Any time I don’t know what to read, I revert to Pratchett. There’s something comforting about the characters and the setting, of knowing you’re going back to a place that will both make you laugh and make you think. So I knew as soon as I saw the “old series” square, that it would have to be a Pratchett. I read Unseen Academicals for the first time back in 2012. I had not yet returned to the shining ivory tower of professional academia, but I remember laughing at the asides and Pratchett’s usual dry wit. However, upon rereading it this year, I have eight years experience in the shining ivory tower of academia, and BOY did this book hit different this time. Did I laugh? Nay, reader, I died. At one point I was howling with mirth so loudly, my cat yelled at me and left the room.
Pratchett’s deep understanding of academia’s foibles are on full display throughout this book that’s kind of about football (soccer for the Americans), and mostly about “the leopard changing its shorts.” Unseen Academicals follows Nutt, a creature that we’re pretty sure is a goblin in the beginning of the story, but who turns out to be something quite different by the end. He’s a candle dribbler in Unseen University’s basement (because gods-forbid a wizard is seen using a perfect new candle). His boss, Trev, whose father was the most famous Ankh-Morpork footballer, takes a liking to Nutt even though no one else seems to, and brings Nutt to his first game. The city’s football is dangerous, brutal, and played in the tiny backstreets with a ‘ball’ made of wood. It’s causing a rise in crime and turf warfare.
On the upper end of the city’s elite, Vetinari convinces the University’s Archchancellor to unearth the ‘old’ rules of football and start a new league that will be less dangerous and get it out of the back streets. Which means the wizards will have to leave their armchairs and 2 AM cheese boards and intellectual scuffles to actually ‘do’ something. Intermixed between these two casts is Glenda, one of the university cooks whose greatest asset (besides her ploughman’s pie) is her ability to seamlessly insert herself anywhere to get things done. In typical Pratchian style, the plot twists through all these characters to culminate in the most hilarious football game in the history of writing.
Any Discworld book is always worth the read (or reread or re-reread), and while Unseen Academicals is one of the books Pratchett wrote after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, so it doesn’t have the same level of wit and quip as his middle books, it’s still great. Still funny. Still Pratchett. And I still love it.
Bingo Square: Old Series