I am continuing on my quest reading through Terry Pratchett’s oeuvre, especially audiobooks–they provide a nice break from other reading, especially when I’m cooking or cleaning or on short walks. I’ve also started listening to some with my husband during evenings when we just want to relax, so I have his thoughts on some of them (we have moved on from Poirot, at least for now). This combined review inclides a long rant on Snuff.
I’m counting these as a combined entry for Bingo under Happy (with Snuff being the notable exception). Pratchett has brought me much joy the past few years and I’m delighted to share them with Aquillius.
This one was a fairly funny standalone that takes on Hollywood. It follows Victor Tubelbend, who for the last several years has been living off his rich uncle’s inheritance by never passing or failing his wizard exams, but always getting an 84%. (It is also apparently the first appearance of Ponder Stibbons, who annoys me to irrational levels, possibly because of his appearance in this book). Victor, along with many others, is caught up in a new craze taking place in ‘Holy Wood’: moving pictures. Except the magic of Holy Wood seems like it might be a little more sinister than it first appeared…
To be honest, Victor and Ginger, the other lead, are a bit bland, but this book also sports the large and wonderful presences of Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler (perfectly suited as a mad Hollywood exec type) and Gaspode the Wonder Dog. The last 10% or so of this one was a little off the rails, but it did lead to a great King Kong reference so I can forgive it that. Also, there’s a subplot with the wizards, featuring the Bursar before proximity to Ridcully drives him completely mad. (This is also the first appearance of Ridcully, who is, as ever, hilarious). The wizards’ constant ineffectualness always makes me laugh, and the Librarian gets some good scenes too.
Moving Pictures I listened to on my own, so I don’t have my husband’s input. I don’t think it would have been his cup of tea, though. Neither of us are huge Hollywood/cinema buffs.
Christmas Hogswatch. His granddaughter Susan Sto-Helit, currently working as a governess using her occult abilities to beat up bogeymen, gets involved and has to match wits with a crazy assassin and his terrified henchmen. Featuring: the Death of Rats (SQUEAK), a raven, the Wizards at Unseen University, an unfortunate god, the Tooth Fairy(Fairies) and other supernatural creatures, many children, and “our ma” Lilywhite.
I had expected to be blown away by this one because it seems like one of Pratchett’s most well-known entries, but in fact I was rather disappointed. The plot of this one doesn’t hang together as well as some of Pratchett’s others, and there are a lot of ups and downs. All the scenes with Death were quite good and I loved most of the parts at Unseen University, but then there are a lot of plot elements that just don’t seem to contribute to the whole.
Maybe I was in a grumpy mood during the week(s) we listened to it, but I just didn’t find it funny for the most part. I was also irrationally annoyed by one of the long-term jokes: Bilius, the “Oh god” of Hangovers. Literally, he is always called the “oh god”. It got old reeeaaallly quickly, especially as we were listening on audiobook. This also marks the first time I was thoroughly annoyed by Ponder Stibbons and his stupid proto-computer, HEX (spoiler: I’m always annoyed by Ponder Stibbons).
Aquillius says: He liked the premise of the “oh god” if not the execution and also thought that there were a lot of plot points that didn’t really contribute to the whole. (Aquillia adds that he laughed a lot at Death’s “HO HO HO” as pronounced by Nigel Planer, the narrator, which we still say to each other sometimes.)
This is Pratchett’s take on Romeo and Juliet. Only Romeo is an airhead who happens to be the son of a famous foot-the-ball player and Juliet is an airhead who works in the kitchens of Unseen University and whose father supports a rival foot-the-ball team. It works better than it should, partly because both Romeo/Trev and Juliet (still called Juliet) are both utterly stupid and hilarious. The other reason why it works is that arguably, the main character is, in fact, Juliet’s best friend Glenda, who reads romance novels, runs the night kitchen at UU, and is inerringly down to earth and sensible (except for the aforementioned romance novels). There is also a plotline about the mysterious Mr. Nutt, who is clearly not quite human but is caring and really loves Glenda’s pies.
This one was a lot of fun. I have little to no interest in reading the Rincewind Wizard novels, but anything with Ridcully and the rest of the staff at Unseen University crack me up. (Ponder Stibbons, however, is an annoying pratt. Having worked in academia, I should feel sympathy, but he’s just so obnoxious…) Anyway, we chose this one specifically because we’d most enjoyed the UU parts in Hogfather and also Aquillius likes football. We now say “Ho, the Megapode!” to each other at random points in time.
Aquillius says: Unseen Academicals had a better story and was more Pratchetty than Monstrous Regiment. Highlights: Archchancellor Ridcully and Glenda’s reactions to Nutt’s fancy vocabulary and attempts at flattery (the line “mature like a cheese” featured at some point.)
