Oh, how I missed thee, Ankh Morpork City Watch. I don’t know what’s wrong with me because I got my hands on Snuff , the latest volume in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga, almost 10 months ago and didn’t devour it straight away. Pratchett is one of my favourite writers and I love, love, love his Discworld books, especially those that feature the City Watch. I think I was waiting for a suitably rainy day where I could glory in spending the whole day reading and lazing around in bed. No chance. Considering I’m not married and have no children, it’s surprisingly difficult to find any me-time.

So in Snuff , Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, Duke of Ankh, His Excellency and Blackboard Monitor, is ordered to go on holiday with his wife Sybil and young Sam by Lord Vetinari himself. Sybil has arranged for them to go to her country pile where she grew up so that young Sam could get to play and learn about nature and what he will inherit. A city man through and through, nevertheless Vimes cannot say no to Sybil and soon finds himself in the middle of nowhere, master of all he sees. But even in the distant Shires, he is able to sniff that something is wrong and people are hiding something. When Vimes is set up and comes across the corpse of a goblin girl, he uncovers a ghastly secret that will haunt him. Together with his trusty (and deadly) manservant Wilikins and local constable Upshott, Vimes plans to catch the murderer and overturn the social hierarchy of Ankh Morpork and the Shires. For Sam Vimes is a policeman first and foremost and always gets the killer.

In Vimes, Pratchett has created a character that is the Everyman. Born in poverty and working hard to rise through what was a decrepit and corrupt police system in Ankh Morpork, Vimes transforms from a has-been alco-cop into the city’s most upstanding and yet subversive citizen and finds friends, love and titles without compromising himself or getting an inflated ego. But not without a lot of soul searching, of course.

And using Samuel Vimes, Pratchett is able to make acute observations about the state of our world and society such as poverty, prejudice, and in the case of Snuff, slave labour and people trafficking. I love the way Pratchett is able to make you think about shifting morals without pontificating too much, and he does give some powerful punches to pierce our comfortable existance.

Saying that, there is also much to laugh about and silently chuckle in Snuff. One of my favourite things about Pratchett’s novels is the variety of species that populate Discworld that subtly overturns the received ideas of fantasy characters. In this instance, Pratchett introduces goblins who are ugly and stinky on the outside but with hidden inherent virtues. Simple, yes, but touching nonetheless.

And we get to spend time with Lady Sybil, a kind, no-nonsense Lady who runs a dragon orphanage and is the love of Vime’s life, and their little son Sam who is currently obsessed with the latest children’s bestseller, The World of Poo .

Of all the different story arcs in the Discworld novels (Death, the Witches, Unseen University, etc) my favourite is still the City Watch arc which always has some sort of darkness bubbling beneath the jokes, something I grew up reading and feel like I’ve matured with. I like.

With the increasing exposure of Sir Terry in the media in recent years, I’ve come across many people wanting to try the Discworld books but feeling rather bewildered with the 28 titles in the series. I would suggest that instead of starting right at the beginning with A Colour of Magic, why not start with Guards Guards (City Watch arc), Wyrd Sisters (the Witches arc) or Mort (Death arc where Death is a beloved character). It may take you more than one book to fall in love with the Discworld and its inhabitants, but once you’re hooked, it’s for life!

I’m actually rather surprised that I didn’t devour this book as soon as I got it. But then I’ve been participating in rather a lot of challenges this year. But you know what? I’m kind of glad that I waited a little because once the hype of getting the book signed by Sir Terry himself has diminished a little, I think I got to enjoy this book even more. I Shall Wear Midnight is Terry Pratchett’s fourth book in the Tiffany Aching series, part of the Discworld books (following The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith). I would recommend reading the books in order as things will make a lot more sense. But then I would read them in order anyway because they are that good. As you probably all know, I’m a die-hard fan of Pratchett’s, and with each book, it gets better and better.

In this one, Tiffany Aching is now 16, a working witch in her steading, looking after people, solving problems and generally keeping everything in working order, just so life can amble on unimpeded. And then there’s the Nac Mac Feegle who we first meet in the first book, The Wee Free Men, who have adopted Tiffany as their very own hag (a wise woman). I love the Nac Mac Feegles with their blue bodies and red hair and the way they shout ‘Crivens’ at every opportunity. And also for their strength, stubbornness and fearlessness even though they are only a couple of inches tall.

