bloodygranuaile: (ed wood)
 Still catching up on my Mark Reads Discworld stuff; for some reason I'm burned out on poker Twitch streams and so this is now my work listening. After The Truth I went backwards and listened to the book before it, The Fifth Elephant, which I keep accidentally typing as The Fifth Element even though that's the joke.
This is a Watch book, in which Vimes, along with Sybil and Carrot and Cheery and Detritus, are sent to Uberwald on a mission of Diplomacy, which Sam has approximately zero training in. The event that requires diplomacy is the crowning of the new Low King of the Dwarves, which is currently a bit contentious due to factionalism within the dwarf community over the status of the dwarven emigrant population in places like Ankh-Morpork and the weird city habits they adopt when they leave their traditional enclaves. To make things worse, the replica of the Scone of Stone--the sacred dwarf bread that the king sits on at his coronation, much like how in our world the monarchs of Scotland sit on on the Stone of Scone, what a coincidence--has gone missing from the Dwarf Museum in Ankh-Morpork, which is just weird, and may or may not be connected somehow to a Dastardly Plot involving the real Scone of Stone back in Uberwald, because this stuff gets real complicated real fast, especially considering it's harder for me to follow things when I'm listening rather than reading.
Despite my occasionally losing some of the details in the plot, I still found this very enjoyable. One plotline involves Angua running away to Uberwald to confront her terrible, terrible werewolf supremacist family, and Captain Carrot and Gaspode the Wonder Dog go on a hilarious buddy road trip thing to follow her. With all these Watch folks in Uberwald, Fred Colon becomes acting Watch Commander, which goes so incredibly terribly wrong that it culminates in Nobby trying to unionize the police force (I don't know if British police unions have any of the same Problems as American police unions, so this was still funny). Lady Sibyl saves the day on multiple occasions by doing stuff like measuring the embassy house for carpets and knowing a lot about dwarf opera, because Lady Sibyl is the best. Cheery Littlebottom's new mode of expressing her gender causes some waves in traditionalist Uberwald, as does her collegiality with Detritus. Lord Vetinari sends an assassin to accompany Vimes & co. to Uberwald in the guise of a clerk. Between the lot of them, they manage to figure out bits and pieces of the bizarre plot to undermine the new Low King. There are many bizarre hijinks that are nevertheless imbued with great sociopolitical analysis and good life lessons, or occasionally just with hilarious references to other things, like when Vimes gets caught nearly naked in the countryside outside of Bonk and winds up on the estate of three melancholic young maidens lifted straight out of Russian literature, who lend him the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya in exchange for getting them out of their cherry orchard and a trip to Ankh-Morpork.
The title has to do with an old legend about an elephant crashing into the Disc and eventually becoming where the fat mines in Uberwald come from (Uberwald has fat mines, by the way, but Roundworld used to have whaling so I guess how weird is it really). It is made to tie in more or less with the themes of the book, which are predominantly about how identity is constructed and expressed--what does it mean to be part of a race or nation or ethnicity; what does it mean to express your gender in various cultural contexts; as always, there's a side order of the meaning and responsibilities of having and wielding authority. In short, it's classic Discworld--it's deep and there are puns, and sometimes even the puns are deep.
I'm probably going to get hopelessly mixed up on the order of things as I continue to reread (re-listen to?) this series, but oh well. Good thing I've read them all before!
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
The Truth was my very first Discworld novel, and it's been a long, long time since I've read it.
I remember being a bit lost the first time I read it, since it's the 25th Discworld book, but I enjoyed it enough to go back to the beginning of the series and start it properly. I read it again a few years later once I'd worked my way through the series in order, and I recall it being just as much fun, and that I was definitely better situated in the story. This time, I reread it because it's the most recent completed book that Mark Oshiro is reading over at Mark Does Stuff, which I've sorely neglected ever since he finished reading the Tortall books. But I've been listening to the videos at work a bit as a way of avoiding checking the news when editing dull things (success has been mixed thus far).
The Truth is the one where they invent the newspaper, and it's full of hilarious observations from Terry Pratchett's time as journalist that are all even funnier to me now that I work in a newsroom. Our protagonist is William de Worde, the son of a rich family full of dreadful people, who has basically run away from his heritage and makes a living writing letters for hire (often for members of Ankh-Morpork's robust community of Dwarven immigrants), including a monthly gossip newsletter that he sends to a number of notable nobles for a subscription.
When a bunch of dwarves moves into Ankh-Morpork with an eldritch* new machine — a movable type printing press — one thing leads to another, William's monthly gossip letter rapidly blossoms into The Ankh-Morpork Times, the city's first daily newspaper, and William finds himself rather suddenly in the role of Ankh-Morpork's first investigative journalist.
While much of the news is really "olds" — human-interest stories about civic clubs and accounts of locally grown humorously shaped vegetables — there is one headline-grabbing case going about: Lord Vetinari appears to have tried to stab his clerk Drumknott to death (he succeeded in the stabbing but failed in the killing him bit, which doesn't sound like Lord Vetinari at all), and then attempted to flee the city on a horse laden down with a ton of money. (Not quite a ton, perhaps, but a lot, anyway. A heavy lot.) The Watch is suspicious that something's not quite right here, but are having a bit of a tough time figuring out what it is, considering they've got Vetinari and Drumknott both safely and uselessly unconscious in custody. This is where William comes in, using his family connections, lack of being bound by Watch procedure, newly discovered right of freedom of the press, and entitled jerk attitude from having grown up rich to nose about the city bossing people into giving him interviews. He also develops an anonymous source called Deep Bone, who is definitely Gaspode, and through him conducts one of the best interviews in the history of fictional journalism.
William's right-hand woman at the Times is one Sacharissa Crispslock, a highly respectable and pragmatic working-class young lady who serves as the Times' human-interest correspondent and copy editor (editorial roles at the Times are a bit flexible, though). Sacharissa is a bit judgmental, possibly a bit sheltered, very detail-oriented and with a much better head for financial stuff than William, probably because she ain't rich. She's definitely relatable and I was so proud for her when she finally got to threaten someone with a gun and swear at them.
Other excellent secondary characters include the vampire iconographer Otto von Chriek, who periodically collapses into a pile of dust when his camera's flash goes off; Goodmountain, the long-sufferingly sensible dwarf who brought the printing press to Ankh-Morpork; Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip, a duo of stock bad guys, one of whom is trying really hard but failing to develop a drug habit; and Commander Vimes, who is always a treat to see from someone else's point of view. He's much less likable as a secondary character than as a protagonist, but since most readers have also seen him as a protagonist in other books, it's extra fun watching him and William needle each other.
In this era of fake news, anonymous leaks, and people named after Italian commedia dell'arte characters being White House Comms Director but only for a week, The Truth is an especially timely reread. The tech has changed since the printing press was invented, but humans and their unfortunately malleable relationship to information haven't. Pratchett gives us a witty, compassionate, absurd, and insightful accounting of the sausage-making process behind what "they" let into the paper and the valiant struggles of the truth to get its boots on by the deadline.
*"Eldritch" means "oblong," right?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I'm officially six months behind on Mark Reads stuff.

