Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music, the Sixteenth Discworld novel, wasn’t necessarily my favourite read of his. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that’s amusing, and more than just one or two poignant moments that showcase the depth of skill at Pratchett’s pen nib. This is part of the Death sub-series of Discworld novels, as you might’ve guessed from the cover – it is gorgeous, isn’t it?

The star of this book is Susan sto Hellit, the granndaughter of ol’ bonebag himself. Susan, an orphaned girl in an all-girls school, is called to the greatest Duty ever — to fulfill the shoes of her grandfather, of whom she remembers next to nothing. Susan is sixteen, and taught to trust the ways of logic — a ludicrous enough preposition in the Discworld, but what can you do, education ruins young people nowadays, wrote the 23-year old. When she’s forced to take on her grandfather’s mantle as the personification of Death, Susan who is now mid-way between an abstract concept and a human being (difficult preposition, as I well know, being on the crossroads myself), she rebels at the unfairness of it all, the terrible cruelty of senseless death.

Meanwhile, in good old Ankh-Morpork, Imp y Celyn is a lute player from Quirm, a young lad come to search for the greatest city on the Discworld. Pity him, finding Ankh-Morpork instead but what can you do — sometimes, the trouble finds you. What trouble is, in this case, is a guitar with music in it. And not just any music, but music with rocks in which is to say, rock music. And the Discworld is far, far away from ready for such a thing. Music is a rhythm, the rhythm of life, of all the universe — and an overwhelming one, at that, the sort of force that’s bound to stir up human hearts and minds. And it does, oh how it does.

Take, for example, the Wizards of Unseen University — and not just any old wizards but the Bursar, the Lecturer in Ancient Runes and, oh my, the Dean himself. These big-time faculty members of the University staff fly off the handle in a spectacular, funny way — it’s something to behold, I promise you that. The only one not to get affected by music with rocks in, is good old reliable Mustrum Ridcully, the Arch-Chancellor of Unseen University. I’ve loved his character for several books now — his role in Lords and Ladies especially won me over. Ridcully is the most down-to-earth wizard you’ll ever meet and I love his life philosophy, which is summarized in the following lines:

The Archchancellor polished his staff as he walked along. It was a particularly good one, six feet long and quite magical. Not that he used magic very much. In his experience, anything that couldn’t be disposed of with a couple of whacks from six feet of oak was probably immune to magic as well.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett, p. 319

Particularly enjoyable are the interactions between Ridcully and Susan Death — although she often overreacts at his grandfatherly manner, reading it as condescension, the two eventually have a nice sit-down and have a good talk between them. I wonder if the next two Death novels in which she appears will add on to this relationship — I hope they will.

The musical sub-plot wasn’t all that interesting. It was funny, there’s plenty of jokes that hit the mark — take, for example the fact that one of our bandmembers is called Glod, and is a dwarf; within a few pages of his first appearance, the dwarf sends his fellow bandmembers, a troll and the guitar-playing Imp y Celyn neé Buddy, to steal a piano. They are, the troll notes without understand why, On a mission from Glod.

Vetinari makes his appearance, as well, slightly puzzled over the appearance of this new type of music — just a few scenes, but all are quite good and on the nose.

Death, himself, is often sobering. He’s going through something that has shaken him all the way down his bones — and though I won’t say what, there are more than a few powerful scenes that make you feel…not sorry for, but certainly, you feel Death’s sorrow.

The ending of Soul Music is really good; everything comes together in a spectacular fashion, even the elements I cared less about. And then there is Death, and he plays a note, and the climax of the story leaves you with goosebumps and shivering all over. The relationship between him and Susan, though strained at times, ends up in a spot I thoroughly enjoyed.

Yes, Soul Music might not be my favourite Discworld novel but it heavily features some of my all-time favourite Discworld characters and it tells several stories, most of which I found compelling and poignant. The ending is strong, the interactions between the characters often fantastic, the humour giggle-inducing. I’m looking forward to the next Death novel, Hogfather.

You should read Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music if you:

  • Enjoyed Mort – these two stories are connected and though you can read this without having picked up the first Death Discworld novel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re familiar with the events of it;
  • You just luuuuuuuv death! Well, Death. The Discworld character, you silly goth kid;
  • You know what Terry Pratchett does, and want more of it, this is definitely a book I’d recommend to someone who’s enjoyed Discworld novels previously though it might not be my first choice for a brand new Discworld afficionado;
  • You like any of the following characters — Ridcully, the Librarian, Vetinari, the wizards of Unseen University, Ankh-Morpork, the pair of Watch guardsmen whose names I forgot, the corporal and the other one!
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Thank you for reading! Next up on my exclusive blog reviews, we’ll have ourselves a little discussion of Vol. 03 of Monstress, which just won the 2019 Hugo award for best graphic novel!

