brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
3. Equal Rites

I had a vague memory that I hadn't liked this one much, but I was pleasantly surprised when I re-read it. I think potentially I didn't like it when I was younger because the feminist message seemed "too obvious" to me (a child who had long perfected the art of inserting a female action hero into whatever narrative she wanted to take part in if there wasn't an appropriate one already there... I was Indiana Jones's sister more times than I can count). I recognise now that Pratchett was challenging not just sexism in the general sense but a whole vein of "how magic works" that runs through most fantasy - wizard magic is Intellectual, Important and Powerful, whereas witch magic is grubbing around in the dirt doing nasty things to people. To my delight I discovered this week when I was reading "A Slip of the Keyboard"* that Pratchett actually elaborated on that whole theme in an essay, which gives the book even more perspective. Said essay made me realise that "Equal Rites" is as much about girls in STEM as it is girls wanting to be wizards.

Anyway. Again things are a bit off, Granny Weatherwax isn't quite in focus yet, although the only really OOC moment for me is when she gets into a showy wizard duel with the Archchancellor, making the situation drastically worse, which is something Granny always normally knows better than to do. The Disc continues to feel more wild than in later books, there's some wonderful snippets about why caravans are a thing in a world where you have to travel between oases of safety.

I find it interesting comparing Esk to Tiffany Aching (especially since they end up meeting): they're really quite different characters despite similar concepts lying behind them. I see another solid brick in the Wall of Discworld Truths being laid down here: part of knowing how to use magic is knowing when not to use magic. I also now recognise Simon's brand of not-using magic as the equivalent of quantum theory, which I think went over my head when I was younger. :D I particularly love the exchange between two senior wizards in which they admit that honestly they have no ability to explain what it is he's discovered, but when he's talking about it, they are absolutely certain that it's super important and existential.

Again, I'm struck by imagery. Granny and the Archchancellor in the storm, finding the spreading film of ice from the staff really stays with me. And we get our first really good glimpse of the dungeon dimensions, which I've always liked for their Lovecraftian cosmic horror. And, of course, the Librarian makes his first proper appearence post-Orangutanformation.

Definitely a book that works better as an adult, for me.

*"A Slip of the Keyboard" is a collection of Terry Pratchett's non-fiction writing, including articles, essays, and speeches spanning his career from the 80s through to his diagnosis with PCA in 2006, and beyond. It's absolutely wonderful and I think everyone should read it, especially if you are a Pratchett fan. It's illuminating, inspiring, and very funny, and it made me cry, occasionally while still laughing. We miss you, Sir Terry.
brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
I started randomly re-reading Discworld books recently, and then I thought, why don't I do this properly and start from the start?

1. The Colour of Magic and 2. The Light Fantastic

I think pretty much everyone would agree that the first few Discworld books suffer from what TV Tropes would call Early Installment Weirdness. It's not that they're bad (in fact I will argue vehemently in the other direction) but they don't quite fit in with the rest of the series. Places and people haven't taken shape, or are characterised oddly compared to the later norms, and the whole vibe of the series is different. Opinions probably vary on when it hits its stride - I'd say "Guards, Guards", myself.

However, I've always loved the Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic (which really have to be paired as they are essentially a two-book story) and rereading them was more strongly nostalgic than I expected. The feel of the Disc is very different in them. It's a deliberate high fantasy pastiche, and part of why I loved it when I first read it is that The Colour of Magic, particularly, is a series of vignettes making gentle fun of the specific books I read and loved as a teenager. There's the City of Adventurers at the start, then a Lovecraft homage, then the Dragonriders, and finally we get into Lost Civilisations That Want To Sacrifice You. The Light Fantastic gives us a good old standard end-of-the-world scenario (and Cohen the Barbarian), and then turns it all on its head in a wonderful way, and gives us the first example of Pratchett's trademark - ordinary people showing real courage, as opposed to Brave Heroes Being Brave.