I just finished, er, "reading along" (??) Sir Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies, which I remembered as "the one with the elves," although I think elves eventually show up again in one of the Tiffany Aching books as well.

In this one, Magrat is unhappily engaged to the new King Verence and is bored as hell with what being queen is apparently going to consist of; a bunch of young Goths are playing with things that are too powerful for them; Granny Weatherwax's old boyfriend returns; and a group of local Morris dancers are trying to put on a play for the royal wedding and are definitely, definitely not going to do the stick-and-bucket dance. On top of all that, crop circles keep appearing.

I'm sort of having trouble coming up with much to say about this book because it's pretty typical Discworld. Fortunately for the reader, "pretty typical Discworld" means it's engaging, hilarious, and equally full of groanworthy puns and deeply insightful humor. This one's deeply grounded in old British Isles traditions of the Fair Folk (as well as a lot of other really old country British stuff), so it's rich with references if you're sufficiently well grounded in those traditions yourself, and probably a bit baffling if you're not. It has wonderful footnotes. Granny Weatherwax continues to kick all kinds of ass, being totally awesome while simultaneously being kind of a terrible person.

Also, I just got the pun in Casanunda's name this time around and I've been reading these books for like fourteen years. Half my life. Clearly my command of the Englishes has improved since I was a high school freshman, which I suppose is a good thing, since in the intervening years I've only gotten a degree in the stupid language and started a career in it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Today in being enormously behind on book reviews: So Mark Oshiro finished reading Terry Pratchett's Small Gods like five-ever ago, and I finished catching up on it about forever ago, and now I've forgotten what I was going to say because I've read a couple of other books since then. Oops.
Small Gods has been one of my favorite Discworld books for a long time because it's the one that satirizes authoritarian monotheistic religions, and as such is Relevant To My Interests. But just because it's one of my favorites doesn't mean I've actually read it any time in the past several years, because there are too many books for that these days.
What I mostly remembered about it from days of yore was that the main character, Brutha, was kind of dim; the monotheistic God in question, Om, was a right arsehole and was stuck in the body of a tortoise without any of his godly powers; and that the Spanish Inquisition knockoff was just called the Quisition, with the guy in charge being called the Exquisitor and the regular Quisitors being portrayed as a bunch of regular Joes whose jobs just happen to be torturing people.
These things were all still there! But there was also a lot that I really couldn't believe I'd managed to forget, like all the wonderful jokes about Greek philosophers. And the motif with the eagle. (How could I possibly have forgotten the eagle?) And somehow I'd completely forgotten all about the ongoing question of whether the Discworld was carried on the back of a giant turtle, which is exceptionally dumb of me, since that particular conflict ties in closely with Om's manifestation as a lowly (but apparently delicious) tortoise.
While belief works a lot more literally on the Discworld than it does here, the Discworld books that focus on subjects such as belief and narrative are some of the strongest, in my opinion, because Pratchett does a very good job of literalizing the ways in which belief does actually shape our lives and our realities. Just because we have no way of knowing if various gods objectively exist or not in our world doesn't mean that the gods with the most and most fervent believers don't have the most power after all. Although this book goes even farther than that, discussing the difference between belief in a god and belief in its Church--an issue that has plagued Catholics (especially defected Catholics) and the Catholic Church since the Reformation.
Reading this along with Mark and the community (if constantly several weeks after the fact) was especially enlightening because Mark and many of the community members were raised in much, much more strictly and conservatively religious households than I was.
Anyway, if you like the Spanish Inquisition number from History of the World: Part One, this is a little bit like that, only more.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Anyway, last weekend I finally caught up on Witches Abroad, which I vaguely remember as being "the Cinderella one." Which it is! But I'd forgotten most of the rest of it.
Like many Discworld books, this one is about stories; like many of the Witches books in particular, it is about fairy tales; but this Witches Discworld book, specifically, is about Disneyfication.
