Tuesday, November 29, 2005

BOOKS: The Last Word on Pratchett

Heh. Did that title get your attention? If so, you may be one of the rabid Pratchett fans that Alex L. warned me about when I asked her (gosh, I think Alex is a she*... I didn't think to ask) permission to reprint an email she (Alex, I'm going to keep referring to you as "she" until you correct me, okay?) sent me in response to my recent post about trying to find a groove with Pratchett.
My name's Alex and I have the dubious distinction of having read all of the Pratchett books, which means this is the opinion set of a total stranger (really all of them, even Once More* *With Footnotes).

I have to say that I think you might be missing the best parts, just based on what you've picked up; Small Gods is great, but Monstrous Regiment not so much. If you're more into getting where all the fanatic, cultish followers came from, your best bet is pick up books from before Interesting Times in print order. After that, he had a brief phase with longer, more "serious" SF type stuff, and now he's into a set of things that are hugely dependent on people already kind of getting what he's writing and being committed to the characters and understanding the universe setup. There's also a lot more unveiled straight-up political commentary, which sometimes comes at the cost of better character or plot development.

Most people who I've met who're just starting with the Disc seem to prefer Guards, Guards or Men at Arms as a beginner, with Feet of Clay as a followup; if you're more into wizards and slapstick, Interesting Times and the original six books are probably the most accessible. They set up a lot of Discworld in-jokes, too.

Also, The Unadulterated Cat is pretty much the funniest book on anything to do with cats that I've ever read, and The Bromeliad, which is composed of Truckers, Diggers and Wings, is entirely appropriate and even kind of awesome when you're 10-12. Just a header.

Thanks for putting up with the ramblings of a total stranger. I just really love a lot of Pratchett's older stuff, and the new stuff is... not in the same vein. Thought I'd mention.
"Thanks for putting up with the ramblings of a total stranger." Heh. I could say the same thing to all of you guys. So... thanks for putting up with the ramblings of a total stranger.

And a HUGE thank you to you, Alex, for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, detailed note. If I were still all pregnant and hormonal, I'd probably be all misty-eyed right now.

So there you go. One woman's (or man's) opinion. All you hardcore Pratchett fans probably have your own thoughts -- dissenting or otherwise -- about Alex's critique, and I'd love to hear them. But for the novices among you who, like me, really want to give Pratchett a fair shake but are overwhelmed by his prolificity (prolificness? prolificosity?), I think Alex has given us a solid start.

Edited later to add: And if you want more info to work with after you've gotten off to a good start a la Alex, check out Essy's "cut out and keep guide to every book in the main Discworld series
, in order, with which of the character arcs it belongs to, what it was like stylistically, whether [she] enjoyed it or not and whether it's a good intro to the series." (You'll have to scroll down a wee bit, but it's worth it.)

Edited yet again to add a link to this Discworld Reading Order Guide (in handy chart form). It may contradict everything Alex and Essy have told us, but as Nick (who posted it) says, "It looks nice anyway."

*Probably because I have a good female friend named Alex, who rocks, by the way. But if you're still reading, Alex L., I think you rock, too, even if you're a guy.


Anonymous said...

I've read boatloads of Pratchett books, but none of the more recent ones. My favourites are the ones involving either Death (the character) and/or Commander Vimes and the Night Watch. These latter, as well as being funny, are often surprisingly good police procedurals. The Death books, starting with "Mort" (I think it was Discworld book number 4), in which Death decides he needs an apprentice, are among my favourites.

gaspode said...

Agreed. My personal favorites are the ones concerning the Night Watch.

Anonymous said...

Rabid fan? Well, maybe. I've been known to chase friends around with my well worn copy of Small Gods, screaming, "read this or you're dead to me!" (I was probably joking. Probably.) But I agree with Alex. The injokes are flying thick and fast by the later books. In general, I'd skip the later one-off books- The Truth, Montrous Regiment, etc. Pick up Interesting Times or Small Gods. You won't be sorry.

Essy said...

Okay, I kind of agree with Alex, but I'd actually go further and divide the series into four different sections based on Pratchet's evolving style. Also, while I don't think any fan will deny that there are huge changes in tone between the first and last half of the series, the cultish followers are divided pretty evenly on whether the earlier or later books are the best.

So, here for what it's worth, we have my cut out and keep guide to every book in the main Discworld series, in order, with which of the character arcs it belongs to, what it was like stylistically, whether I enjoyed it or not and whether it's a good intro to the series. (I read them in chronological order, because I'm anal about that sort of thing.)

[S] = Standalone Novel, recurring characters may show up as background detail, but don't play a major role.

[Wt] = Witches Cycle. (My second favourite arc. I want to be granny Weatherwax when I grow up.)

