Category Archives: Reviews
There’s been a lot of talk about heroines of late. What makes a kick-ass heroine? Tough, sassy, strong etc etc. And I suppose that’s an attempt to distance them from the fluffy women you find so often in romance novels. But even so, I always feel they’re are a bit like Barbie dolls. You know what I mean, an unrealistic ideal. Young, beautiful, smart, sassy, sure of themselves, with tiny waists and legs up to here. So many are princesses, or uber-talented something-or-others brought up by adopted family. All images carefully air-brushed to hide any imperfections, of course.
There’s nothing like a serve of fantasy, I suppose. But at the end of the day, how many of us fit that model? I don’t know about you, but I’m the wrong side of forty, carrying weight I never did in my younger days. But who’d want to read a story about somebody like me?
Enter Diane Nelson.
Diane’s been writing for twenty-five years and more. She’s produced award-winning YA, erotica, paranormal – and this little set of gems. Romance with Reality. She writes romances about Real Women with kids and pasts and cheating husbands and love handles – and let me tell you, they’re funny and super entertaining, and you can relate – really relate – to what’s going down. Three short reads bound to appeal to the slightly older reader. Just click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page.
A tropical paradise does terrible things to the human psyche. Maggie, a systems analyst a little way past the blush of youth, finds herself the object of lust for three men. You might say ‘who’s complaining’ but Maggie left her confidence (in the romance department, anyway) back when she was a couple of dress sizes smaller.
This is a funny story, sure to strike a chord with those of us of a ‘certain age’. Maggie has packed the wrong clothes for the conditions. Killer heels don’t work on the beach and polyester tights aren’t comfortable in the heat. Some of the one-liners are just wonderful. For example “I can feel my ass straining the pencil-skirt, tight enough that even the slip has no `slip’, nailed in place between my pantyhose-covered cotton briefs and the thick-weave fabric.” While she’s at the conference she still has a teenage daughter and an elderly mother to contend with, both of whom give her grief in different ways.
Under all the humour lurks a wistful soul who has compared herself to others and lost confidence. It’s a gentle and tender love story as Maggie comes to terms with herself and the men in her life.
Jes’s story is one many women have lived. Get married, have kids, give up everything for the husband’s career, let yourself slide, put on some weight. And then one day she finds her politician husband in bed with a girl young enough to be his daughter. It’s the last straw.
Jes starts off sleeping on the sofa in her daughter’s college digs while she tries to piece together a new life. Her self-esteem is at rock bottom, her skills rusty, her financial situation dire. But help comes from an unexpected source – the ghastly mother-in-law and the basketball coach at her daughter’s college. Help is one thing, having the courage to take a chance, something else again. How many women do you know who have had to face a challenge like this? Cast out, alone, the skills they had before they married all but forgotten. They’re past first youth, so far from the romantic stereotype they might as well be in another galaxy. Jes’s story is told with compassion and humour.
Taylor is 38 and six feet tall, an ex-professional basketballer player who fell foul of a conniving, manipulative husband. Robert is a sports journalist, younger brother of Taylor’s best friend, and just a little bit shorter than her. At first meeting, he comes across as a slob. But he’s an unforgettable slob, a man who makes her hormones race. As for him, he’s beginning to tire of the cheer-leader bimbos. Besides, he smells a story in Taylor. She reminds him of someone… And away we go on a rocky romance tightly mixed in with a story of use and abuse, self-esteem, courage and a whole lot of love.
Like The Conference and The 90 Day Rule, there’s a whole bunch of laughs as well as angst and hot romance in this story. It probably helps if you like basketball – it’s a definite minor character – but it’s not essential. I’m not a basketball fan, I don’t know much about the sport, but I got by.
If you’re like me and you’ve been around for a few years, every one of these books will strike a chord. Been there, done that – or you’ll know somebody who has. Maybe not the precise scenario, but close enough. I think each of these wonderful stories sends a message of hope for those who need it. Even if you don’t need hope, you’ll laugh out loud along the way and find yourself cheering for the characters.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still like the alpha females and their alpha males. But these stories provide an anchor, something to hold onto when the thought of yet another billionaire or prince or princess becomes a bit stale. Please – have a look at these books. Tell me what you think.
Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning (or Infinity Beach in the US) was one of those books which I bought and had sitting on the shelf for – years, actually, and that was after the years of prevarication before I bought it. I don’t like horror, and the Stephen King quote on the front hinted at that. But then again, it had the Horsehead Nebula on the front, and McDevitt had been compared to Arthur C Clarke. Apart from that, I’d read A Talent for War and although I hadn’t been all that impressed, it had won some award. You know how it is. I succumbed, bought the novel and there it sat.
I dipped into the book in due course. I don’t like prologues, didn’t like the one in A Talent for War and couldn’t see any point in it, so I flicked on through to Chapter One, which was s-l-o-w going and it didn’t do much for me. I threw the book across the room and left it for another time.
When I tried again, I soon discovered I had to read the prologue. It’s McDevitt’s style. He poses a situation in the prologue, an event that happened some years ago, then spends the rest of the book unravelling that event. Mind you, I still say the prologue in A Talent for War was a waste of time.
Back to Slow Lightning. Okay, so the prologue describes a chase, a crash, a death. Remember all that. On to chapter one, where we meet Kim, whose clone-sister, Emily, had disappeared shortly after returning from a space voyage. And yes, that chapter is slow, as McDevitt labours the point that far in the future, man is still alone in the universe and what’s more, has lost the urge to push on and explore. Perhaps that latter part is a clue to what the author was trying to get across, a theme, if you will. If we lose the urge to explore, we stagnate. Asimov made a similar point in his Caves of Steel stories, and the fate of planets like Aurora.
The plot builds up, though. Soon, I was hooked, as Kim and her great friend Solly head off to investigate the mysterious events at Mount Hope. Here we get the sense of creepy hinted at by Stephen King, something evil lurking out there. Together, Kim and Solly work on finding out what happened to Kim’s sister, despite opposition from Kim’s employers via their powerful benefactor, who also has a stake in the story. The novel became un-put-downable.
By now I was reading a well-constructed mystery thriller, peppered with clues and red herrings, excitement and spine-tingling dread. What is out there at Mount Hope and what did it have to do with the space voyage Emily had been on just before she vanished? And then we get to the really good bit, when Solly and Kim steal a spaceship and retrace Emily’s journey all those years ago. They piece together what happened out there by collecting radio signals using a very wide array. The tech is totally plausible and the events believable. And then the creepy ratchets up a notch. This ain’t no haunted house – it’s a spaceship, way out in space, and we all know what happened in Alien. Altogether now… in space, no-one can hear you….
I’ve said before that what I really liked about this book was the detail. McDevitt paints a vivid picture of the planet Greenway and its history. He knows all about this Earth colony and he tells us without labouring the point. Just a few throw-away lines as he mentions a castle built by a tyrant a few centuries back, or explains that body shapes vary over time, just like fashion, as parents chose what their children will look like. He also describes his tech and the spaceship, and the amazing view of the great Orion Nebula and the stars of Orion’s belt – Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. You’re out there with them, open-mouthed as a wondering child.
Sure, there are a few things I’d pick on. It’s a high tech society where you choose whether to work or not. So where does the high tech come from? And what about farmers and food? And so on. It’s all glitz and glamour missing foundation. One other thing which my husband picked up on, the broken down dam which flooded the town. Um. Wouldn’t a broken down dam just resume the course of the original river? That is, a dam might flood a town – has done, many times. But the other way round? Not quite plausible. Having said that, I didn’t trip over that one on first reading.
I learned a lot from this novel. Do your homework, draw a map, develop the background so you can write with authority, even if you don’t reveal everything you know. Work out the details, because they add substance. One trick I’ve found McDevitt often uses is to have a character read a book, watch a movie, take part in a role play. You read about it and dismiss the scene as a bit of “adding substance” – and then later in the book, a character draws on that earlier experience to work something out. Nice.
This was a five star read if ever there was one. But on top of that, I learnt a lot about the gentle art of writing. And for that I’ll always be grateful.