The "abroad" where the witches go is a city-state called Genua, which seems to be based in part on New Orleans, but which is being sanitized and forced into basically becoming the Magic Kingdom (it also reminds me of the walled city in Shrek). It's really just Magrat who is supposed to go, officially—after all, Desiderata Hollow left the magic wand to her when she died—but obviously Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax aren't going to let Magrat go off and do anything on her own, so all three of them go, with Granny complaining about "forn parts" the whole way.
While Granny is staunchly (and meanly) provincial, Nanny Ogg is a belligerently enthusiastic and clueless tourist, bulldozing her way through Genua with a hodgepodge of incorrect common phrases from a variety of languages, apparently under the impression that "foreign" is a language and she speaks it. It's hilarious, and probably very embarrassing for Magrat. Magrat is, as usual, ineptly well-intentioned, and can't figure out how to do anything with the wand except turn things into pumpkins.
The entity Disneyfying (Disnifying? Disnefying?) Genua is a fairy godmother named Lilith, who uses mirror magic. This Evil Queen trope makes her scary as hell because she can basically always be spying on people; her whole magical system bears more resemblance to George Orwell's Big Brother than anything else: She's always watching, and she can have you disappeared if you don't behave according to the exact code expected of you. Her goal is to provide everyone with a happy ending, whether they like it or not, which on second thought also has weird Communist dictatorship overtones. I think there's some underhandedly political commentary about authoritarian utopianism going on in this book, y'all. I always missed it because I was too busy focusing on the fairy tales aspect and the puns!
The fairy tale tropes are deconstructed mercilessly, especially once you find out more about Lilith. It involves more mirroring, in a way.
While the sanitized/gentrified/Disneyfied aspect of Genua is handled brilliantly, the New Orleans-y stuff underneath falls a bit flat sometimes—Pratchett is clearly very familiar with his fairy tale tropes and the way they differ from messy reality generally, but he's not as familiar with the voodoo stuff he's incorporating as he is with the rural British cultures he draws on in places like the Ramtops, so some of the jokes feel more obvious than I generally expect from Pratchett and some of them are just plain racially awkward. (Lilith's whitewashing of Genua would have been SUCH a powerful layer if it had been handled a bit better!)
Overall, though, it is basically everything you'd expect and want out of a Witches book, and then a little bit more.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I hadn't remembered Reaper Man as being one of the mid-series Discworld novels, but we're definitely getting into mid-series now. And mid-series Discworld is generally the best Discworld; I hadn't remembered it as being one of the particularly good ones either.

Upon rereading it with Mark who Reads Things, it turns out that this is likely just because I only read it once, in ninth grade. I vaguely remembered it as the one where Death becomes a farmer, although I'd forgotten why. Reaper Man is a thoughtful exploration of the role of death in our lives and what it means to have only finite time in our lives--at least, it is when it's not full of madcap puns and zombies and animated compost heap monsters.

I'd also forgotten that this book is where we are introduced to the Auditors, who are existentially terrifying.

The Auditors are much like Dementors except that they are terrifying in a boring soulless way instead of in a traditionally terrifying soul-sucking way. They have no personal identities and they keep the universe running in an orderly and predictable fashion, which is not really how it all ends up working once you get near the Discworld. They fire Death for, essentially, developing too much personality. (Because soulless business culture FOR THE UNIVERSE.)

Death, now with a small batch of time in his hourglass before he gets annihilated, goes to work on a farm down on the Discworld, harvesting crops for an old widow lady named Mrs. Flitworth. Here he becomes Bill Door, and learns about his neighbors in a more individualized and human fashion than he ever has known his assignments before. Unfortunately, with no Death, the natural circle of life is disrupted--people can't die, and neither can animals, really, and apparently neither can general nature life-energy organic matter stuff, hence the animated compost heap. As the extra life energy builds up and people who were supposed to die float around being ghosts or zombies or whatever and generally not passing on, some other unknown thing shows up, a parasitical thing that seems to want to leach all this extra life out of the city. Windle Poons, a very ancient wizard who manages to become a sort of zombie out of sheer willpower when he dies and can't reincarnate, investigates, along with a ragtag band of undead creatures and a bunch of typically useless wizards all hepped up on saying "yo." Along the way, Poons learns more about life than he'd ever arsed himself to learn while he was alive.

