Tags: terry pratchett

a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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OKAY GUYS, I DID IT. I have read Snuff and, almost exactly two years after I began it, I am FINALLY DONE with the Great Discworld Reread!

(Okay, I accidentally skipped The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, but I'm not going back for it because I don't care all that much.)

It is a shame, then, since this is the final achievement of a forty-book journey, that I did not actually like Snuff all that much.

I mean, on the very basic plot level, I have two fundamental questions:

1. Can we ever, please, please, please escape the cycle of "you thought humans hated THAT species? BUT WAIT, now humans think that species is pretty okay! But wait until you see what humans think of THIS species!" Orcs was JUST LAST BOOK. JUST LAST BOOK, orcs were the most hated things in the world!

And, you know, at least that book was actually, protagonist-wise, about an orc. And not about how what these goblins need is some humans to prove to some other humans that goblins might maybe be people, because, when taught, they can do some artistic people things.

2. So Vimes and Sybil are in Sybil's country house together, and there is a mystery to solve, on Sybil's home turf . . . and the book is about the development of the relationship between Vimes and Willikins? WILLIKINS is the other main character here?

I mean I guess you could argue that the book is equally as much about Vimes' relationship with Random Country Policeman #2, but in that case SAME COMPLAINT, EVEN MORESO.

Then of course there is the weirdness of Collapse )

There is one bit I want to call out, though. The two pages in the middle, with Angua and Carrot, where we get a fleeting glimpse of Angua being bitter about how everyone comes to Ankh-Morpork to become Ankh-Morpork's version of human -- those two pages were doing something that really doesn't happen in the rest of the book, where instead we're getting yet another iteration of "This Fantasy Race, Also People! WHO WOULDA THUNK."

. . . also, a sidenote: I thought after I read this book I would understand why several people thought Young Sam was going to be Vetinari's successor. I do not yet understand. (Team Glenda-Nutt forever!)

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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Three years ago I really liked Unseen Academicals, and it is sort of a relief to find that I still feel exactly the same way. Yes, it is still a book that is constructed sort of awkwardly and goes off in approximately twelve different directions, and I still . . . don't really care?

I mean, I don't know how I would feel about this book if I cared about football. Because Unseen Academicals isn't really about football; the whole Wacky Wizard Playing Football line is as much a MacGuffin plot as Wacky Wizards Fight the Shopping Mall in Reaper Man or Wacky Wizards Rock Out in Soul Music --

-- and actually, now I'm writing this, it strikes me that Unseen Academicals is really quite a lot like a Death book in construction, and a bit thematically, too. Because the theme of the difference between human and Terrifying Other and whether love and friendship can transcend that boundary has always run through the Death books; it's certainly one of the most important emotional themes here.

And it's not that I'm particularly into Beauty and the Beast stories, generally -- or at least not the traditional Beauty and the Beast story, in which the Beast generally acts like an awful ass until Beauty comes along to sort him out. What I do have a soft spot for are stories about monsters, or people who are somehow monstrous, who are genuinely and consistently kind, who genuinely and consistently want to help people, and who do not allow their manpain to force them into the role of a raging angsty douchebag even under extreme provocation. Nutt fits this archetype for me; Randel Oland and Alphonse Elric are a couple others I can think of. I'm sure there are more.

On a totally different thematic note, but one that I also really like, there's the Glenda-Juliet dynamic. And at first glance this looks like your standard Pratchett plain-smart-girl vs. dim-pretty girl -- Agnes vs. Christine!!! all over again -- except it's not a vs., because they're never rivals and instead are friends and allies, but more importantly than that, the dichotomy is actually false one. Juliet is more than Glenda thinks she is, or has let her be; Glenda's arc is about letting Juliet become something bigger, and letting herself become something bigger too. And unlike Agnes, Glenda gets to ACTUALLY WIN. Maskerade is one of Pratchett's cruelest books; Unseen Academicals is probably one of his kindest.

And speaking of Glenda -- okay, so there's a throwaway line when Glenda first turns up at the Patrician's palace when he wonders what would happen if she went into politics. Three years ago I seized on this with unholy glee and decided that Team Glenda-Nutt had my vote to take over a post-Vetinari Ankh-Morpork. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, it is TIME TO CAST YOUR BALLOTS . . .

I would have put "democracy" as an option here but hahaha we all know that's not going to happen.

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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I was kind of hoping whatever alchemy turned Going Postal into a book I really liked would also have occurred to transform Making Money, but my feelings about Making Money appear to have actually undergone a 180 since I first read it, when I seem to have actually liked it better than Going Postal.