What genre does the book fit under? It’s one of the catch-cries of publishing. Where do we put the book on the shelf? Which other books are its peers? That decision isn’t always easy, and Fred Limberg’s The Last Analog Summer is a case study, if you will.
Here’s the blurb
Welcome to Dodge, Iowa. Population: Frustrated. Why? Because it’s a digital dead-zone…a lonely analog island in an ocean of corn.
Old cars, record players, and some radios work okay—but there are no iPods, no internet, no video games or laptop computers, no cell phones, and some days…not much hope, it seems, for kids who’ve visited the big city.
The government insists an ancient magnetic meteorite is buried beneath the town. That’s what fries everything electronic. Uh-huh…right.
And, hey…pay no attention to the razor-fenced tower complex way out there in the corn, guarded by gun-toting camo-dudes. What secret compound? What power surges?
What a bunch of Bullthit!
Kevin, Tandy, and Deke, just graduated, are desperate to get out of Dodge. Trouble is, they’re flat broke and stuck in a bad ‘60’s movie. A mountain of debt looms, as well as a mountain of doubt.
Then Deke stumbles across ‘The Stratocaster’ at a farm auction. It’s old…way old…a pristine sunburst ’57 Strat. And it’s valuable…way valuable. They know immediately it’s their ticket out, a head-start on a real life…of having a chance.
The Last Analog Summer is a coming-of-age thriller—quirky, funny, tender at times, and full of worrisome twists. Kev, Tandy, and Deke desperately try to hang onto the old guitar. If it isn’t the town punk tricking them at the auction, it’s his misguided mom giving it to the radio preacher at WWJD, because, well… that’s what Jesus would do. And just when they have Reverend Diz on board— Ivy and Remy’s antics, which are antagonizing the camo-dudes to no end as they try to finally get some answers about the tower surges, go horribly wrong.
Will it take an Act-of-God, intervention by the mysterious and enigmatic Elston Gunn, or maybe…an all-out invasion by the U.S. Army to get the Stratocaster in their hands, once and for all?
On the face of it, this is out-and-out YA. After all, a YA book normally has protagonists in their late teens, and the main plot arc is ‘coming of age’. This book shouts all those things.
If you said the names Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper , or Ritchie Valens to your average sixteen-year-old, he/she would give you one of those looks. What? Who? But if you’re my age (I’m in my sixties), the songs would play in your head. You might even start to sing the words. If you knew… Peggy Sue… I’ll stop there.
This book commences with a prologue, on that fatal winter’s day when Holly and his mates died in a plane crash. Old farts like me will know the names, know the songs, know about that accident. It’s a brilliant prologue because when it’s finished, the reader knows something the main characters do not, and this fact adds so much to the story of the Stratocaster, which is the star of the show. I found myself thinking, ‘if you only knew’ – rather a lot. Take heed, all those who favour prologues. They’re fine, if they have a real purpose. This one has.
But as they say, that’s not all. The other aspect of this story which takes it over into adulthood, is the town itself. Dodge, Iowa, with its old cars, vinyl records, an all-purpose bar-come-eatery and church on Sundays. The corn is beginning to grow, the water flows around a great, big rock in the creek, where the kids gather to talk and do a bit of skinny-dipping. Kevin angles for a kiss, and hopes for more. School’s finished, so they need jobs. Any kind of job.
Do you remember all that stuff? I do. Maybe not in small-town, middle America, but it wasn’t so very different down in Western Australia when I was growing up. The offset of that, is I appreciate all the modern technology, so I can indulge in a bit of nostalgia, while still understanding how the kids would feel, effectively cut off from their own generation.
So I was well and truly sucked in. The story is told from eighteen-year-old Kevin’s point of view as he wrestles with all those issues of growing up; honesty, trust, sex and doing what’s right. Limberg has drawn all his characters with loving care. You very quickly get a grasp on the teenagers, and their different personalities. The secondary characters are just as real. I could see this story roll out like a movie script. The only people who are a tad two-dimensional are the bad guys, the camo-dudes protecting the Secret of the Tower – but that’s actually okay, because of the way the book is written. That’s what Kevin thinks, who are you, a mere reader, to argue?