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett – Book Review

What you’ll get from a Terry Pratchett novel often corroborates to the work you put into reading it. If you’re looking for witty entertainment and humour, you’ll find them in spades, on the outermost layer of virtually all of his novels. When you dig in, there is so much more. Take Men At Arms, for example.

Pratchett’s fifteenth Discworld novel is about the dangers inherent to possessing power, in this here novel in the role of “the gonne”. It’s about racial conflict and how senseless it is. Prejudice, too. (Trolls are guilty. What for? They’re trolls! They’re guilty of something!) It’s about wolves, how they are, and how dogs think they are. It’s about a man who loves his job and feels like he has to give it up in order to be something else, and the lesson he learns.

But at the end of the day, it’s about another man, a simple man, a man trying to sell his sausages at prices that might as well be cutting his own throat.

For Captain Samuel Vimes, things are changing. Commander of the Night Watch, going through his last days on the force before his wedding to the richest noblewoman in Ankh-Morpork, Vimes is understandably a wee bit out of it. But fear not, the good old captain still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. Some of his story beats were delightfully subversive to ye oldé detective cliché, courtesy of the masterful Pratchett twists. In a moment familiar to all fans of detective stories and bad 80s cop movies in particular, Vetinari (Patrician of the city and scariest, cleverest, Machiavelliest man alive) demands that Vimes hand over his sword and badge. It’s funny but it serves to do more than just lark on a genre mainstay; it plays off of what we know about both Vimes and Vetinari’s characters, the one pushing the other’s strings. But even Vetinari isn’t immune to the occasional miscalculation. While attempting to manipulate the good captain, he pushes a shred too far. The result? We get to see the great Patrician squirm for a minute there.

Men At Arms had a few unexpected gut punches. Character deaths came sudden and unexpected, jarring me awake from what often felt like a pleasant reverie filled with Pratchett’s signature humor. Death, or the threat of it can certainly sober most readers up and get the grey matter flowing.

Satire of racial hatred feels poignant, true to Pratchett’s style.  Trolls and dwarves are enemies, and humans see both as equally bad. The Watch’s policy when it comes to crimes, I already mentioned at the start of this review. A man who lives by that philosophy is Vimes’s counterpart, Day Watch Captain Quirke. He’s another character worth keeping an eye on. Quirke is a sort of the anti-Vimes, a lazy, uncaring slob who couldn’t solve a murder if it was his own, and the perpetrator was stabbing him head-on. I feel like Pratchett is going to do something interesting with this one, though.

I absolutely loved the new recruits, three exemplary Lance-Constables of the Watch – the dwarf Cuddy, the troll Detritus and the were…woman Angua. Detritus is the closest yet we’ve narratively been to a troll in the Discworld, and thanks to him we learn a lot about this race of sentient rocks – did you know, for example, that they have silicone brains? Or that they are really quite smart, long as you make sure their brains are cooled down. No, neither did I. Cuddy is fantastic and I loved every minute with him; the two together make for one hell of a funny duo, kind of like Legolas and Gimli in Lord of the Rings. They start from a point of fond dislike over a history of racial hate, only to realize they have a lot more in common than they’d like to admit. And then, eventually, friendship!

Ankh-Morpork is as vibrant as ever. All its guilds, its different cultures and factions are as much a gunpowder keg as always, and the way it all blows up this time around presents a hell of a good story. One of my favourites, in fact. For that reason, I give Men at Arms a score of 5/5!

You’ll enjoy this book if:

  • You know what’s good for you.
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Small Gods: A Discworld Review

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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! 

 

Reader’s Diary #02: Will Save the Galaxy for Witches Abroad in October

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Well, well, have I been a busy bookworm in those short moments of freedom before my last terrible, bad, no-good exam.

This week provided gallons in terms of both entertainment and value thanks to two excellent audiobooks — the first is October, authored by China Mieville. Despite the name, this novel is not the New Weird’s author’s musings on the month of October; no, it’s all about the bloody October Revolution, and yes, I use bloody in all its proper glory and literal meaning, for once. Mieville doesn’t make an attempt at objectivity; his own admission of bias is an important prelude to a never the less honest and powerful look at the events that affected an entire people’s fates. It’s a monumental event, blackened by the years and decades to come. Worth your time if you’re interested in either Russia or history as a whole, or in the ways revolution changes society from the ground up.

The real treat was Yahtzee Croshaw’s funny, witty and entertaining ‘Will Save the Galaxy for Food,’ a sci-fi book about a nameless space pilot protagonist who gets into deeper and deeper shit while just trying to earn a buck or two.

I love Yahtzee’s Zero Punctuation reviews, and was curious to see what this would be like. When I discovered he narrates the audio version, and that audiobook was on sale for a few days on Audible, how could I resist?! It’s just over ten hours, and there wasn’t a moment during which I wasn’t gripped! Whether you’re travelling via car or a long commute’s ahead, you won’t go wrong with this on! Careful though, you might just die of laughter.