I mean, eh, it was fine? I have no specific complaints with the book that I can remember, it's just that I kept waiting for the plot to start, and then I looked down and I was sixty percent of the way through the book and we still seemed to be circling around the setup stages. Like, there was setup and then suddenly there was a CLIMAX and I don't really know where the middle went.

(Then again, I was also reading it during one of the most uncomfortable bus rides I've ever taken in my life, so that probably also influenced my opinion.)

. . . also, as a sidenote, the review from five years ago references the use of "one of my least favorite tropes" regarding Mr. Bent, and I now have NO IDEA WHAT THAT WAS. Clowns? Did I have a passionate dislike of clowns five years ago? WHAT WERE YOU TALKING ABOUT, PAST SELF.

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Huh. Going Postal is a Pratchett I sort of remember not being super impressed by when I first read it; this time around I really liked it quite well, and I'm not totally sure why the switch.

I mean, I think part of it is probably just having recently read a history of telegraphy, because Going Postal is a SUPER TELEGRAPH BOOK . . and like the history of telegraphy I read, it is also a telegraphy-is-a metaphor-for-the-Internet book. Actually I am at least 60% convinced Terry Pratchett read The Victorian Internet somewhere in the middle of writing Going Postal, which is when the focus switches from CREEPY ELDRITCH POST OFFICE HORROR and GOLEM METAPHYSICS to, you know, telegraphy. And Business For The Public Good.

I am interested in CREEPY ELDRITCH POST OFFICE HORROR and I am interested in golem metaphysics and those things did sort of just fizzle off into the middle of this book somewhere, not really to return, so I guess it's possible that before I also was interested in telegraphy I became cranky when the things I liked went away, and that's why I didn't like it? Anyway, I'm fine with it now! I even have discovered a degree of caring about Moist, whom I never really cared about before, so that's nice.

(It is sort of interesting, though, how the CREEPY ELDRITCH POST OFFICE HORROR plot -- which starts out sort of reminiscent of Moving Pictures, another Eldritch Progress Rises From The Past narrative -- has to basically fizzle away, because Discworld is okay with technological progress now and there's nowhere for the eldritch to go. Sorry, creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions, Discworld has outpaced you and your Lovecraftian playdates have been cancelled.)

Relatedly on the progress track, I also don't know exactly why Ankh-Morpork in this book is suddenly proper steampunk -- it's very important that we know that bustles are back in and Sacharissa Crisplock is running around in bum-rolls and a fascinator, and Terry Pratchett has decided to get in on the feel of the thing by throwing in lengthy Victorian-pastiche chapter titles and descriptions, because why not -- but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves so who am I to complain?

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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Okay, Monstrous Regiment is incredibly interesting in the context of all the discussion about Night Watch the other week -- because one of the things we were talking about then, and that comes up in Night Watch, is that Pratchett doesn't really seem to believe in the effectiveness of collective social action. He believes in people. But groups of people are silly at best, and scary at worst.

And Monstrous Regiment reinforces that, absolutely -- witness Vimes at the beginning thinking about how countries can be mad even when everyone in them is perfectly sane -- but it also sort of almost contradicts it. There's this one moment when the reveal comes -- and since it is a legitimate reveal, I'm going to Collapse )

And -- like everything in this book -- it's sort of half-followed up on, in the end, and also sort of weirdly puts the blame on women for upholding the social structure instead of the social structure for existing. But that's still better than I thought it was, and better than we've ever seen in Discworld before, so apologies are due; Pratchett, I did not quite do you justice.

I really like Monstrous Regiment, and I like it much more now than I did when I was a teenager; I think I didn't quite know what to do with it then, because I knew how a Discworld book went, and I knew how cross-dressing-girl stories went, and this didn't match either of them. But then, it's a weird book, structurally. It's built out of a bunch of different things that don't necessarily go together; "Sweet Polly Oliver" and World War I and American foreign policy are all kind of wrapped up in it, and those threads are all tugging in different directions. And at first the cross-dressing premise seems like a joke that goes on too long, and then it turns into a sort of surrealist social critique, and then there are about three false endings, and then the actual ending isn't an ending at all. It's also grim, more grim even than Night Watch. Tonks and Lofty's backstory, especially -- there's no lighter side to that.