This is a terrific story for people of all ages. It would be one real, Goddam shame if the book is tucked away on some shelf labeled ‘YA’. It’s the last place old farts would go and look. Isn’t it? Personally, I’d rather see books put in the adult section. When I was a kid (as in early teens and up), I rarely looked at the kids’ books, I was past them in reading ability, and subject matter. I’m inclined to think that The Last Analog Summer is more likely to appeal to adults, than to teenagers.
Which shelf? I dunno. Is it a mystery? Not really, although there are a few mysterious goings-on. Is it a thriller? No. It’s a lovely little story that brings the past into the present – and in the end, you have to wonder how much has really changed. So… literary fiction, then? Shudder?
I’d love to know what you think.
I admit it, the author is a friend, in fact we have had a business collaboration in the past. But I gain no profit from the sale of this book and I am not in direct competition with the author. I don’t write YA books – although I think this one is a cross-over. I do wonder if Amazon would have published my review if I had written a 1 star screamer. But I haven’t. If I didn’t like the book, I would have told the author so, and said why, and I would not have reviewed. You’re right not to trust all Amazon reviews. But you can trust this one.
- Benedict Nowak bailed on his marriage, taking his son with him but leaving behind his five year old daughter. He had his reasons. He had no idea they’d come back to haunt him.
- TJ had come to terms with the mother she despised, making those small concessions that made life bearable. But her mother’s death changed everything.
- Her brother, Anton, was the parent missing in TJ’s life, until he found a calling in violence, and left his sister at the mercy of shrinks and a mother with ice in her veins.
- Roman Rincon was the juvie rescued by Father Marcus and placed in the care of Benedict Nowak. With his records sealed, no one knew what happened that fateful night when Roman was only fourteen.
- All Father Marcus knew was the boy had confessed to a crime not even the cops would talk about.
In the small coal mining town of Montville, two teens whose lives have been shattered beyond repair must find a way to cope … with school, with each other, with growing up marked as broken in a town dying under the weight of secrets and lies. Warned off having anything to do with Roman, TJ is all too willing to agree, except for one little thing. The young man lives in the apartment above her father’s car repair business so avoiding him might be a problem.
As for Roman, he will take his secret to the grave, no matter what the cost.
This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.
It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.
And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen year old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.
In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.
The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.
The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.
I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.
PS. I LOVE the cover, designed by fellow author (and friend) Poppet. It truly suits the story
PPS. The book was written as a serial, a couple of chapters a week. I dips me lid. I could not possibly write a book in that way, especially as the writer just… goes with the flow without elaborate planning. Kudos.
I don’t mind admitting I’m a ‘Star Wars‘ fan – have been since the first movie back in the ’70′s. When the final credits rolled on my umpteenth viewing of ‘Return of the Jedi’ I was one of many who cast around sadly, looking for something more. Timothy Zahn stepped into the breach with his ‘Thrawn’ trilogy. Darth Vader and the Emperor were both dead but the Empire was still a formidable force – how very believable, suitable and fitting that a warlord would arise to fill the void?
There, in a nutshell, I have provided a clue to why I love these books. They ooze authenticity.
The basic background delineated in the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy is still there, of course, with all the weird and wonderful worlds with identical gravity and breathable atmosphere. There, as always, the reader has to go along for the ride. But then, if you weren’t prepared to do that, you wouldn’t be reading this review. You’ll find Luke and Leia, Han and Chewie, C3PO and R2D2 and other mainstays of the movies, along with new characters to love – and hate.
What Zahn has added is depth. The wounded Empire and the fledgling New Republic came across as very real, with the political in-fighting, brinkmanship and double-crossing one might have found as the Roman Empire fell into decline. Grand Admiral Thrawn is the warlord, one of the Emperor’s most trusted leaders. He is unusual because he is not human – but he’s as close as an alien could get. The Chiss are so humanoid that – apart from their red eyes and blue skin – they’re human in appearance. Thrawn poses a striking figure in his white grand admiral’s uniform. As a military leader he is unsurpassed – cunning, innovative, and resourceful. Thrawn is an art connoisseur, able to assess an alien adversary’s mental weaknesses through their art. This is a nice idea which certainly sets him apart. Once again, one must avoid asking too many questions, and go along for the ride. However he does it, Thrawn wins again and again, devising brilliant tactics to achieve his aims. I LOVED that part of the books.