The friendship between Death/Bill Door and Mrs. Flitworth is far and away the most touching part of the book, especially the bittersweetly comic bits near the end as Death tries to make sure she has the best death ever in return for all she's taught him. Mrs. Flitworth also gets mad props for being so accepting of Death even when she finds out who he is.

The book is a good one to read after the recent passing of Sir Pterry himself, as it's all about accepting Death as a natural and necessary thing, and not in too cheesy a way, either.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
One of the books I was most excited for when Mark Oshiro started reading Discworld was Moving Pictures. Once he started reading it, to my surprise, I became even *more* excited, because I had not known that apparently he spent a good chunk of time living in Hollywood, and Moving Pictures is about Hollywood. Would Mark, for once, be prepared?

He was not. No one can ever be quite prepared for Moving Pictures, although it is good to have a solid background in movie references, to fully understand all the ungodly number of jokes.

Moving Pictures is strictly in the "a Modern Thing gets invented, Discworld-style, and chaos ensues" tradition of Discworld plotlines, which is unabashedly my favorite Discworld plot type. In this case, the movies are invented, as one might guess from the title, and a small town devoted to making movies springs up in a desert, and is called Holy Wood. People start being called to go there. Victor Tugelbend, a fairly boring, generically handsome, surpassingly lazy student wizard, is one of them. He is apparently called to be a fairly boring, generically handsome action hero/romantic lead with dashing moustaches, or something. He teams up with a talking mutt named Gaspode the Wonder Dog to try and figure out what is going on with this whole Holy Wood thing and why everyone is acting strange, especially why Victor's usual film opposite, Ginger--a smart, driven, interesting character whose role as a starlet means that in films all she gets to do is look sultry and be rescued--keeps sleepwalking and trying to dig a hole in the ground on the outskirts of the city.

This is the... tenth Discworld book, I think, and it does a lot to further establish and develop the rules of reality on the Discworld--especially the roles of story and belief, which are a huge theme throughout the entire series. It also has some pretty hilarious critiques of certain story tropes that are basically dumb, and a lot of fairly biting satire about the corrosive, greedy, exploitative, appearance-obsessed aspects of Hollywood culture. But it also shows love for the magic and splendor of movies and storytelling, and thus avoids becoming cranky elitist trash. Also it has a shameless cartoon-chase scene, which is not particularly elitist either. The metahumor and references certainly have created a monster in that so much comedy following Pratchett has gone down those paths so hard they've ended up well up their own arseholes, but in this case, it works beautifully--genre fiction, movie melodrama included, being a thing that relies so heavily on being "in conversation with" other stories in order to exist and function and to train its audience into understanding its shorthands.

Overall, definitely one of the more memorable Discworld books for me. Now let's see what happens when we get to Soul Music!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I thought I had read all the Discworld books! Well, I’ve read all the Discworld novels, it turns out. There are other Discworld books out there—faux-nonfiction set in-universe to fulfill that weird sector of the book market where the books are essentially merchandise for other books. It’s a weird sort of metamarketing that I’m never sure what to make of, despite owning a whole bunch of “companion books” for some of my more expansive geeky canons.

One of these amusing extras is Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, in which a collection of recipes serves as an understructure for a whole lot of jokes. An odd thing about this book—besides its content—is that it seems to have been accidentally published with all the notes between the publisher and the agent left in. Most of these notes are arguing about what is and isn’t appropriate to publish, since Nanny Ogg generally offends people’s delicate sensibilities, and apparently her previous books had made the publisher’s wife laugh. The text itself also contains a number of allusions to leaving out certain “active” ingredients, such as arsenic, and some others which are unnamed.

Since Discworld does not follow in the fine old fantasy tradition of loading itself up with lots of food porn, the way that ASoIaF and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Redwall and basically all of the others do, instead preferring to dwell on the disgustingness of literally everything in Ankh-Morpork, the editors of this book have apparently had to alter the recipes quite a lot so that they become decent recipes that regular humans on Roundworld would ever eat. The caveat here is that the Roundworlders who do decide to make these recipes have to be British or at least be able to cook in British, because most of the measurements are given in metric and some of the ingredients are either named differently or are things I’m not sure we have in the US. I’m pretty sure “bicarbonate of soda” is baking soda, but I don’t know how much butter is 500mg and I don’t know what suet is. (OK, Google tells me it is “hardened beef or mutton fat” and how do you cook with this and WHY do you cook with this?)

