Boxed Crook, Meet Parcel Delivery: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Copyright 2004 by Terry Pratchett
Copyright © 2004 by Terry Pratchett

For months, I’ve heard nothing but praise about a particular character in Terry Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series. That character is Moist von Lipwig, the con artist extraordinaire and perpetually reluctant agent of the cunning Patrician, Lord Vetinari. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for tricksters, especially when they find it in their hearts to win one for the little guy. That’s why I decided to start reading every Moist von Lipwig book I could find, starting with Going Postal.

After escaping an execution for his latest con, Moist finds himself in the office and at the mercy of Lord Vetinari. The Patrician offers him a second chance by becoming Postmaster of the failed Ankh-Morpork Post Office, which flopped after failing to compete with the clack towers that now dominate Discworld. Moist soon finds himself falling back on his old habits, using confidence tricks to revive the Post Office with the help of his golem parole officer, a group of aging postmen and stamp collectors, and the lovely chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart. Meanwhile, Moist has to endure the attention of Reacher Gilt, head of the Grand Trunk and a master con artist in his own right.

As a character, Moist is an excellent protagonist, forever tiptoeing the line between being sneaky and being decent. Half the time, he thinks he’s pulling a trick on someone, only to realize that he’s actually doing some good in the world. But it explains why Vetinari chooses him for the job; Moist is someone who can create grand illusions that enthrall others, which means he can inspire people to turn away from the cutthroat clacks industry.

I also like the love interest Miss Dearheart, whom I found myself comparing to another Discworld love interest: Sacharissa from The Truth. However, there’s a key difference between the two; the former is a bit vulgar and comes from a broken past, while the latter is desperately trying to fit into polite society while helping run a newspaper. Also, Adora comes with a clear understanding of golems and their rights, which ties her in nicely with the stoic parole officer Mr. Pump.

The conflict in this story felt a lot stronger than in The Truth, which had a similar premise but a more vague threat against William de Worde. Here, the status quo has some very clear defenders, like the savage Reacher Gilt and his Board of Directors. Most of the well-to-do gentlemen are given colorful personalities, making for a well-rounded cast of sympathetic antagonists to Moist’s headline-grabbing antics.

Lately, I’ve begun to notice a pattern in the Discworld novels. Maybe it’s because magic permeates this fictional universe, but it seems like every focus of a novel has its own personality and will. In Hogfather, it’s the power of children’s beliefs; in The Truth, it’s the newspaper press or “The Truth” itself; and in Going Postal, it seems to be the dead letters, who cry out to Moist to “Deliver us!” in mad visions and dreams. Compared to the first two, the power of letters and postmen in this story is much more concrete, as it’s Moist trying to restore them against the failure-prone-but-too-big-to-fail clacks towers. And when Moist pulls trick after trick out of his sleeve, you join the rest of Ankh-Morpork in eagerly seeing what’ll happen next and how old Reacher’s going to feel about it.

As both a Discworld novel and an introduction to a very fun character, Going Postal is really quite good. It’s got plenty of wonderful jokes and parodies everything from secret societies to the Internet, but it also balances the humor with some touching romance, plenty of drama, and a nice bit character development for the always-entertaining Moist.

Going Postal is available for purchase through booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry. Going Postal. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Time Flies (Except When It Runs Out): Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Copyright © 2001 by Terry Pratchett
Copyright © 2001 by Terry Pratchett

Following The Truth in the fantastic Discworld series is Thief of Time, a curious tale of timekeeping, artificial humans, and some very cool monks. Oh, and the Apocalypse (mustn’t forget that either).

The story is focused on a pair of History Monks, Lu-Tze and Lobsang Ludd, who are charged with investigating a mysterious breach in the flow of Time. What they and Susan (Death’s granddaughter) discover is the creation of a mythical glass clock and a plot by the Auditors of the Universe to break Time apart, thereby thwarting their enemy: Life itself. What follows is a madcap adventure as the monks take on the Auditors made flesh, while Death tries to gather up his old buddies among the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for one last ride.

It’s a given that any novel that contains Terry Pratchett’s Death is going to interest me, though he doesn’t have as big a role in this story as he does in Hogfather or Reaper Man. Still, his granddaughter Susan is a nice semblance of order in a chaotic storyline, trying to make sense of everything. I also loved the inclusion of irreverent characters like Nanny Ogg and Lu-Tze (the latter being so darn insistent of getting everyone to remember Rule One). The other protagonists, Lobsang Ludd and Jeremy Clockson, are interesting in their own way, but that’s less to do with character development and more to do with identity and backstory.

One of the bits that had me laughing nonstop was the whole sequence of Auditors (based on pure logic, supposedly) trying to wrap their heads around the concept of being organic beings, ranging from such difficulties as recognizing colors, misreading social cues, and discovering the sheer bliss of chocolate. Seriously, no one will blame you if you go out and buy some chocolate after reading this book. It’s both a plot point and a recurring motif described in such loving, tantalizing detail.