The three books – Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command – follow on from one to the next, as Thrawn’s Imperial forces advance on Republic planets. One pivotal character is a Jedi Master – or the clone of a Jedi Master, C’baoth. Thrawn has found a way to prevent the Jedi from using mind control on him, and seeks to use C’baoth’s Jedi powers to assist his own campaign. The unstable Jedi is masterfully depicted as flawed and arrogant. Not all the Jedi are perfect.
Of course, Zahn introduces new characters. One of the most important is Mara Jade, one of the Emperor’s most trusted agents. She is fixated on finding and killing Luke Skywalker. But so is Thrawn, who has promised to capture Luke, Leia and her unborn twins for C’baoth’s new Jedi order.
Each book starts with a star destroyer orbiting a planet – another gesture of unity with the Star Wars movies.
One thing I really, really liked is that the New Republic never wins a battle against Thrawn. They win in the end – you’d have to expect that – but the means is unexpected.
These three books date back to the early 1990′s and since then, Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn has become a cult figure. The author has been forced to write several other Thrawn books to cope with the demand. This is space opera at its finest – fun, fast-paced and action-packed, as you’d expect. But, as I said in my introduction, what Zahn really offered was depth, details that even someone like me (I have a history degree) could believe in. There have been very many Star Wars spin-off since then; some are good SF, a lot are crummy pulp fiction. The Thrawn trilogy has earned a place as one of the finest of its type.
I’m updating this post because I’ve just read an article about the ‘10 writing rules we wish more science fiction and fantasy authors would break‘ As if happens, the articles reverberated with me because I’ve just finished reading a Jack McDevitt novel, ‘Seeker’. He breaks the rules, pretty much all of them.
To start with, he always begins with a prologue. I confess I’m not a lover of prologues. I’d rather just get into the story. You’ll find plenty of people who’ll tell you prologues are not ‘liked’ by agents so best to avoid but if you must have one, make it short. His can take up thousands of words. But I’ve learned that you really must read McDevitt prologues because in them he sets up a mystery which is solved in the rest of the book.
His pace is often leisurely, with a great deal of dialogue as he lovingly peels away the layers of the mystery. He often adds paragraphs of narration, unashamedly stopping to explain to the reader the history of a particular city or planetary despot. He adds colourful asides which do no more than add some depth to the story. He goes off at tangents which are presumably ‘red herrings’. In the vernacular, these are known as ‘info-dumps’.
At times I think you’d be hard pressed to explain how bits and pieces fit into the ‘every word must count’ theory. In many of his books he relates at some length the plot of a movie or sim or book a character is involved with. Then some tiny snippet of that tale is used elsewhere. I love it. It’s exactly how people think.
I’m not saying there’s no action in his novels. In ‘Seeker’, as in all the other Alex Benedict/ Chase Kolpath books, somebody is out to kill them and the author has fun coming up with ingenious ways of getting them out of various predicaments. In fact, in ‘Seeker’ I could have done without the ‘someone’s out to get us’ thread. I found it a little bit implausible. But it didn’t matter. The REAL story is the mystery and the science.
Yes, he has FTL (faster than light travel). In fact, his ships have quantum drive (!!!) Instantaneous transfer – although rendered a little more ‘believable’ because there are certain limitations which extend the duration of travel. No portals, but then, with a quantum drive, who needs ‘em?
McDevitt is touted as the ‘logical heir to Asimov and Clarke’ and I wouldn’t be arguing. The science is great, so is the historical grounding of his universe.
This author is a best-seller in hard science fiction. I get the idea he writes the stories he wants to write, the way he wants to write them.
Jack McDevitt is the author of “A Talent for War”, “Polaris”, “Seeker” and “The Devil’s Eye” – all Alex Benedict/Chas Kolpath stories, as well as a bunch of others. Two of my other favourites are “Omega” and “Slow Lightning”. And I’ve just read ‘Odyssey’, which is pretty well written in third person omniscient.