Although there are plenty of laughs in this book, and I found myself laughing out loud in some parts, there are also some very dark moments. In the last book, Wintersmith, Tiffany had awoken a dark presence who is determined to get her. There is a cold, wicked stench to this evil spirit with no eyes who turns everyone against witches, reminiscent of the witchfinders of the 17th century. Tiffany must learn to be strong enough to stand up to him. As the wedding of her ex and his blond and blue-eyed fiancée approaches, will she be able to accept who she is and convince others of what she is? And will she ever find love?

Pratchett has once again crafted a beautiful story, full of laughter, horror and a real sense of what it is to be human. He strips away the layers of what we see and shows us what life really is about. I thought this was a fantastic story and written with such depth and understanding that I defy anyone not to feel that you’ve come away with a little more understanding and respect for the world we live in. Pratchett really observes people and knows what he’s talking about.

And, in I Shall Wear Midnight we are once again reconciled with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. What more can you ask for? So what are you waiting for? Go on and get yourself some Pratchett!

I read this just in time to complete my Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge. Yay! And don’t forget to check out the other reviews for this challenge.

Nation by Terry Pratchett

3 September, 2010

Ah, Sir Terry, how I missed you. I don’t know why I kept my signed copy of Nation languishing on my TBR pile. Sometimes when you are looking forward to reading something too much, you just can’t bring yourself to pick up the book (re: my issue with not having read David Mitchell’s last two books even though I ♥  him. What’s that all about?)

Anyway, the wonderful Claire who blogs at Paperback Reader invited me to join her in celebrating the publication of Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel, I Shall Wear Midnight, yesterday at Waterstone’s Piccadilly at er … midnight! Pratchett spoke to his friend Tony Robinson (of Blackadder and The Worst Jobs in History fame. Let’s not talk about Time Team because it is just so effing boring. History should come alive, not make you want to eat dirt.) Anyway, back to the talk. It was SO exciting! Plus a copy of I Shall Wear Midnight was included in our ticket price, came with a bag, a pen and a badge. Full marks!

So that has spurred me on to pick up Pratchett’s book to read before the event. I’ve read everything else except for his children’s books (The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, The Bromeliad and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents). I’ll wait until my nephews are a little older so that we can read them together (if they’ll still let me, that is.)

When Nation was first published, I was a tad disappointed that it wasn’t a Discworld novel. I faithfully bought it anyway (see, I’m a fan, and I can’t not buy it) and set it aside. Pratchett is one of a few select novelists whom I will buy in hardback, no questions asked. I love his work that much. But then I began to hear mutterings and read reviews of Nation, many from readers who aren’t seasoned fans, that said it was possibly Pratchett’s best work yet. And then the fans. Then Unseen Academicals was published and I dived into that. But you know, I wish I had had a little more faith in Sir Terry and dived into Nation earlier, because it is brilliant. Although it’s aimed at young adult readers, like all of Pratchett’s novels, it can be enjoyed and appreciated by readers of all ages.

Nation is at once a fable, a comedy and a serious tale. Pratchett is a genius when discussing matters that delves straight into the human psyche, its history, it’s morals and its aspirations, and I love him for that. He encapsulates it in funny, sometimes absurd, jokes, but if you listen and read between the lines, you realise he is telling a tale that resonates with history and humanity. I’m not just saying that because I’m a diehard fan. You’ll notice it creeping in as you read through his Discworld series. Maybe it’s an age thing, but Pratchett’s work increasingly holds a serious and often dark undertone, a familiarity with the way the world really works.

In Nation, Pratchett tackles natural disasters, abandonment, loneliness, community and belief. And he does it in such a nice, unassuming, non-pontificating manner that you will warm to him immediately. I read this book straight after I finished The Poisonwood Bible, and the switch initally made me wonder why he was wasting words in describing frivolous situations. When there is so much tragedy in the real world, why am I reading a comic novel? But I soon had to slap myself in contrition because Pratchett gently envelopes you in his world through his wise words and tells you a tale that mirrors the real world.

