Small Gods: A Discworld Review

small-gods-4

Oh, lawks, I read another Discworld novel.

Small Gods was Terry Pratchett’s most intricate examination of organised religion and faith yet. Where do the gods come from? How many masks do they wear? Are they just a big lot of buggers sitting on their arses, pulling the limbs off mortals for the giggles?

That’s what the god Om used to be. Om is the sole deity of Omnia, a country that has it all — a state ran by the church, an (In)Quisition known for its efficiency, and the bloodthirsty appetite necessary to devour any small country Omnia neighbours on. The Omnians have some bizarre ideas — namely, that the world is round, and that it encircles the sun on a yearly basis. Nonsense, ladies and gentlemen, utter nonsense.

It surprises Om, when he takes to an earthly form, that of a majestic beast, only to end up in the form of a tortoise, his mind crippled and his vast power gone.  What brought this on? Three years on, and it’s only when Om is gripped by an eagle, flying three hundred feet in the ground, that he recalls who he is, and what has befallen him.

Turns out, Om has only one true believer left, a boy called Brutha. Brutha is a bit slow on the uptake but makes up for it with an eidetic memory, and a good heart. This ‘great dumb ox,’ as Brutha’s fellow acolytes call him, is not dumb at all, however, as the latter half of Small Gods illustrates. Once exposed to knowledge and ideas other than the fanatic doctrines of Omnism, Brutha’s development does in fact sky-rocket.

It took me a hell of a lot of time to get into. Some of the Pratchett books I most appreciate start ever-so-slow, only to explode in a storm of brilliant humour, ideas worth contemplation, and so much more. Moving Pictures was one such book, and Small Gods is another. Regardless of the time it took me to get into it, once I did, I devoured it with reckless abandon.

My favourite part of the book has to be the bit in Ephebe, where thousands of toga-wearing, wine-drinking philosophers have a lark on each other’s expense, argue, even come to blows. I showed my uncle (a philosophy professor) a good few pages about the philosophers’ stance on gods, and we shared a good laugh, too!

I have to bow down to Sir Terry once again. His sharp skewering of organised religion was both thought-provoking and funny to no end. And Even as my smile fades, the ideas take root, and they flourish.

This a solid 5/5 on Goodreads!

Coming soon, a review of Lords and Ladies, which I loved from start to finish, and read in no time flat! 

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #16: Musings

Diary Entry #220

Catch up to what’s happening with the Unintentionally Helpful Villain by checking out The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #15!

Sven, mine Prime Librarian, is a self-made man! I know that to be true, for I saw him rise from the dirt and mud and turn most humanoid. How he hath accomplished such a task, I couldn’t possibly imagine.

My newly appointed Head Librarian is a kind young man, begging me to show mercy to Sven, to use instead this great wrath that so beats inside this unknowable female chest against mine ex-wife. He even tells me Sven was the one who sent him to aid me in my time of grave need.

Poppycock.

A Head Librarian need must be made of harder stuff, as Sven was.

Hmmmm. It would appear I need must do a rather unfortunate something when mine original body is returned me.

Diary Entry #222

Long has the Head Librarian ridden on mine were-rabbit back, and longer yet have I ran, but at last the stench of several dozens of moldy Librarians is felt within the air. At long last, I shall close mine mitts betwixt the throat of the vile body-snitching ex!

Strange how this entire journey has changed me. I have learned much — sometimes, turning the enemy to ash between your boot need not be seen as the only move left to a man of action.

Turns out, tearing throats when shifting into a rabbit is even better for that! ‘S all about that personal touch, you see.

Now, I sleep. Tomorrow, I face the wife, kill Sven, and destroy this wretched piss-hole of a country.

Or at least all the rabbit hunters in it.

Writing Advice: World-Building

World-building is a tricky subject. Too much of it, and it ends up clogging the story. Too little, and

the setting ends up feeling too far removed from reality. There are many different aspects of world-building we can touch upon, but the most important thing you have to remember is…

If you like it and it’s part of our world, don’t be afraid to use it!

Too many writers forget that it’s alright to use realistic elements to their worlds; those can only add to your writing, enhance it. I’m as much of a sucker for magic, fantasy religions and amazing storytelling as you’ll ever find; I absolutely love to see authors add real-world elements to their works. Once you do that, you can then work to subvert that real-world aspect in order to show, rather than tell, how magic works.

Imagine for me, if you will, a world in which wizards with telekinetic abilities are fairly common. How would that affect a maritime nation’s…docking bays, for example? Would shipmasters pay a dozen men to load and unload their expensive, fragile cargo, or would they prefer to pay the local mage, who works faster and more efficiently?

Would lantern lighters be used in big cities where pyromancy wizards could snap their fingers to do an otherwise lengthy, tedious job? How about agriculture; how would the entire process of growing and harvesting food change if your world had magics that could be used to cultivate and grow plants at a much greater rate?

We can see positives to these examples, to be sure, but what’re the negatives? Could you pinpoint them for me?

Thinking about the socio-economic consequences of a given type of magical or religious system has on the world ensures that you add a complex layer to your fiction. It takes hard work, but the added level of realism makes up for it.

I’ve mentioned religion a few times now, and I feel obliged to expand on that particular topic. Religions in fantasy are often based on Greek and Norse mythology; borrowing real world religions can work very well, as seen in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos– in those books, Catholic Christianity is fascinating to read about.

Two of the central characters of Hyperion are Catholic priests–men who have put their faith in (what is at this point) a crumbling, dying religion. It’s understandable why we find the church in such a state of disrepair; seven centuries later, Christ has yet to rise again. In the face of more attractive religions such as Zen Christianity, Catholicism simply wanes.

Later, because of events I won’t spoil, Catholicism does reemerge as the dominant religion; but this time, as a much more sinister organization, akin to the Catholic Church that was behind the Inquisition; thus, past and future intertwine.

Again, it’s important to build on how exactly the religions you borrow from work differently in your world. A good point to start from is…are they based on real events, or not? If they are, how accurately do they represent historical events? How much of what you know about the religion in question is common knowledge?

Question like these will help you create a solid foundation on which to build on!

The topic of world-building is hardly exhausted with this short discussion; next week, however, I will try and tackle exposition, and how not to bore your readers to death. See you next week!