Nanny Ogg appears to have collected these recipes from a number of notable personages in the Discworld, and so there appears Lord Vetinari’s recipe for bread and water, which involves a billion taste tester and several years of political manipulation, and Leonard of Quirm’s recipe for cheese sandwiches, which involves inventing all sorts of machines for making bread and cheese and then ordering some pizza. (There are also quite a number of regular recipe for curries, various English country dishes, candies, and things with names like “bananana surprise.”)

While I think I have to give the copy I read back to the friend I borrowed it from, I fully intend to borrow it back and try out some of these recipes just as soon as I learn to cook with the metric system.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Over on Mark Reads, I just caught up with his finishing reading Sir Terry Pratchett’s Eric, which… I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about. It’s a bit awkward that Sir Pterry died while we were reading what I’m pretty sure is the weakest Discworld book.

Of course, a weak Discworld book is still a hell of a lot funnier than many other comic novels. The power plays between the “traditionalists” in Hell and the newer “corporate boredom” faction—basically just one demon, but he’s the King—is pretty hilarious. Rincewind and the Luggage are both back, although Rincewind is not as well-characterized as he is in some of his more robust books. And the parrot is pretty funny. It’s extremely episodic, at least as much as the first two books, and it tends to be straight parody rather than satire (it’d be satire if there was any sort of genre of writing where someone gets three wishes and they go right—but there isn’t). A lot of the stuff he’s parodying is classic literature more than 80s fantasy this time around, which is great if you were an English major, but it doesn’t hold up to sustained discussion as much as most of the rest of the series—it’s pretty much just puns and references.

At least Rincewind is out of the Dungeon Dimensions now, which is really the point.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In the “Mark Reads Discworld Books to Me” section of my current reading life, we just finished Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, the beginning of the Watch subseries and the first book in the part of the Discworld series where it really comes into its own and can handle being big fat full-length novels instead of slim little comic novels. It’s still comic, of course, although it is also a lot of other things, most obviously a fantasy book, what with the dragons and all, but in most ways, it’s a noir. (It’s a little like how the Beka Cooper books are police procedurals, except with more puns.)

There’s little to say about Guards! Guards! that hasn’t been said by a billion Pratchett fans over the years and that hasn’t been discussed to death, accompanied by many pictures of nuns, over at Mark Reads. As for my own personal reactions—I, for one, love everything about this book. I love stuff that has fun with noir, because I love noir-ishness but am bad at taking things seriously sometimes, and I love that we get to really stay in and explore Ankh-Morpork, and I love Sam Vimes as a sometimes-goofy take on Sad Drunk Noir Protagonist Man who is also a genuinely well-drawn and engaging character, even at this early stage. And I love the dragons, both all the nifty stuff about the fancy dragons and the shaping power of belief on the Discworld (I eat that power of belief stuff up with a spoon in books, possibly because I’m a dreadful cynic in real life) and the swamp dragons (or as they are now known as, DRAGON PUPPIES!). And of course, I love the hell out of Lady Sybil, aristocratic badass. In addition to embodying one of my favorite tropes ever, Weaponized Manners, she’s vulnerable without being weak or useless, kind without being soft, and still, awesome without being perfect. In short, she’s Lady Sybil Ramkin, and she has finally shown up!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

I finally caught up with Mark Oshiro in reading Discworld, which means I just finished rereading Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids. I didn’t remember much of what happened in this one, except that it was parodying Ancient Egypt, and the parody Egypt country was called Djelibeybi, which is the best name ever, except that I think at the time I first read it, it was easy for me to cater to any cravings for Jelly Babies since they sold them at my local Stop & Shop at the time. I should see if they have any at Fort Point Market. I really like Jelly Babies.


Djelibeybi is an old kingdom, and a kingdom proud of its history. Its extremely well-preserved history. Honestly, at this point, Djelibeybi’s incessant preserving of its history is about all it's got going for it, as the elaborate funerary structures it builds for all its pharaohs have bankrupted the country, and everyone’s so in thrall to tradition that they haven’t invented anything in centuries, not even mattresses or plumbing. King Pteppicymon, a forward-thinking sort of pharaoh who hates pyramids, sends his son Pteppic off to Ankh-Morpork to become an assassin, so that he can make some money.

When Pteppic has to come back to Djelibeybi and be king, then, he is full of all sorts of non-Djelibeybian ideas from forn parts, which leads to chaos and mayhem. It would probably have just led to plumbing and mattresses if he'd been allowed to do what he wanted, but ironically, he butts heads with his extremely traditionalist advisor Dios, who is deathly afraid that any degree of change constitutes chaos and mayhem, and the result of their antagonistic interactions result in the construction of a pyramid for King Pteppicymon that's so big it bends space and time--and that causes ACTUAL chaos and mayhem. Joke's on you, Dios.

While much of this book is a bit chaotic even by Discworld standards, it's still quite a work of art--there are layers upon layers of puns, some excellent trope subversion on the part of the handmaiden Ptraci, Pratchett's signature literalism about the power of belief, and some very clever digs at both actual and popular imaginings of ancient Egyptian history. (There are "walk like an Egyptian" jokes that I had somehow forgotten about.) It even has some heartwarming smart bits about identity worked in around all the mathematically inclined camels and quantum.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Catching up on my Reading Stuff With Mark while cleaning, I belatedly finished the reread of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, notable for being the first proper Witches book. Granny Weatherwax is a returning character by this time, but this is the first time we get the full coven of Granny, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick.

