I would totally read Terry Pratchett’s ink blotter or scribbled napkin, so my opinion on anything Pratchett is probably a little biased. However, “Going Postal” is my all-time favorite Discworld novel, and its one of his best. This is my third read of this book, and since I’m using it for a guest lecture on building an ‘invented’ world, I really paid attention to how Pratchett made the story. It’s just short of brilliant, and I wish I could have seen this man storyboard because it’s perfect.
Moist is a good dude wrapped in a bad man’s clothes. He’ll swindle you all the way to Sto-plains and back, but he’ll do it sincerely and it’s never with any personal malice. It’s just his nature and the way the cards go. Besides, the public want you to swindle them. It’s part of the game. Or so Moist thinks. Because when he’s swindling people, he’s not really Moist. He’s Alfred Spangler, or Fred no-last name, or any hundred disguises and names.
Until he runs past everyone’s favorite Ankh-Morpork tyrant, Lord Vetinari. Or at least, Alfred Spangler does. One of the great things Pratchett does with his new main character is deploy this split identity. Moist is, obviously, always himself but whenever he struggles with the good vs. bad inside him, Pratchett chooses to go back to the idea of who he once was. And it’s not metaphorical; when he was bad, Moist certainly wasn’t himself. He’s an actor and a con artist who can be fifteen different people in an hour, should the need arise. While this book seems on the surface to be about Vetinari using him as a pawn to bring back the old post office, the story is really about Moist finding himself and how scary it is to be your own person.
As usual for a Discworld book, the story’s hero isn’t really a hero. Moist is just the best man for the job. He has a unique skill set and history of experience, but Pratchett discards the need for a true fantasy hero. Moist’s greatest gift is his ability to talk people into things, and to blend into the crowd when he needs to. That’s it. No magical abilities; no special spells, or pre-destined prophecies. He just chooses the lesser of two evils in every case, and never stops moving.
“Going Postal” is filled with all the hallmarks of Pratchett’s great writing; witty asides, rapier sharp dialog, laugh-out-loud descriptions, and lovable characters. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single character in any of his books that I can say I hate. Even the ‘bad guys’ have something about them that makes them fun. And the plot of this book builds on itself as it goes making it exciting to read even though I knew what was coming. He gives just enough hints along the way to keep us moving through the plot, but never enough to blow the surprise too early or make us bored.
Also, there’s a mini-series about this book on Netflix that I’m totally going to watch.
If you love Terry Pratchett, or you want to read an interesting book about a semi-magical post office, I highly recommend “Going Postal.”