We meet Maw, the sole survivor of the Nation swept away by a tsunami. As he struggles with his grief and the erosion in his belief of his native gods, he is joined by a bedraggled group of survivors including the Ghost Girl, a minor English royalty. As they build up their community and learn to live with one another, bringing babies into the world, finding food and brewing the perfect beer, they must also contend with the threat of the Raiders, cannibals who have waged wars on the Nation throughout its history. This is a wonderful story of a boy who grows into a man through learning about responsibility, community and what keeps people’s hopes alive. And the ending was perfect. Personally, I’m partial to a bit of romance in my novels, but Pratchett, although a fantasist, is actually a realist. I admit I shed a tear or two as Pratchett shows what humanity is really about.

One thing I really liked about Nation was Pratchett’s allusion to the Royal Society and the importance in the pursuit of knowledge and science. And of course, the character of the Ghost Girl, born with the name Ermintrude and calling herself Daphne (because it’s so much nicer). She’s smart, strong and unafraid. And she loves science. What ultimately keeps the Nation going is their trade in knowledge with Britain. What I wouldn’t give to live in a world like that.

Pratchett mentioned this was his favourite book, the one he was most proud of, and I can see why with it’s mixture of fantasy and science rooted in reality. Pratchett’s love of science really shines through and actually made me want to go back to my books. Well, just a little.

You may not know but Pratchett has co-authored with Jack S. Cohen and Ian Stewart three fiction/non-fiction books, The Science of the Discworld I, II and III about the history of arts and sciences of the Discworld in comparison to our world which are educational as well as entertaining. I heartily recommend them.

Here’s an article in the Guardian about the annual Discworld convention and why people are addicted to it. And an interview with Pratchett.

I read this as part of the Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge and TBR 2010 Challenge.

I finally managed to watch the TV adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal which was shown over the bank holiday weekend. I tried not to read too many reviews as I didn’t want to spoil my fun, but good reviews kept trickling in, and although I was planning to wait until the DVD was released, I’m lucky enough to have a sister who doesn’t mind me hogging her Sky.

Going Postal is the tale of conman and ex-convict Moist von Lipwig as he is snatched from the jaws of death by Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who gives him two choices: death or revive the Post Office. Moist reluctantly takes up the position of Post Master but soon hits on the idea that if he is successful, he could buy his freedom. Add to this a junior postman who is older than his granddad, the unexplained deaths of all the previous Post Masters and the beautiful, no-nonsense Adora Belle Dearheart, Moist finds himself in an adventure that will change his life as well as those around him. And we get to re-connect with some of our friends at the City Watch too.

As you may know, I wasn’t that impressed with the TV adaptation of Hogfather (although I was excited about it being made into a live-action film, Hogfather is one of my favourite Pratchett novels so naturally I would be critical) but was impressed with their second offering, The Colour of Magic. But Going Postal was so much better. The script was well written, the acting superb (in particular Richard Coyle as Moist, Claire Foyle as Adora and David Suchet as the deliciously evil Gilt) and the general feel was more mainstream than niche but with all the details that would make any Pratchett fan chuckle to themself. Even my sister who ‘doesn’t do elves and fairies’ exclaimed that ‘it was actually pretty good’ even though she fell asleep near the beginning (but she had a tough week and she’s a mum). I’m just excited to see what they will produce next.

Naturally I would urge you to read the book first. It will boost your enjoyment of the adaptation a thousandfold.

I watched this as part of the Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge.

will be screening on Sky this May. Yippee! You can watch the trailer here (thanks to The Wertzone for the alert).

Going Postal will be a welcome addition to the TV adaptations of Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I loved The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic and thought David Jason as Rincewind was brilliant. I found The Hogfather to be a little boring even though it’s one of my favourite Discworld novels (if it has Death and his granddaughter Susan, I’m sold). So I’m a little anxious about this one, but am nevertheless waiting for it with bated breath. Which means I must re-read the book again.

Currently I’m two thirds of the way through Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology (am still loving it) and have also started Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as I’m going to see him at the Southbank Centre on Monday. Can’t wait!

And elsewhere in the bookworld, the gorgeous China Miéville has won the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel for The City and the City (I must read it this year) and his new novel Kraken looks fascinating.