Wyrd Sisters is, basically, Macbeth. But Discworld-style, of course. It takes place in the tiny sad mountainous microkingdom of Lancre, where the villainous Duke Felmet—at the urging of his ruthless wife—murders King Verence, who was not really so much a good king as he was a not-particularly-bad king, and more importantly, he was a king who cared about Lancre. Duke Felmet does not care about Lancre, and Lancre can tell. Felmet is also all squidgy about anyone finding out that he killed Verence, which slowly drives him into a complete mental breakdown.
Granny, Nanny, and Magrat hide Verence’s baby boy with a troupe of traveling actors, a troupe which includes a dwarf playwright plagued with incessant inspiration. His name is Hwel. It’s probably pronounced “Will” because he’s definitely Shakespeare. Obviously, the baby has a destiny to come back and defeat Felmet and reclaim his throne. The witches have a plan to make this happen, but also obviously, nothing ever goes quite according to plan.

A lot of this book, like all the best Discworld books, is about stories, with the theater featuring quite heavily, but also a lot of awesome jokes about the tropes of witchcraft. As someone who grew up reading a lot of witch books and seeing a lot of Shakespeare performed, this is 100% right up my alley and unendingly hilarious to me. I also identify a lot with Magrat, the youngest witch, whose idea of witchcraft is much more Gothicy and druidessy and generally Wiccan than the older witches, and who has a mad case of impostor syndrome, and who is generally a gigantic dork.

The funny bits are, as usual, hilarious, but Pratchett is definitely starting to develop and further work in his serious opinions about things like power and stories and human nature, even if most of it is lumped under the amusing label “headology.” There are also many rather thought-provoking, if joke-laden, discussions about what constitutes “meddling.” The real thing that brings Pratchett a cut above most other comic writing, of course, is the characterization, which is often very absurd and very real at the same time, and the characters never run together. Granny, Nanny, and Magrat, in particular, are all very different, all larger-than-life characters in their own way, and there’s no way to have trouble keeping them apart, unless, apparently, you’re the typesetter, who seems to have mixed up a few “Nannys” with “Grannys,” but nobody’s perfect.

There is probably doctoral-thesis-level amounts of Stuff going on in this book that I could write about all night, but it’s too much and my brain would collapse. Just going to leave it at saying that the witches are some of my favorite of all the Discworld characters.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, despite generally falling super far behind on reading along with Mark Reads, I did manage to finish up Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery only a day or two after the final post went up.

Sourcery is one of the books that I have only read once ever, and therefore have forgotten basically everything about. There are quite a number of these, particularly early in the series. I’d had it mentally filed away as one of the “not very good” ones, comparatively speaking, and for some reason I thought it was a standalone (perhaps I was mashing it up with Eric in my head?), even though it is actually a Rincewind book.

This time around, I think it’s still not going to stick with me as a particular favorite Discworld book, but hopefully I’ll remember that it is good, because it’s worth remembering. Sourcery charts the rise and fall of Coin, a sourcerer—the eighth son of a wizard who was already the eighth son of an eighth son, and so who is himself a source of magic, instead of just someone with the ability to wield it. This is deeply, deeply dangerous, particularly as eight-year-old Coin, armed with his father’s deeply creepy staff, sets out to have wizards conquer the world. This, of course, causes chaos and death and destruction and, as usually happens, opens a path for the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.

In all this, Rincewind, having run away, partly due to his own cowardice and partly on the urging of the Archchancellor’s Hat, falls in with a couple of weird adventurers and proceeds to have lots of chaotic shenanigans where Rincewind keeps trying to run away and his damn friends keep trying to save the world. Eventually, Rincewind, with the help of the Librarian, who continues to be awesome, manages to figure out what’s really going on with little Coin, and then things get deep and sad as well as chaotic and wacky, because that’s how Terry Pratchett books work.

There are some particularly excellent puns in this one that I am glad to have rediscovered, especially the one about appendectomies, and it’s great to start to see some more continuity and character development across books as the series starts settling into being a series, and with Rincewind’s sub-series specifically.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been falling dreadfully behind on keeping up with Mark Does Stuff because reasons, but today I was finally able to catch up on his reading of Mort, the fourth Discworld book. Mort is about the time that Death took an apprentice and then hijinks ensued, but I couldn’t remember what the hijinks were.

Mort, short for Mortimer, is a gangly and slightly daydreamy teen boy when he is taken on as Death’s apprentice at a job fair. Contrary to popular opinion, his name is not “boy.” Death seems to mostly want an apprentice so that he can go off into the human world and attempt to learn about human emotions and experiences, like attending parties, drinking strong alcohol, fishing, and finding employment. He is very bad at all of it, except for being a fry cook.