IO9, are you sure McDevitt didn’t write that article?
I’ve finally had a chance to watch ‘Hogfather’ the movie – based on Terry Pratchett’s book. After I’d watched the first episode (the second will be on Saturday) my other half said “I didn’t hear much laughter.” So true. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d seen and how it affected me. I also went back and re-read the book.
I have to say I don’t think the book translated well to the screen. It’s just too complex and it’s actually a rather dark tale. Mister Teatime (pronounced ‘Te-ah-tim-eh’) is an evil nutcase, superbly played, I must say, by Marc Warren in the film. Teatime isn’t somebody like the fearsome Mrs Bucket (Boo-kay). A baby-faced young man whose only outward appearance of madness is his weird eyes, he murders for amusement, kills people for whom he has no further use. Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, charges Teatime with the task of inhuming the Hogfather, a commission he has received from the shadowy ‘auditors’.
Sure, there are some genuinely funny parts to the book. Pratchett ‘gets’ kids and the whole sitting on Santa’s knee stuff, and the little ‘s’ which is a shy kid’s ‘yes’. The notion of a real, raw wood Santa sledge drawn by four wild boars replacing the curly sleigh and the pink papier-mâché pigs in the department store’s Santa grotto is hilarious. The kids LOVE the boars, which pee on the floor, generally stink and scare the bejaysus out of management. And the notion of Death, a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe, taking over the Hogfather role is mind-boggling. Only TP could have come up with that. But while there’s plenty of amusing by-play on the sides (the death of rats, the raven, the Cheerful Fairy, the oh-god of hangovers, the wizards, Ponder Stibbons and HEX etc etc at its heart, ‘Hogfather’ is a serious story with an interesting message. You might say it examines the real meaning of … not so much Christmas, but the ceremonies of the winter solstice. The more recent religions have tacked their message onto a primeval fear, that the sun will not return. In fact, that fear is stated – if the Hogfather is not found, the sun will not rise tomorrow.
This isn’t the only deep-seated belief Pratchett uses in this book. The Tooth Fairy looms large in the plot. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the concept of giving a child money for a tooth may very well stem from the fact that if the wrong people collect the teeth, the child could be in jeopardy. The analogy is to hair and nail clippings, which are used in spells to control people. In fact, the whole book is about fear and belief.
I can quite believe people who had not read the book would find it very difficult to follow the thread of the movie. Even I had to work at it, and I’ve read the book several times. I think perhaps the people who made ‘Going Postal’, the more recent transfer of a Pratchett novel to the screen, learnt a few lessons. ‘Going Postal’ deviates from the book in several ways, simplifying the plot for a TV audience. I can’t help but feel that the resulting screenplay lost rather a lot in translation but it was probably wise.
Which all goes to show why I’d rather read a book. You can uncover so many more layers.
I’ve just finished reading Sir Terry Pratchett’s latest, “Snuff”, a Discworld novel. Most people who know me are aware that I am a one-eyed, besotted Sir Terry fan and some people wonder why? I mean, let’s face it. The Discworld is a flat expanse riding on the backs of four elephants which stand on the back of a turtle. The place is so unlikely that only a powerful magical force keeps it going at all. And there’s witches and wizards. Pure, unadulterated fantasy. And he uses adverbs and long passages of exposition. Good grief, the man even has footnotes.
Right, you’ve had your sneer. Now consider yourself grabbed by the scruff of the neck and look at the Discworld. Look at its Dwarfs, Trolls, Werewolves, Vampires and Nac Mac Feegles. Look long and carefully at their lives and struggles, their politics and prejudices and what you will see gazing back at you is us. It’s a dark mirror, perhaps a little bit warped but you’ll recognise the players.