I’ll be writing reviews of both these books at some point. That said, this is all you’re getting for now.

I’ve also been reading Witches Abroad, Discworld #12 (Methinks), and that’s just a mockery of the notion of happy endings from beginning to middle! Might as well be from beginning to end, but I wouldn’t know that now, would I, having read ’til the middle and wot-not!

Mm, a lot more to listen, to read. A major sale on Audible has left my bank account reeling after I picked up half a dozen books or more. I’ll be sure to tell you all about them later!

How about you? What’re you reading? What’s on your (ludicrously oversized) reading list? Are you excited about any of the books coming out this month?

Book Recommendations: Moving Pictures (Discworld #11)

After Sir Terry Pratchett passed away, I thought to honour him by exploring his Discworld in a chronological order.

Moving Pictures was where my ten-book long Discworld reading spree came to an abrupt end, sometime in 2015–or was it 2016?–I really wish I’d recalled. Something about the beginning of this book didn’t click with me back then. It was a bit too slow, perhaps. Bit more set-up than sometimes, a weaker hook.

Whatever the reason, I am happy to say, I got over it and I’m back in the Discworld!

Moving Pictures is the first in the Discworld’s loosely-connected ‘Industrial Revolution’ books. Its topic could not be clearer!

The entire novel is, in a way, a riff on Hollywood. Holy Wood is a place, but it’s also an entity, personalized and ever-present. It dreams, it moves, it does things. Strange things, nearly Lovecraftian in their nature, but always very, very funny.

The characters are both newcomers and familiar faces: Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who you can’t help but love whether you’ve encountered him in Guards! Guards! or not, plays the role of the big Holy Wood hot-shot producer/agent. His sleazy, perfectly selfish self is such a perfect fit for the role, too!

Our heroes are Victor, an apprentice wizard whose laziness is a thing of great beauty. Victor is the kind of clever wee lad that realizes all the dangers that come with being a wizard, and so he much prefers to stay apprentice. There’s also a favourite uncle’s inheritance in the mix, with a very specific clause to it; he’s the kind of clever protagonist I can get behind.

Ginger is a young girl from a village of milkmaids and cousins getting married. As you might expect, she’s not too excited about going back. Not that I’m judging all y’all cousin-marrying cousins in far-off milkmaid villages! You do you!

At any rate, Ginger quickly becomes the leading lady in all the Holy Wood ‘clicks’ and that’s where our two lovely young protagonists meet. What happens next includes trolls, old wizards pretending to be fake wizards in strange and ingenious ways, and horrible Things from Outside all reasonable existence.

Moving Pictures riffs on all things Hollywood, like action flicks, Disney movies (a bunch of sarcastic arsehole animals; a mouse, a cat, a grumpy old dog, and many more!), a constant, all-consuming lust for greater and more grandiose spectacles. It’s beyond funny, and I can’t recommend it enough.

At its core is an appreciation for the magic of film; a very different kind of magic from the traditional wizardly sort. Moving Pictures may not be among my favourite Discworld novels, but it is a treat that plays with a real-world concept in imaginative, funny ways.

If you like Pratchett, or cinema, or just enjoy sharp wit, you’ll want to pick this one up! I’ve gone out of my way to avoid spoilers and the plot, but don’t you worry — there’s plenty of it! That, and banged grains. Those go along quite well with those clicks the young people’re all about, nowadays.

Oh, and did I mention the Archchancellor-Bursar comedy duo? There’s a lot of laughter to be had every time the lens moves to Unseen University, what with these two going at each other’s throats like a married old couple.

 

Thank you for reading! I’m looking forward to writing about more of the Discworld novels as I read them chronologically, mostly. I’m skipping #11, which I’ve read, and heading straight to #12, Witches Abroad! Already 10% in, I’m thoroughly hooked!  

Thursday Recommendation: A Slip of the Keyboard

Terry Pratchett is one of the writers I most admire.

A few posts ago, I wrote about adding humor to your writing. Pratchett doesn’t simply ‘add’ humor; he weaves social commentary into his impressive body of works — Discworld and otherwise — and then proceeds to mask it with satire and sharpness that can kick your arse seven ways towards Eureka!

But I am getting sidetracked once again. The book itself is a collection of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing,which covers a variety of topics important to the man during his life — both personal and private ones, ranging from musings on his career as a journalist, PR and an author, to his passionate work to protect orangutans from extinction, to a deep-rooted appreciation for libraries and librarians (akin to Neil Gaiman), and wrapping up with his battles against Alzheimer’s and for the legalization and broader acceptance of a sick person’s right to die.

This is the man who described his disease as an “embuggerance.”  His non-fiction captures the weirdness and the ridiculousness, and sometimes the cruelty of the world we all inhabit, of this wonderful, sometime twisted reality we all share.

He fought injustice; in his writing, and outside it. He enjoyed life, and books, and I often think of how much the world could use him now.