Mort, oddly, is not the only human person living (or residing, at any rate) in Death’s house. There is also Ysabell, Death’s sixteen-year-old daughter who has been sixteen for thirty-five years and is getting a bit sick of it, and a crotchety old dude called Albert whose purpose is apparently to fry things in grease. The only other creature around is Death’s great white horse, Binky.

Death teaches Mort “the duty,” which is to show up at certain person’s death scenes and sever their soul from their body and usher it into whatever afterlife it’s supposed to go to. This mostly goes well except for that one time that Mort was supposed to administer the death of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, but, due to having a bit of a crush on her, he kills her assassin instead, thus changing history and leading to instability in the universe. Mort tries to fix his mistake without having to tell Death about it, which goes about as well as you’d expect.

In this book we expand on a bunch of stuff we’ve seen before, mostly to do with Death, but also the nature and effects of belief on the Discworld, a little history of Unseen University, the lives of nonacademic wizards (well, a nonacademic wizard), some minor history of Sto Lat and its cabbages, other parts of the Discworld including the Agatean Empire, and basically a whimsical grab bag of stuff, none of it too in-depth, as the book is pretty short.

If this book has a theme, it is either that good intentions can cause some really big messes that only the gods themselves can possibly clean up, or that giving humans godlike powers is not a good idea and only anthropomorphic personifications should have them. There might also be an idea in there that even anthropomorphic personifications want their lives to have meaning, and that meaning is to be found in other people. Otherwise, Pratchett’s pun game is as good as ever but his deepness game is not up to where I know it’s going to get.

Also, Princess Keli of Sto Lat is everything a princess should be. Haughty, kinda mean, but very dedicated to doing right by her station and her country.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After the embarrassing escapade where I wasn’t sure if Snuff existed for a while, I started paying much closer attention to Discworld book releases, and so I was aware of the release of Raising Steam well in advance. However, so were several dozen other people in the Boston metro area, so I had to wait several weeks for the ebook to become available at the library.

My two main thoughts on Raising Steam are one, that it is hilarious and great and I adored it and at one point it almost made me cry, and two, that it is not quite as good as most of the other Discworld books and it’s really sad to see that Terry Pratchett does appear to be losing some of his touch. I mean, Terry Pratchett at his most mediocre is still funnier than most other people at their funniest. But I was still unreasonably disappointed that they didn’t come up with any wacky Discworldian name for a railway, and just called it the railway—sure, there were cute names for the individual engines and stations and lines, but remember when they invented rock’n’roll and called it “Music With Rocks In”? That was awesome.

Anyway, Raising Steam follows pretty much immediately after the events of Snuff, and the events that aren’t directly to do with the railway are mostly sequelae to the more recent Vimes books—mainly Snuff and Thud!—and yet, Raising Steam would more properly be set in the Moist von Lipwig subseries. This is a bit confusing at Moist is not actually the man behind the railway.

The man behind the railway is Dick Simnel, a blacksmith’s son from Sto Lat who somehow manages to invent mechanical engineering properly and builds a steam engine. He takes it to Ankh-Morpork, which is, after all, where stuff happens, and presents it to Harry King, the sewage tycoon. Moist gets involved when a stern Vetinari tells him to make sure this locomotive business isn’t going to be bad for the city, which Moist manages to do by making the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, of which he is the head, a ten-percent owner in the company, thus solidifying Moist as a not completely random choice of protagonist.

The plot mostly involves a bunch of dwarf religious extremists, known colloquially as “the grags” even though a “grag” is a particular type of religious official and not all the grags are extremists, who are still annoyed about the Koom Valley Accord where they stopped fighting the trolls, and are deeply committed to returning to a sort of fundamentalist dwarfdom where they don’t interact with anybody else and they shun all inventions that other people have come up with as being intrusive abominations. The first big target of this is the clacks towers, the Discworld version of the telegram, but soon their wrath is turned to the locomotive, especially since Lord Vetinari now seems very keen on using the locomotive to connect Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald. There was also an odd subplot about the Low King and gender that I wanted to like but didn’t really, because we’ve done dwarves and gender already and it also popped up kind of weirdly late in the book.

There is still a great deal of delightful Discworldian absurdity and punning (and footnotes), featuring place-names such as the Effing Forest and Downsized Abbey and The Netherglades. I feel that Discworld might be tipping ever so into that self-referential sort of point where the humor gets dependent upon previous stuff in the series—like, my first Discworld book was The Truth, which is late enough in the series that I was fairly confused not having any prior knowledge, but funny enough to keep reading anyway, but here I think someone who hadn’t read all the other books would just be utterly lost and not entertained at all. As someone who has read all the other Discworld, I don’t mind so much, because it really is good to see characters like Otto Chriek and Sacharissa Crispslock randomly showing up a lot, and it’s definitely worth it to have Vimes and Moist both featuring fairly largely in the same book and having to interact with each other more than just in passing.