One thing that really struck me was that the whole time he's playfully skewering fantasy tropes, Pratchett is nonetheless throwing out a lot of striking and beautiful imagery. Descriptions of the Disc itself, Cori Celesti, and the Rimfall are among the things that stay with me. There's no hiding the down-to-earth-ness of Pratchett's tone, but his writing is much more lyrical here than in most of the later books. (Actually, that's not entirely true. One of the things I have always loved about his writing is his ability to throw in a beautiful passage out of nowhere.) In some ways it made me a little bit sad. I wouldn't trade the Discworld series we got for anything, but I find myself wondering what the version that stayed in this mold would have looked like. The Disc is wild and magical and untamed at this point, and there are so many random little wondrous things that are never mentioned again (e.g. the dryads, the Wyrmberg, Tethys the sea troll from another world, and the idea that the Unseen University opens onto many worlds), or become codified into "normal parts of life" (the trolls we meet in TLF, the wizards of UU, Ankh-Morpork itself, the description of Death's realm). What happened to Bravt and the Weasel? They wouldn't have fitted into the new Disc that came later.

There's also the fact that the timeline doesn't really work - how do we go from the medieval city led by a non-Vetinari Patrician to the world we're seeing by the eighth or ninth book, while Rincewind and Cohen are much the same age? Fortunately Thief of Time gives us a wonderful excuse for that: there was clearly some heavy history patching going on there, right before Ankh-Morpork hit its modern age.

But overall, the only thing that makes me wince slightly is Death, who in TCOM is rather vindictive and spiteful. You can already see the "real" Death coming through by TLF though. And I'd forgotten that Ysabelle got such an early cameo!

I find it interesting that Rincewind is a sort of proto-Ponder Stibbons at this point, too, looking for science in a world of magic - I don't remember that being a strong trait in him later. But it leads to a passage I love, and that I think gets to the heart of Pratchett's take on magic, which I'll quote here as a finisher.

[The Law of Conservation of Reality] demanded that the effort needed to achieve a goal should be the same regardless of the means used. In practical terms this meant that, say, creating the illusion of a glass of wine was relatively easy, since it involved merely the subtle shifting of light patterns. On the other hand, lifting a genuine wineglass a few feet in the air by sheer mental energy required several hours of systematic preparation if the wizard wished the prevent the simple principle of leverage flicking his brain out through his ears. - The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

More Books

Sep. 12th, 2011 09:08 pm
brightwanderer: Guardian Sol from Celestial Chronicle (Default)
Somewhat shorter comments this time since none of them enraged me. :)

Dust, Arthur Slade (Kindle) - A bit short for a full length novel, and simultaneously too long for its plot, but not bad. )

I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Hardback) - I love stories about the witches, and Tiffany is shaping up to be one of the best. )

I'm technically still reading "Latro in the Mist" but I've stalled slightly because a) it's a bit strange and fragmented and therefore hard to get into when reading in short bursts and b) I'm in love with my Kindle right now.

I've also read "For the Win" (Cory Doctorow) but I feel the need to take a deep breath before raving about that one, and "Let's Get Digital" (David Gaughran), which is a book version of a blog that was part of my sudden excitement about self publishing a couple of weeks back. And a short story. Shall try and write them up tomorrow. Next up on my Kindle is "Empire in Black and Gold" by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
brightwanderer: Guardian Sol from Celestial Chronicle (Default)
I've been thinking that if I'm going to start chewing through books I probably ought to make at least a token record of them, just to keep track/look back over. I hesitate to call these reviews since I'm not going to try and make any objective judgements. I guess it's more of a book diary.

The Left Hand of God, Paul Hoffman (paperback) - Bland, inconsistent, now with torture monks. )

Medalon, Jennifer Fallon (paperback) - Repetitive plot, weird incesty vibes, and a main character who has all the personality of a flannel. TRIGGER WARNINGS: rape, aforementioned incest-but-not-really. )

Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett (Kindle) - Not as strong as some Discworld books, which is fine, they can't all be zingers. I enjoyed about half of it. The other half is... problematic. )

This week I am reading Latro in the Mist in paper and whatever strikes my fancy on my newly acquired To Read list on my Kindle. :)


brightwanderer: Guardian Sol from Celestial Chronicle (Default)
Helen Bright

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