwtch) over the last couple of months (slow reading isn’t a bad thing but I’ve told you that already).
I like this one as it expands the stage for the City Watch. We have new recruits. They are also ‘diverse’ being drawn from dwarfs, trolls and there Angua, who is human most of the time. It’s also the one where Captain Vimes is to become Mr Vimes due to retirement and also about to get married.
That’s not a spoiler by the way is it’s one of the threads of the book. It’s how he copes with those two things that is interesting. Though it’s not all about Vimes. It’s about Corporal Carrot. It’s about dogs. And lots of other things..
There is something endearing about this novel. There are little touches that only Pratchett do. It’s all about people, as always. But it’s also a crime novel with a mysteries to solve.
It’s not a very good mystery if I’m honest, though it does have some good twists and turns, as it’s more a device to get the characters to interact and do something. We get to see what happens if you push Captain Vimes too far and the effect of strong coffee. We see why myths of Kings returning are strong motivators and what that means in reality. We get to see what happens when you cool a trolls brain and what happens when a troll and a dwarf become friends.
There are some real touching moments that come from all that.
We have the jokes and the fun too, of course.
Basically, it’s everything I love about Pratchett.
I’m not doing well at selling this, am I? I might be but I’m getting a bit frantic fanboy about it all. This the novel where the Watch expands and becomes more than a sum of its parts. We see what happens when you put good people under pressure and what heroes are and what the Watch does to those that join (though I think it might confined to the Discworld).
I really can’t wait to crack on with Feet of Clay.
A plan is being hatched to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and replace him with a King. In order to do that the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night need to summon a dragon, because everyone knowns that the true King will be the man who saves the City by slaying a dragon.
At the same time Carrot Ironfoundersson, who is too tall to be dwarf (being human and all), is sent by his adopted dwarf parents to Ankh-Morpork to join the City Watch, who we first meet in the form of a drunk Captain Vimes. The somehow unneeded, until now, Night Watch get it together to investigate the appearance of dragon and some burnt human outlines in a wall, which couldn’t possibly be a dragon? Could it…
It has to be 16 years since I last read Guards! Guards! I’ve read almost all of the Disworld books (but not end of Mort, or all of Wintersmith, Making Money, I Shall Wear Midnight, and Snuff) so I’m well versed in the Discworld, and I have read a few of them multiple times when I was younger (Wyrd Sisters, Sourcery, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Hogfather), but I haven’t re-read any of the City Watch ones until now.
After the effect of The Stress of Her Regard had on my reading (it drained my strength enough that 80 pages from the end I called it quits) someone on twitter (I’m avoiding name dropping) said I should re-read some Pratchett and she was absolutely right!
I hadn’t forgotten what a joy it is to read an early Pratchett as such but I may have forgotten the joy of re-reading something you liked a lot. I even think I had a better time this time around. More than once I was laughing out loud and then having to explain what I had set me off, which is particularly hard when you’re chuckling to the image of Lady Ramkin as Discworld parallel valkyrie carrying off a battalion.
As an early Pratchett he’s working his way through some well trodden fantasy tropes by taking the mickey and here it’s not only the idea of a royal heir coming back to reclaim a throne but also the idea of what it is to be hero, which is played out beautifully in a scene where the various heroes for hire decide that they’d rather be in the put.
It also show’s how skilled Terry is an observer of human behaviour:
‘Human nature, the Patrician always said, was a marvellous thing. Once you understood where the levers were.’
This quote is at the beginning but is especially effected when reflected on at the end after discussion between Vimes and Patrician where they consider their respective roles in the world.
And by the end you can see why the world needs both a Vimes and a Patrician. Someone that sticks by the rules and someone who manipulates them.
It’s also novel of privilege, the brothers who summon the dragon are doing so because they want to end the oppression they feel they are suffering. Though of course when the King strips the privileges of others there will be some exceptions won’t there? They are slightly deluding themselves I think.
It’s also a love story, and a sweet one at that, but it would spoil it to say more.
I really enjoyed Guards! Guards! I enjoyed it that much that I’ve had to stop myself from reading Men at Arms until I’d written this review. If I hadn’t I think I’d have caught up with Snuff (the latest to feature Sam Vines) and not got around to reading any other books but those featuring the Watch.