And I still have no idea why Collapse )

There are other things I could talk about -- Tonks and Lofty, Jackrum vs. Blouse, and how outright creepy the whole book is in places -- but I think I'm going to leave it there for now. But I really want to know what you all make of it, because, as I have already repeated about three or four times, it's such a strange book!

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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I did not actually time my Discworld reread so I'd be doing Night Watch right after the Great Les Mis Feelings Explosion of 2013, it was mostly just a lucky coincidence. Nonetheless: well played, self!

Not that Night Watch is really one hundred percent a Les Mis book, not the same way Maskerade is a Phantom of the Opera book or Witches Abroad is a Macbeth book. (It's almost always the Witch books that are just straight-up Books About Other Books, because the Witch books are about stories in a way that the Guard books aren't.)

Collapse )

So Night Watch is sort of a mixed book about revolutions and about Les Mis, is what I am trying to say; like, it does and doesn't get it, but I think it is sort of a necessary counterpoint. Like, I am glad that there is a book that's on the side of Just Keep As Many People Safe For As Long As Possible, even though that can be oversimplifying it as much as wantonly shouting "VIVE LA RESISTANCE!" is oversimplifying it.

Anyway, however you feel about the way it handles revolutions, Night Watch is a SERIOUSLY FANTASTIC book about time travel.

It kept hitting me especially during Vimes' interactions with Young Sam, because I would catch myself thinking how much of an excellent mentor Vimes was being and how heartwarming it was that he was trying to look out for him, and then I would remember all over again that Young Sam was, in fact, the younger version of Vimes, and can you find a relationship pleasant and heartwarming when there's nothing altruistic in it?

And when you factor in the part about how all this is happening while Vimes' kid, who will go on to be actually called Young Sam, is born -- I don't know, man, there's a lot of really complex and interesting and sort of uncomfortable implications there, about how people interact with their pasts and with their children. There are a lot of ways in which this is a book about fatherhood for all that Vimes spends approximately ten pages actually being a father.

Also, I don't know how to write up my feelings about Vimes and Sybil. BUT I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT VIMES AND SYBIL. There you go.

* Reg Shoe makes a TERRIBLE Enjolras stand-in. But the older I get the less comfortable I get about Reg Shoe; sure, the dead rights activist funny one-off joke, but he tends to get used as a stick with which to beat anybody who cares a lot about social change and social justice, and, you know, those are good things to care about. That said, would I read the fic in which Enjolras became a zombie after his tragic barricades death and rose to lead the dead as a zombie activist leader? YES ABSOLUTELY WHY WOULD YOU EVEN ASK SOMEONE WRITE THIS FOR ME PRONTO.

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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It took me ages to read The Last Hero, which was next up in my Discworld read, because it's super short but also SUPER HEAVY. When your alternate reading makes Les Miserables look light, this is sort of a problem!

I mean, the heaviness is justified by the art. The art is lovely! I am not complaining about all the art. It just makes it more of a challenge, that's all.

Anyway, The Last Hero is the only Discworld book (other than Snuff, which is to be my triumphant reward at the conclusion of this reread) that I had not previously read! You would think this would mean I have a ton to say about it, but I don't really. Possibly because it is basically a sequel to Interesting Times and I feel like I got MORE THAN enough Cohen-and-Rincewind in Interesting Times.

I mean, the premise of Rincewind, Carrot, the Librarian, and Leonard of Quirm trapped in a spaceship does sound potentially hilarious! But execution did not, alas, fully live up to the concept. Maybe if there had been more time to sit around playing cards, less time panicking.

. . . but the art was very nice!

-- also the Patrician gets to prove the benefits of a liberal arts education, I deeply enjoyed that.

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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Reading certain Discworld books is always a bit like having an argument with my teenaged self, but in the case of Thief of Time the argument was REALLY LOUD and went a bit like this:

TEENAGED BECCA: Oh gosh oh gosh I'm so excited Thief of Time was one of my favorites!
ADULT BECCA: . . . er. Was the whole Tibetan monks thing always so awkward? Hey, Pratchett, remember when we had this discussion about not parodying cultures that you don't know much about?
TEENAGED BECCA: Shut up, the history monks are AWESOME. Lu-Tze is great! You know who else is great? SUSAN.
ADULT BECCA: Susan is totally great!
TEENAGED BECCA: I identify with Susan so much she is basically my viewpoint character in the series.
ADULT BECCA: . . . Becca, you are really nothing like Susan at all.
TEENAGED BECCA: . . . shut up. Anyway Lady Myria is ALSO really great!
ADULT BECCA: She is! So awesome! I really love Lady Miria's arc! But . . . Collapse )

So basically the long and the short of it is that, while Adult Becca usually wins these arguments, in the case of Thief of Time Teenaged Becca totally clobbered Adult Becca over the head with her teenaged feelingsbat and took over the rest of this post, which goes THIEF OF TIME IS GREAT. PROBLEMATIC WHAT PROBLEMATIC? LOBSANG/SUSAN 4EVER <3 <3 <3

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The Truth is the first Discworld book that I own in hardcover, which means that it officially marks the point in my childhood where I caught up with Pratchett!