In this book I giggled at a six year old boy besotted with poo (well, they are, aren’t they)? I read the conversations between Sam Vimes, reluctant Duke of Ankh, Commander of the Watch, reformed alcoholic and one-time blackboard monitor from Cockbill Street in the Shades, and his patrician wife Lady Sybil, and giggled some more. They reminded me in many respects of my own conversations with my husband, accompanied by ‘yes, dear’ and knowing when to say nothing. Sir Terry described the machinations of a country manor house not with meticulous description but by playing out the interactions of the characters. He did the same with a country pub. As always, there is a mystery, which Sam notices because while he’s supposed to be on holiday, is a policeman ever on holiday? We have unlikely characters who discover that they could be heroes, prejudice in its most ugly form and politics at every turn. Vimes is the hero, of course, but he’s no Captain America. He is on the side of Justice despite having to prevent the dark side of his psyche from winning the internal battle. I was along for the ride, every step of the way.
And this without strict adherence to the Rules of Writing. There are no chapters, he uses adverbs and adjectives (although, it must be said, not excessively), he’ll tell you what the mood of the crowd is even though that’s outside the immediate point of view of the character, he’ll have sections of pure, unadulterated narrative as he explains certain points. And the footnotes; if you’re a fan like me, you’ll almost always read the footnotes as soon as they appear on the page. They’re always funny.
Sure, Sir Terry’s books are not to everybody’s taste. I’m sure he’d smile and shrug. When you’ve sold in excess of seventy million books, I guess you can afford to be magnanimous. One thing’s for sure – he’ll sell a hard back to me every time he has a new release.
I first met Terry Pratchett’s books in a news agents at Perth airport. I was looking for a book to read on the 5 hour flight to Sydney and idly picked up a paperback with a colourful cover showing all sorts of grotesque creatures. I read the first page (as you do) and discovered this novel was about a disc world carried on the backs of four elephants which stood on the carapace of a Star Turtle. So far so good. Then I read about the star turtle’s journey through the heavens. Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory.
After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. Since then, I’ve bought hard copies of every book Sir T has written and enjoyed them all, some more than others. Why? Because I like them.
That, dear reader, is the only reason I read books. However, I shall go a little further. Sir T breaks every rule in the Little Red Book of Writing. He uses ‘there was’ all the time. He indulges in great swathes of apparently superfluous narrative, such as regaling us with the amount of food etc consumed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He writes in accents. Sometimes he has prologues which serve no other purpose than to bring the reader up to speed. And so on.
What I love about his work is the way he can brew an eclectic mix of myth, folklore, history, archetypes and pure, hard science, all laced with a shrewd understanding of human nature and politics, and make it funny. Mind you, much of what he writes has a darker, more serious side. He examines racism frequently, using the on-going tensions between dwarves and trolls, people and paranormal people like vampires, werewolves and zombies to mirror our own behaviour in our round world. Sir Terry has sent up just about every icon we hold dear – he seated the four horsemen of the apocalypse around a table and had them learning how to play bridge; he examined what happened to heroes like Conan the Barbarian when they get old; he has mocked sexism (in ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ to mention two). The church, academia, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli’s Prince – you’ll recognise them all in the Discworld.
In the midst of all this he creates believable characters such as the reformed alcoholic, reluctant member of the peerage Sir Samuel Vimes; Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax the tyrannical witches; the wizards at Unseen University and their Simian librarian. (The librarian was turned into an Orang Utan by a random discharge of magic in an early book and has since steadfastly avoided any attempt to persuade him to return to human shape.)
Sir Terry examines truths and mores as if they were rocks in a field. He picks them up, turns them over, looks underneath. Take Christmas, that iconic Christian festival. Sir Terry’s version is Hogswatch, when the Hogfather comes down from the north in a sleigh drawn by wild hogs. Except Death has to take the gig because the Hogfather is missing and we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kiddies, would we? So the archetypal Death wraps himself in a red coat and does the department store ‘meet the kiddies’ thing, which is absolutely hilarious. However, Terry digs deeper. Underneath that rock labelled ‘Christmas’ we find the meaning of that red coat, blood sacrifice to bring in the turning of the year.
There are so many examples. I could analyse every book and find serious messages hidden amongst the hilarity. It saddens me more than I can say to know Sir Terry has Alzheimer’s Disease. Long may he hold back its ravages.