For a new reader to the Discworld I think this is the perfect introduction. Not only do you see the embryonic stages of the Watch (three dysfunctional men joined by an eager forth), you get to see the City as a fully formed character. You get glimpses of the Guilds and what a clever man the Patrician is and why he is one of my favourite characters along with the Librarian (and it takes a lot of skill to understand a character who mostly says Ook!?).
The last time Pratchett collaborated on a novel was with Neil Gaiman on the now modern classic Good Omens. 22 years later he’s back and collaborating with Stephen Baxter on a story of seemingly infinite earths called The Long Earth. After speaking to both (for a future episode of The Readers) I know that the book started as an idea that was too big for Terry to handle alone. The irony here is that they were brought together by the smaller quantum.
Before we go further I’m going to be honest and say it’s not a new Good Omens but that wasn’t what I expected. What I expected was an exploration by the authors and their characters of what you can do when you can ‘step’ West or East into a new Earth that has never seen the effect of humanity; a virtual clean slate and seemingly unlimited variations on the potential of our planet. And to explore those possibilities we follow Joshua, who kept his head on ‘Step Day’ when the design for ‘Stepper’ boxes were released into the world, as he sets on an adventure across worlds.
The ‘What If?’ question here could be; if humanity could suddenly have access to infinite resources and could escape their present situation by stepping themselves sideways what would happen?
And on face value a famous sf writer and a famous fantasy writer look like an odd pairing to explore this idea. That is until you remember that they are both interested in humanity and how they cope and interact with the environments they are in. Take Flood Baxter uses the rising waters on earth to explore humanity’s reaction though the canvas is slightly larger than Pratchett who I’d suggest as more of a satirist (especially in his Discworld novels) looks at humans in a more intimate way. So you have a writer than can cope well with massive ideas like flooding a world combined with a writer who can entertain with the absurdity of life.
Though I’m making a too simplistic argument. Both are masters of their craft and I didn’t notice a join. You could look at it as a patchwork with the main pattern decided between them before each add their own sections and flourishes but unless you grabbed a few of their other novels and started an operation worthy of an English Language degree I’d say you’d be hard pressed to separate them.
You really can’t see the seam and the story they’ve weaved together from a few main threads and minor but nonetheless needed ones is engaging and thoughtful. And they’ve only given themselves a couple of limits to what people can do with this new ‘stepping’ ability; the main one being you can’t take iron with you. That does show our progress to shape these new worlds a little mostly gives it that wild west frontier feel, which is reinforced by setting it in Madison, Wisconsin, 2015.
After some initial confusion about why it’s not set in Britain America does make sense as the perfect launching ground as mentioned it’s that pioneer spirit and they do show how Britain reacts. Let’s just say America embraces the idea and Britain tries to stop this ‘stepping’ happening.
They do a brilliant job of making visits to these different possible earths as interesting as possible though a couple of times when those stops (it’ll make sense when you read it) feel more for the benefit of showing us sometimes cool and not moving the plot onwards. It’ll depend on your tolerance but I enjoyed seeing all the little variations.
Now interestingly their choice of threat to our new freedom as an extension of what happens if a world thrives without us humans. That isn’t to say there aren’t humanoid characters as they do a good job of giving a scientific rationale to our encounters with elves and trolls but they also give them a twist.
The Long Earth is a more than a sum of its creators. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter have amalgamated into a fun exploration of the pioneering human spirit in a potentially overwhelming what if. Not only do they manage to explore new worlds where no man has gone before but they do so by making us consider what unique creatures we human are.
If you listen to my podcast with Simon Savidge, The Readers, you may hear the name Terry Pratchett once or twice. I think of him as my patron Saint of Reading. And that’s for one simple reason. He’s why I’m hooked on reading but I’ll admit that I stopped for a long while. I stopped reading between Night Watch and Monstrous Regiment.
Though I have dabbled with Tiffany Aching I have Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight waiting. But I think this is the right time of year to get the best out of Wintersmith. Now that it’s cold and dark in the evenings. I got back into Terry with Unseen University last year and I followed that with carrying on with Monstrous Regiment. Then I read Going Postal. And I’m currently reading Thud! (in between other things).