But as Pratchett is so good at doing, he also brings a nice element of pathos to the story. Characters like Lobsang, Jeremy, and Myria LeJean are more amusing because of their naivete, especially when paired with more cynical characters like Lu-Tze, Igor, and Susan. But these characters also undergo the most difficult transformations, learning hard lessons on the road to self-discovery and saving the flow of Time. It has the same kind of yearning and character development that first attracted me to the series, as the same spirit shows up in Mort and Reaper Man.

To sum up, I enjoyed this Discworld story more than the last two I read. It has several great jokes and puns, but it’s also got a nice mythology and an excellent story arc for both newcomers like Lobsang Ludd and recurring heroes like Susan Sto Helit. I enjoyed the culture and setting of the History Monks, as well as the whole subplot of rounding up the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s a large, wild, and well-written romp all the way through.

Thief of Time is available for purchase through booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry. Thief of Time. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Wordplay At Its Best: The Truth by Terry Pratchett

truth
Copyright © 2001 by Terry Pratchett

Nothing like a book full of puns and allusions to cleanse the soul in time for spring. I’d always meant to get back to reading and reviewing more of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I finally got around to that trend with my latest read, The Truth.

This novel follows a young writer named William de Worde, who one night has the good fortune to encounter a team of dwarves and their printing press in Ankh-Morpork. When seized by this new opportunity, William expands his newsletter to foreign nobles into the city’s first newspaper. Naturally, this leads to a conflict with the city engravers, a hostile relationship with Lord Vetinari and the City Watch, and loads of people clamoring for more stories about weirdly-shaped vegetables. But no one’s prepared for the secret plot being hatched to unseat Vetinari as ruler of Ankh-Morpork, not even one aspiring journalist.

While the cast of this novel didn’t hit me in the same as Hogfather did (which remains my all-time favorite Discworld read), it did have a quality that reminded me of Mort. William is very much like the titular character from that story, idealistic and brash in a way that puts him in danger more often than not. And just as Mort has Ygritte, William has the lovely Sacharissa to assist him, though she proves to be a far more cunning writer than he is. By far, my favorite character in the story was Otto, the reformed vampire and photographer. Besides his Bela Lugosi-type accent, every “vord” out of his mouth is a delight and he has some wonderfully terrifying moments every now and then.

It wouldn’t be a Pratchett novel without loads of puns and clever allusions, and I liked these much better than what I read in Soul Music. Here, there’s a lot more working out all the usual gripes about the newspaper business, from human interest stories to column space to advertising to police trouble. Because it’s one-part political thriller, there has to be a few jabs at Watergate and Deep Throat, but because it’s the grimy city of Ankh-Morpork, the story’s “Deep Throat” is far different than the real-life counterpart.

If I have any real complaints, it’s actually about the protagonist. William de Worde is a great lens for the rest of the story, but he doesn’t really bring much skill on his own. That’s up to people like Sacharissa, Otto, and the dwarves. But to be fair, William does have a knack for getting into people’s faces and being persuasive by whipping out his notebook. I suppose he doesn’t seem like much of a journalist to begin with only because he’s the one inventing the whole profession in Discworld.

At its core, The Truth is a pleasant read from start to finish. It’s a clever satire on journalism, an intriguing political thriller, and a heartwarming tale about dogs, newspapers, and what good writing can do for the world.

The Truth is available for purchase through booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry. The Truth. New York: HarperTorch, 2001.

Dig That Discworld Sound: Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Copyright © 1994 by Terry Pratchett.
Copyright © 1994 by Terry Pratchett.

On the whole, I love Terry Pratchett and his wonderfully-written Discworld novels.  So far, I’ve been a fan of such stories where Death is one of the main characters, usually having to do with him taking an interest in humanity and all the funny and sad things that come of it.

That said, Soul Music is a bit disappointing.  Not a bad story, just not one of the best.

Susan Sto Helit is a young woman attending a ladies’ school in Quirm who finds out that she has inherited her grandfather’s business: being the Grim Reaper.  Naturally, she’s resistant to the idea, but Grandfather has gone on holiday to forget all the troubles of being the cessation of life.  Meanwhile, a trio of young and desperate musicians in Ankh-Morpork become the start of a wild new sensation–Music With Rocks In–thanks to a mystic guitar bought at a mysterious shop.  It’s up to Susan and the wizards of Unseen University to find a way to contain all this madness.

For the most part, I liked the parts of this story that had to do with Susan, being her debut novel.  She’s a very logical person trying to deal with all the irrational and mythical elements of her grandfather’s world.  Her conversations with the Death of Rats and the raven are always engaging, with her as the straight man to their wisecracks.  Even Death’s assistant Albert gets a semi-heroic role near the climax, though he’s mostly a cynical housekeeper with sardonic commentary.