Polly Perks, barmaid at her father’s inn, dresses up as a boy to join the regiment to save her missing brother and keep the inn in the family–because Nuggin, the vengeful god of her home country of Borogravia doesn’t allow women to own property and also takes offense to most other things in life. Borogravia, on Nuggin’s behalf, constantly wages war and is therefore running out of men, so Polly soon finds she’s not the only unusual person to try to join the regiment: there’s also their gruff sergeant, a vampire, an Igor, a desk jockey turned lieutenant, and a bunch of suspiciously young men who never seem to shave… Polly’s small group is constantly thrust into danger as they make their way towards war and they need to rely on quick wits instead of brawn and fighting skills (mostly because they don’t have any of the latter). And maybe some divine(?!) intervention here and there helps too.
I really loved this entry in the Discworld universe. It was a lot of fun getting out of Ankh Morpork (while still having a few cameos, e.g. Vimes and Angua), and Polly was a wonderful heroine. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, although by a few chapters in you can see where it’s going to some extent. The jokes are often predictable (lots of jokes about being kicked in sensitive areas) but still made me and Aquillius laugh, possibly because we are immature. Lieutenant Blouse, the hapless leader who has spent his whole time behind a desk, was good for a lot of laughs at his utter uselessness, although many of the other characters had more interesting backstories. I can’t actually remember most of the characters’ names because they were all nicknames and because we listened to it on audiobook, but I quite liked Maladict and Shufti. The ending especially was poignant and made a lot of sense, because the whole time I was wondering how Polly could just go back to the inn like she wanted to–I could tell she was made for bigger things. But I won’t say any more than that.
Aquillius says: He liked the references to war literature and history but thought the plot of Unseen Academicals was stronger. (He laughed a TON at the mention of Lieutenant Blouse’s mare, Thalacephalos, based on Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus).
Here beginneth a rant.
Snuff was one of Pratchett’s last books, and that’s all I’m going to say on that subject because I think it’s cruel to speculate about the author’s state of mind and health when writing it. Vimes goes to the countryside and is a snobby asshole about it not being Ankh Morpork while simultaneously being annoyed that some other snobby assholes live there. He realizes that goblins are being murdered and sold as slaves and decides to do something about it, becoming the greatest hero in all the Discworld in doing so, hurrah for Vimes. There is a very forced Jane Austen reference.
There have been some Pratchetts I’ve been disappointed in (see Hogfather above, as well as Pyramids and Equal Rites). But Snuff is possibly the first Pratchett I have actively disliked. There’s an overreliance on poo as ‘humour’ and characters that are nothing like they originally were. I have long decried the loss of the magnificent Sybil Ramkin of Guards! Guards!, who in the course of the series gets more and more watered down and diminished by her marriage to Vimes and her subsequent motherhood. Willikins at some point apparently became a street fighter instead of a placid old butler and is now Vimes’ BFF. Fred Colon is reduced to a racist caricature of himself (cf. Jingo but worse), Carrot is given absolutely nothing to do (a trend in the later books as Pratchett became more obsessed with Vimes), and Vetinari weeps at literature (and practically the crossword).
I’ve heard complaints about “Superhero Vimes” of the later books before, but I was at least entertained by Thud!, the previous entry in the Watch lineup. Snuff, however, took everything that had been great about Vimes and twisted it into a horrible caracature. In this one, he takes the law into his own hands and it made me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter to me that he was fighting against a great evil (slavery of creatures deemed less than human) or that he wondered a few times if he was crossing the line. Perhaps I would have been okay with it if he had explicitly set aside his status as Commander of the Watch. But at this point, he probably wouldn’t even have been able to do that (because he’s too ‘famous’; God, I miss the old semi-alcoholic loser Vimes who constantly struggled to be a good man).
As it stands, as a figure of the law, he did cross the line, and he used the law SPECIFICALLY to browbeat, intimidate, and harrass people–because the ends justified the means. The problem is, as someone (probably Vetinari, but I was only half listening at that point) says, criminals use that phrase too. Give me the flawed Vimes of Men at Arms, who briefly gives into the Gonne’s nature because of his desire to see justice done and is made to regret that, instead of this Vimes who can do no wrong even when he’s doing wrong. The ending of this made me feel pretty sick, and it doesn’t go over well in today’s world when we are even more aware than ever of the abuses ‘the law’ can commit. I was uncomfortable enough rereading Night Watch earlier this spring (arguably the point where Vimes begins his descent into Superhero Vimes–although that could be as early as Jingo). But that experience didn’t leave me with the same bitter aftertaste that Snuff did.
So I think I’ll obsessively reread Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, and Feet of Clay for the sheer joy of them and probably never return to some of the later Watch entries. Which is a pity, because those first three are just pure magic. (Coincidentally, they are also ensemble pieces instead of focused purely on Vimes…)
Edit 07-Oct-20: Some of the books seemed to have been removed from the list at the beginning of the post so I added them back in. Hopefully this doesn’t mess with my total too much!