Last year I read The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson and felt I had reconnected with my favourite series and revisited old friends. But this wasn’t just a book about the Discworld but also about our world and I learnt a lot about the folklore of many different nations. But that meant I hadn’t actually read any fiction by Terry Pratchett. The shame of it. So this year I found myself a cosy little Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge and am submitting Unseen Academicals as my first completed read.

Unseen Academicals features one of my favourite Discworld groups, the wizards of Unseen University, the premier university of the Discworld, who have discovered that unless they put on a game of football as requested in a benefactor’s will, their endless heaving tables of sustenance (that’s food and drink) will shrink to a feeble display that will not sustain a grown wizard in his daily intellectual exercises. At the same time, Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh Morpork has decreed that a football game was desirable, and so begins a mad dash and scramble to form teams and formulate rules for this exciting game, foot the ball.

I must say I’m not ravingly fanatical about the beautiful game, but I watch it occasionally (well, the World Cup, and only for the men – it’s totally understandable right, girls?) and am au fait with the rules (oh yes, I do know the offside rule). In fact, I wasn’t totally keen about the premise of the book and the only thing propelling me towards reading it was that 1) it featured the Unseen University and it’s wizards and 2) one of my friends said it was brilliant. And it’s Terry Pratchett after all, so it was just a matter of time before I got my mitts on it.

And you know what? Pratchett doesn’t disappoint. Well, he rarely disappoints now. I love him and I love his work. And with each book, his stories and his Discworld get better and better. I don’t know how much more it can improve because it’s perfect. I find that as the books progress, his stories are less fantastical and stereotypical pastiches and more human drama. He takes something from our world, and like alchemy transforms it into something funny, warm, profound and cuddly with a tap of his keyboard.

With Unseen Academicals, Pratchett introduces several new characters working below stairs in the Unseen University, the magical entanglement of fashion and football and the triumph of learning and worth over prejudice and violence. I particularly liked Mister Nutt, every little tortured bit of his tortured soul. And of course there is Mustrum Ridcully, blustery Archchancellor of Unseen University and the Librarian who loves bananas as much as books.

If you haven’t read this, do so. It’s brilliant. And if you’ve never read any Pratchett, then you may want to start with Guards! Guards! (where you get to meet the Night Watch), Wyrd Sisters (where you get to meet some lovely ladies of the wicked kind) or Mort (where you get to meet Death). Or if you like to start from the beginning, The Colour of Magic. And don’t give up after one book. It gets better and better. Trust me.

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

One of my favourite books is the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Narnia and Nancy Drew were the staples of my childhood reading. And ever since then I have been fascinated by stories set in other worlds. And that probably also fed my fascination of other physical worlds and led me to get a degree in astrophysics. Funny how one thing leads to another.

At school I read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Wizard of Oz (every book I could find in the series and there were a lot) and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series recommended by one of my friends. I also loved reading mythology and remember being wowed by the story of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung during my music classes when I was nine. The Norse gods, the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the Egyptian gods all enthralled me. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I looooove vampires and werewolves and went through a phase where I only read them, which really worried my sister. I’ll post about them later as I think they deserve a post of their own.

Here are some of the writers and books that I think are incredible:

Science fiction and fantasy
Terry Pratchett (Discworld novels)
Scott Lynch (The Gentleman Bastards series)
Steven Erickson (Malazan Book of the Fallen series)
Steven Donaldson (Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series, The Gap series)
Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next series)
Neil Gaiman (Sandman graphic novels, American Gods)
Iain M. Banks (The Culture series)
Anne Rice (The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Witching Hour)
Katherine Kerr (Deverry series)
Janny Wurts (The Wars of Light and Shadow series)

I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of my favourite books, but the writers I’ve listed above I’ll buy without even having to think twice. Try them if you haven’t, you’ll be impressed with the quality of writing.

There’s so much written about how sff books aren’t taken seriouly by the literati and major awards panels and I have to agree. There’s so many really well written books, a lot which are better written and more substantial than some of the literary novels out there, and I do feel that sff writers get a bum deal. Just because a story isn’t set in the real world doesn’t mean the story has no substance. Fiction is fiction after all. Realist novels are also figments of the writers’ imagination. So what’s the difference? It’s just something that annoys me whenever I start reading about it in the papers. Look at Ian Banks, he can write both literary and science fiction. And both are brilliant. Here’s a recent article about this in the Guardian.

What do you think?