That said, when it came to musician characters like Imp and his band mates, I wasn’t that drawn in.  Yes, Cliff the troll is pretty articulate and thoughtful (for a troll), but Glod is a one-note dwarf character about gold and poor bargaining skills.  Imp–later known as Buddy–is less of a character and more of a walking plot device.  Their conflict with the Musicians’ Guild is a little interesting at first, though it gets old pretty quick.

As much as I enjoy Mr. Pratchett’s wit, I found myself groaning at the sheer number of puns and allusions in this book.  There were so many veiled shout-outs to Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Blues Brothers, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and punk rockers that after a while I wasn’t reading so much as going through the motions.  I know it’s all based on a bizarre magic that created Music With Rocks In, but the mysterious magical entity doesn’t do much except persist.  There’s no real threat, just a series of rock music and music fan parodies with no end in sight.  And when it’s over, there’s no lasting impact.  Just some vague memories and back to life as usual.

If I were the sort of reviewer who rated works (and I’m usually not, I swear), then I would rate Soul Music as a three-out-of-five novel.  It’s not the worst Discworld novel ever written–not when great characters like Susan and Death are involved–but it’s not the best either.

Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry.  Soul Music.  London: Victor Gollancz, 1994.

“DO YOU BELIEVE?”: Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Copyright © 1996 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett never fails to delight me with his Discworld books.  And at this point, my favorite story of that series is Hogfather, a decidedly demented take on Christmastime and holiday traditions in general.  I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t review this novel before Christmas this year, so this’ll be my last post for the year 2011.

The Story: When Death Takes Over A Holiday

The Hogfather is the equivalent of Santa Claus (or Father Christmas if you’re English) in Discworld.  And apparently, he’s gone missing, presumed dead as it were.  Some anthropomorphic personification has to fill his boots, so Death and his assistant Albert have to do the job of running Hogswatch.  In the meantime, Death’s granddaughter Susan Sto Helit gets involved, investigating just what happened to the Hogfather and why a whole bunch of nonsensical little fairies and spirits like the Verruca Gnome and the Oh God of Hangovers are popping into existence in his absence.

The Cast: Crooks, Wizards, Spirits, And One Determined Governess

Where to begin?  There’s quite a lot of characters in this story.  Our clearest protagonist is Susan Sto Helit, Mort‘s daughter and Death’s granddaughter.  She wants only to be a governess to a decent family and have a normal life, but her powers and perception of the bizarre makes life anything but ordinary.  Then there’s Death himself, who tries his best to understand human beings and their irrational beliefs and customs in Hogswatch.  He also makes for one entertaining Hogfather (the bit in the shopping mall is the best scene in the whole book).

We also get to see a Hogswatch celebration by the wizard faculty at Unseen University, who have to deal with a bunch of random fairies and creatures popping into existence.  Some of them–like the Bursar–are just comically pitiful, while others–like Ridcully–are actually decent if misguided.  Some of their banter can last for half a page and go off on incredible tangents.

And while the hooded and mysterious Auditors are supposed to be the true antagonists, Jonathan Teatime is the most shining example of a villain.  His appearance is unnerving, his antics are psychotic, and his every movement seems to defy the laws of physics.  It says a lot when he has trouble keeping his own crew of thugs in line on account of how terrifying and unpleasant he can be, being that so many people end up dead by his hand in the blink of an eye.

The Theme: Belief Determines Truth, Which Shall Set You Free

Give Pratchett credit for being an author who both deconstructs the whole holiday craze and then reaffirms why we celebrate these things in the first place.  His story is one that looks at some of the silliness behind a spirit figure who brings gifts to children and all the weird things we do with friends and family at the end of the solar year.  It’s also a story that says it’s all okay to believe because it’s these beliefs that keeps us as a species going.

I believe Death and Susan’s dialogue near the end puts it beautifully:

Susan:

You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.

Death:

NO.  HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN.  TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

Susan:

Tooth fairies?  Hogfathers?  Little–?

Death:

YES.  AS PRACTICE.  YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

Susan:

So we can believe the big ones?

Death:

YES.  JUSTICE.  MERCY.  DUTY.  THAT SORT OF THING.

Susan:

They’re not the same at all!

Death:

REALLY?  THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY…  AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

Susan:

Yes.  But people have got to believe that or what’s the point–?

Death:

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Final Verdict: An Affectionate Parody of Heartwarming Holiday Cheer

There’s nothing more I can say except that this is both one of the most irreverent and reverent Christmas tales I’ve ever enjoyed.  It’s funny enough that you can read it anytime year-round, but it’s best for the holiday season and one of Pratchett’s best works.

And on that note, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, one and all!  Here’s to a great next year!

Bibliography: Pratchett, Terry.  Hogfather.  London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1996.