The end of the book was a lot tamer than I’m used to from Discworld; I was pretty sure things from the Dungeon Dimensions were going to show up at the end since that’s a common recurring theme in the A Powerful Thing Gets Invented On Discworld formula (sadly, it is a bit of a formula by now), but they didn’t, there was just cleverness and dwarf politicking.

I do love seeing Discworld getting increasingly steampunky, even as I’m not a huge fan of it getting more serious. I also think the later books could stand getting edited somewhat more tightly, but this is a complaint that seems to be inevitable when any author gets successful, the editors start getting all wary of messing with the golden goose and possibly pissing them off, so the books get not just longer but also more full of rambly extraneous stuff. I often like extraneous stuff, but sometimes it really is just… extraneous. In this case, I think the same footnote occurred more than once, but not in a way where the repetition was the joke; that sort of thing.

Anyway, it is what it is, and what it is is still a highly entertaining Discworld book, which is pretty much what I wanted, so I’m pretty happy.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Reading Equal Rites along with Mark Does Stuff did something odd this time—I think I actually appreciated the book somewhat less than I remembered. This may be because it’s been a good eight years or so since I last read the damn thing and since then I’ve read too many other Discworld books and too many other books about feminism/women’s rights/smashing the patriarchy sort of books, so this one just doesn’t hold up as well as what I’ve gotten used to. I also think, in direct opposition to The Color of Magic, where the spaced readings helped ameliorate the episodic nature of the book, for this one, they just sort of dragged out a book that’s a lot more fun if you just zip through it all in one sitting, because frankly, a lot of Equal Rites is kind of abrupt, particularly the ending.

Equal Rites is about Esk, a young girl from a tiny hamlet in the Ramtop Mountains called Bad Ass, because somehow Terry Pratchett knew that in about 25 years someone was going to have to read this on camera. Esk, being the eighth child of an eighth son, is bequeathed a wizard’s staff on her birth, under the misconception that she was an eighth son of an eighth son. Although it is strict tradition (i.e. “the lore”) that women are witches and men are wizards, attempts by the fearsomely provincial Granny Weatherwax to train Esk up as a witch start to go a bit wahooni-shaped as it becomes apparent that Esk very definitely has wizard magic, not witch magic (the two are pretty distinctly different). In a long and typically hijinks-riddled adventure to get to Unseen University in distant Ankh-Morpork, Esk meets a variety of interesting characters, including Simon, a geeky young wizard with a great ability for figuring out the theoretical underpinnings of magic, an ability that also manages to attract the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions every time he starts up science-ing about magic. Esk and Simon have to defeat the Things in the Dungeon Dimensions while, back out on Discworld, Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Cutangle have to put aside their differences and figure out how to help them. It’s all very heartwarming but mostly it is a vehicle for jokes and for Granny to boss people around.

The biggest disappointment of this book, though, is that Death doesn’t show up at all. But at least there is plenty of the Librarian.

Don’t get me wrong, Equal Rites is still better than 99% of other fantasy out there, especially of the stuff written by white dudes in the eighties, and I had many laughs while rereading it. On to Mort!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I’ve been terribly, terribly exciting to be following along with Mark Reads, even more than usual, since Mark has finally started Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I have adored the crap out of Discworld since I first discovered it in… um, ninth grade? And there are now forty books in this series. Which means that, while I consider myself a pretty big fan and to have a pretty good grasp of Discworld, since I have spent so much time reading Discworld over so many years, there are actually a ton of things I’ve forgotten and am looking forward to rediscovering, since most of these books I’ve only read once or twice.

We’ve just gotten through the first book in the series, The Colour of Magic, and I am revising my opinion of this book from three stars to four. I didn’t read this book first when I started Discworld, so it struck me as being underdeveloped and episodic—and it is, compared to the later works, when more worldbuilding has been done. However, going through it slowly, pun by glorious pun, rather than ripping through the whole thing in one sentence, both made the episodic nature less obvious, and reminded me how absolutely glorious the puns are, even right at the very beginning. The turtle thing is truly bizarre, and I hadn’t thought to stop to think about quite how much bizarreness is squished even into just its first introduction (THAT BIG BANG PUN), having spent ten years being just like “Yeah it’s on a turtle lol”. Rincewind is never boring, even sans potato obsession. And the Luggage… the Luggage is perfection itself.

Ze plot, for the uniniated: Rincewind, an expert coward and gloriously failed wizard, is hired as translator and guide for Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist, an inn-sewer-ants analyst from the mysterious and wealthy Counterweight Continent. Rincewind is also tasked given a stern lecture on inflation by the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and tasked with making sure this tourism thing doesn’t catch on and that Morporkians don’t all decide to go get gold from the Counterweight Continent. Then there’s fire and fighting and running away, and then dragons and shipwrecks and running away, and basically a ton of absurd wacky hijinks that take them all over the Disc, particularly as they run away. And that is ze plot. Sort of. Plot isn’t really the point; groanworthy but clever puns and making fun of popular eighties fantasy tropes are the point.

Basically, it’s a pretty mediocre Discworld book, but even a mediocre Discworld book is better than most other books.


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