This is a funny way of starting a review I know. The reason that I mention it is that everyone can become over saturated even with their favourite writers. Yes, even ones that they’ve read the last 30 odd books of. So after taking a bit of a break and easing myself back into Terry gently with familiar characters and then a story set away from Ankh-Morpork
But with Going Postal we are back in that great city and we get to meet a new character. We also get chapters. Now Moist von Lipwig isn’t what you’d call a traditional hero being a liar, cheat and thief but after being given a life or death choice – run the post office or die – he definitely goes through a life changing experience.
Pratchett’s strength and attraction is using a fantasy mirror to explore humanity – its darkness, its brightness, its oddities and its commonalities. Take the Post Office. The letters live to be delivered. And they need someone to make sure that happens.
In many ways it is absurd that a one man can resurrect a system thats been chocked to near death and been overtaken by a faster, superior system. And writing this it strikes me that it’s like the tortoise and the hare. And the tortoise should never win. Well the tortoise in this case wears a gold suit.
The other thing that having a break from something familiar is that you are able to indulge in nostalgia as well as taking in a big bit of fresh air. I’ll admit I was worried that I wouldn’t like Moist von Lipwig but he’s endearing. His understanding of pins is a perfect example. And through him an illustration of Terry’s wonderful insight into humanity.
Moist appears next in Making Money and I’m quite looking forward to that one know as I know that Moist makes things happen.
Title: Unseen Academicals
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Comic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Standalone but book 37 of the Discworld
Release: Out Now in Hardback
Terry Pratchett reinvents football from a bloody and violent common activity into something that the Wizards of the Unseen University can play.
At the same time Mr Nutt is working as a Candle Knave in the University but his friend and boss Trev knows he is unlike anyone who makes their home in the vats. Then we have the night kitchen run by Glenda. Her friend Juliet who has the potential to be a star but Glenda doesn’t think that she leaving the kitchen for stardom is such a good idea.
All these people are linked and together and they are going to change football. But remember the most important thing about football is… it’s not just about football.
This is a book for two halves. On the one side you have this big football match that the Wizards are persuaded (through the thought of hungry mostly) into organising and making civilised and on the other you have the story of those people that work below in the kitchens and the vats and their role in the reinvention of football.
It is a strange mix and it might come across as slightly weird. And it is. I am not a football fan in the slightest but I enjoyed the exploration that Pratchett makes of the game that is played on the streets usually with not ball insight which seems to be nothing more than an excuse to declare tribal war. The mystery around Nutt who’s actions and skills mark him apart form those he works with.
The theme that strikes me is best illustrated more a series of questions: Can you change the nature of things? And if so how far can you go before their true nature reasserts itself? And does it matter?
If you fundamentally change something like the game of football are people going to accept and go along with it? Pratchett gives the Wizards an impossible task but he also gives them a way of dealing with it and changing it. It’s all politics, which the wizards through their years of subtle backstabbing have adapted to quite well.
But the main and the second half of the story surrounds Mr Nutt, his friend Trev and Glenda and Juliet. Pratchett holds a mirror up to each and challenges their own thinking of themselves and pushes them to see if they can overcome their own locked-in view of themselves.
And that’s what I ended up reading Unseen Academicals for. Not the amusing and fun thread with the wizards though it adds a lot of parallels to the developing story of these four people.
I was really rooting for Nutt. One of the strengths of Pratchett and his writing is seeing humanity and stripping it and twisting it and looking at it funny until you end up seeing a completely different side to it. It’s easier if he’s using non human characters like Dwarfs, Trolls etc.
But he does as well, if not better, with characters like Glenda, who gets to understand herself a whole lot better when she tries to ‘help’ Juliet.
The final match though does have the magic of the game – there is laughter, tears and blood.
Unseen Academicals made it into my top ten reads of 2009 so you’ll guess that I enjoyed it. It’s my first adult Pratchett after a several year gap and he hasn’t lost his touch. I probably needed the break to appreciate how good he can be at looking at people and how they live and using a few words to show use how to see them and their world completely differently.
It isn’t perfect. There does feel a slight mismatch between the two stories. I guess it would be nice to have a whole Wizards story but I think Rincewind has had a plenty of adventures by now. And I don’t know who could take his place.
One really odd thing is that there is a couple of occasions where characters seem to be pop up talking to characters with no indication that they’ve appeared or are going to start talking. That was slightly jarring.
But apart from that I was rooting for the main characters and shouting for the Unseen University team to win.
I hope you do to.