What it also means now is that it marks the point where my Pratchett books don't fit neatly in my tiny designed-for-paperback P-Z bookshelf and my roommates judge me for valuing an alphabetical cataloging structure over proper storage of my books. ANYWAY. The Truth is one of the ones I'd forgotten how much I liked! An incomplete list of things of reasons why:

- William de Worde, a dude who was raised with a lot of privilege and a lot of prejudice, and is aware of that and is trying really hard to be a better person than he was raised to be -- and often screws up precisely because he is trying so hard, and because no matter how hard he tries there are still ways in which he doesn't get it. And he gets called on that a lot, and keeps trying, and does not expect cookies for it, and I appreciate that enormously.

- Sacharissa Cripslock, INTREPID LADY REPORTER, emphasis on both 'reporter' and 'lady', who learns over the course of the story that if a naked man runs through your sewing circle meeting it is always very important to get his name for the paper. I like lady reporters. I also like that William is the tender-hearted, anxious one who is concerned about the morals of what they are doing, and Sacharissa is the one who points out that newspapers need to make a profit.

- Otto von Chriek, vampire photographer. I don't actually know why I like Otto so much, I just do.

- continuity! This is so relatively rare in Discworld I feel it deserves an extra pat on the back. Someone did die in the war with Klatch!

- the fact that no one actually develops into a better person over the course of the book -- in fact, they might well actually develop into worse people -- but they do develop into better reporters.

- the fact that the Watch are antagonists in this book. I love when authors let major characters dislike each other! It is the opposite of the thing I have dubbed Irritating Person Syndrome, that rule wherein anybody who dislikes the protagonist is automatically a bad person and will inevitably turn out to be a traitor, spy, or other variety of miscreant. (Mercedes Lackey loves Irritating Person Syndrome.) I love William very earnestly going out of his way to be annoying to Vimes and blow up Angua's scent of smell and so forth. It warms the cockles of my heart.

I am actually really sad that there are no more Plucky Newspaper Adventure Discworld books; I would gladly have seen this be the start of a sub-series. (I would much rather William than Moist, to be honest, although perhaps I will feel differently once I have re-read the Moist books. Sorry Moist!)

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a life less ordinary, calcifer magic

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I think The Fifth Elephant marks the turning point for me from mediocre mid-late Discworld to excellent late Discworld.

Not that I don't have things to complain about with The Fifth Elephant! (I always have things to complain about.) Which, number one is, I remembered The Fifth Elephant as the book with the most Sybil, and it is true that there is more Sybil than in any book since Guards, Guards, but IT'S NOT ENOUGH. I demand more Sybil!

I also don't care at all about the "Colon is comically terrible at leadership, news at 11" storyline.

But having the book squarely in Vimes POV for almost all of it makes some other things work for me that might not, because of course Vimes thinks life as an immigrant in Ankh-Morpork is Better For Everyone when this is not in fact necessarily true. I do really like how often Vimes' assumptions get stomped on and the fact that the dichotomy between "good modern dwarf/bad fundamentalist dwarf" gets broken down at the end.

Sidenote: when I first read this book as a teenager, I automatically read dwarf culture as a metaphor for Judaism all the way. But, I mean, it's also not a big leap from 'dwarf stereotypes' to 'Jewish stereotypes' in general -- big noses, long beards, hoard goald, you know how this goes. Anyway, this time around I think that is less so, or at least only partially so and probably as much or more a metaphor for the other minority religious elephant in the room, though I don't know if that's better.

This is also the book that as a teenager put me firmly into the "CARROT IS TERRIFYING" camp. This may have been due to a misreading of the text; I was positive at that point that Pratchett was implying that Carrot knowingly manipulated a situation so that he would survive and his romantic rival would not, rather than the other way around, and now I think that was not necessarily implied, but . . . well, I mean, I believe it? WHAT CAN I SAY. Thoughts?

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