[Wa] = Watch Cycle. (My favourite arc. I am such a Sam Vimes fangirl.)

[Wz] = Wizards Cycle (They make me laugh, but I'm not as obsessive about these books.)

[RW] = Rincewind Cycle (Some people include Rincewind in the wizard books, but I think he's separate enough from Ridcully and the others to get his own section. Even though they frequently appear in the same books. I'm honestly not a big Rincewind fan. He's too one-note. If I really like a Rincewind book it's usually for the supporting characters.)

[D] = Death Cycle. (Death is in every book, but often just, y'know... on business. These are the ones where he or his family get to save the day.)

Early Discworld - (The comedy here is of the puns and punchlines variety. There are some continuity errors and misfires while Pratchett gets the world set up how he wants it.)

The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic - [RW] Meh, they were okay. Start here if you like reading chronologically and are prepared for a slow start. Also a good intro for those who read a lot of mainstream fantasy. There's a lot of strightforward parody here and you'll get more out of it if you recognise what's being mocked.

Equal Rites - [Wt] Again, just okay. I tend to ignore this one when I think of the witch books. Mainly because he was still figuring out how he wanted to characterise Granny and it jars with the later books a bit, I think. Ultimately kinda forgettable. Not a recommended starting point.

Mort - [D] Still the gag based comedy of the early books, but more 'finished' feeling than the first two. A very good intro book to Early Discworld.

Sourcery - [RW] Liked it, but didn't love it. As an intro? Meh.

Wyrd Sisters - [Wt] The first *proper* witches book. Loved it. Good intro book in general and particularly for Shakespeare geeks.

Pyramids - [S] Liked all of it. Loved bits of it. As an intro? Not too bad.

Guards! Guards! - [Wa] Loved it. It had same feel as Equal Rites of being a set-up to a cycle rather than part of the cycle itself, but to a much lesser degree. Guards stands unsupported better than Rites. Good intro book.

Eric - [RW] Eh, it was okay, I guess. As an intro? Not so much.

Moving Pictures - [Wz] Liked it. Not too bad as an intro either.

Early Modern Discworld - (Still pun and punchline comedy, but with a richer more satisfying feel as the characters and settings become more fully realised.)

Reaper Man - [D, Wz] Liked it. Not a terrible intro, but you'd probably want to read Mort first.

Witches Abroad - [Wt] Loved it. This was my favourite Discworld book for ages. but you'd probably want to read Wyrd Sisters before this.

Small Gods - [S] Liked it. I sometimes recommend this as an intro book, but only to a certain type of reader.

Lords and Ladies - [Wt] Liked it. Loved bits of it. For maximum enjoyment you want to read Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad first.

Men at Arms - [Wa] Loved it. A great intro to early modern Discworld, but if you read this before Guards Guards, then I think the earlier book loses something by comparison.

Soul Music - [D, Wz] I liked it, but wasn't keen on Susan initially. As a starting point, not bad, but it sort of has spoilers for Mort.

Modern Discworld - (More overtly political content starts showing up. Some fans of the early stuff were disenchanted by a decrease in pun and punchline comedy. There are some misfires while Pratchett tries out a more low-key character and situation driven comedy style.)

Interesting Times - [RW] Liked it. A bit sequelly to books one and two, so not the best starting point.

Maskerade - [Wt] Loved it. If you want to jump into the Witch stories at a later point than Wyrd Sisters this is the place to do it, since it's the opening of a new era for the witches.

Feet of Clay - [Wa] Loved it. Works better if you read the other watch books first.

Hogfather - [D] Loved it. This was the book that won me over to Susan. Sequel elements to Soul Music and Mort.

Jingo - [Wa] Loved it, but like with Small Gods I don't recommend people start here unless I know something about it will particularly speak to them.

The Last Continent - [RW, Wz] Made me laugh, but kinda forgettable. I don't recommend it as a starting point.

Carpe Jugulum - [Wt] Liked it. Again, not a good starting point.

Late Discworld - (The new style begins to gel. Political commentary still there, but better integrated. Comedy becomes more low key and a lot of the pun and punchline fans drift away. I, on the other hand, eat it up with a big spoon, so...)

The Fifth Elephant - [Wa] Loved it, but you need to have read Men at Arms and maybe, Jingo for full enjoyment.

The Truth - [S] Loved it. Good intro to the later Discworld books.

Thief of Time - [D] Loved it. Works best having read previous Death books, but is mostly told from the perspective of new characters.

Night Watch - [Wa] LOVED it. Still my favourite Discworld book. But really not a good starting point. You need to have read Thief of Time and most of the Watch cycle to get everything out of this one. Big spoilers for something from Fifth Elephant.

Monstrous Regiment - [S] Loved it. Again a good intro to the later Discworld books, although you'll get more from having read the Watch books first.

Going Postal - [S] Loved it. Not as good of a starting point as The Truth or Monstrous Regiment, but still okay.

Thud!- [Wa] Loved it, but it's both set up by and contains spoilers for every other Watch book so far and therefore sucks as an intro point.

I'd say that was my two cents, but going by length it's probably more like $3.50

Tammy said...

Holy smokes, Essy. You weren't kidding when you said "cut out and keep". Well, now if I find myself going astray with Pratchett, I'll have no one but my own fool self to blame. Thanks! This is so great. I've edited my original post to add a link to your comment.

Apropos of very little, other than the fact that it's fairly magical in its own right, I just woke up and looked out the window and it SNOWED overnight! In Vancouver! In November! This is nigh unprecedented. Now I have to get out there and make snow angels before a junkie pees in it.

Anonymous said...

I agree a great deal with both Alex and Essy. Personally I suggest books based on what people like to read. If my friend is big fan of mysteries and noir...they get suggested Guards! Guards! and the Watch books. If my friend is big into comics and a fan of Neil Gaiman, Mort and the Death books. If my friend likes women's empowerment stuff, Wyrd Sisters and the Granny Weatherwax books.

I rarely recommend the Rincewind books because they're just not to my taste, and the later books are not as easily startable and the earlier ones.

Hopefully, all this rampant Pratchett fandom advice will help you find the book that hits it for you.

Then again, maybe it won't. I first read Pratchett in high school and it didn't do a thing for me. Then 6 years later I picked up Reaper Man and was sold. Really, I'm sure there are good and intellgient people out there that don't like Pratchett....maybe. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have seven words for you:

The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents.

Nobody mentioned this because Pratchett's "kid's" books are never categorized with the Discworld novels for some reason, but it's set in the same world and it's really really good. It's like "Quest for Fire" or something primal and brutal like that, only with mice. It's awesome!

Anonymous said...

You may also like this reading guide/timeline. It looks nice anyway.


Stephanie said...

SciFi.com has a rare (read: lengthy) interview w/ Pratchett here

Essy said...

Continuing my theme of liking the later books better, I'd recommend Wee Free Men over The Amazing Maurice.

Oh what the hell, lets extend the reading guide...

The Children's Discworld Books, aka The-Adult-Discworld-Books-Made-Shorter-And-Divided-Into-Chapters.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents - [S] Liked it a lot. Okay as a starting point.

Wee Free Men - [Wi, TA] Loved it. Technically part of the Witches cycle, fitting into it somewhere post-Maskerade, but it's really more of a mini-cycle of it's own, told from the perspective of new witch, Tiffany Aching.

A Hat Full Of Sky - [Wi, TA] Loved it, although not quite as much as Wee Free Men. As well as being a direct sequel to Wee Free Men, this is also a sequel to a Discworld short story called The Sea and Little Fishes, which is bloody difficult to find in print, but if you're not bothered about copyright law, it can be found online through assiduous googling. (The Sea and Little Fishes is part of the Witch Cycle proper. I liked the story, but didn't love it. On the other hand I enjoyed parts of A Hat Full of Sky a lot more for having read The Sea and Little Fishes.)

And taking a break from my compulsive cataloguing, I have to say that Wee Free Men is the best childrens book dealing with bereavement I have ever read. It covers all the info you'd find in something like Sad Isn't Bad without the preachy, over-didactical tone. Rock on, Pterry!

Anonymous said...

Re Sourcery: Terry Pratchett was a Pro Guest of Honour at last year's World SF Convention, Noreascon 4, in Boston. He was on a panel about his work, and when asked which of his books he's least satisfied/happy with, he said Sourcery was the one. He wrote it at the behest of fans, rather than because he particularly wanted to. He said the experience taught him that he should never follow what the fans want, and stick to his own ideas of where things should go.

Rebecca said...

You are indeed a generous and brave woman to let us get one last word in about Pratchett - generous because you want to keep trying for our sakes, and brave because of the number of suggestions that have been hurled in your direction :)

Personally, I love the Night Watch and Death books, try to avoid the Witches and the Wizard books, enjoy the stand-alones, and love the children's books. (However, any book featureing the Librarian is automatically my favourite, being one myself :) But, like everything, it's a matter of taste.

If you do decide to take us all up on our suggestions, might I recommend checking out the Annotated Pratchett File:

It's a user's manual created by fans of Pratchett to help readers understand where some of the references in his books come from. So if you're reading, say, Guards! Guards! (not to influence you or anything), and want to know why something is funny or why it sounds familiar, you can look it up and find out that it's actually a reference to something in pop culture.

A highly recommended read, even on its own.

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