Posts Tagged ‘terry pratchett’

The Long Utopia

Having begun by opening the way to the Long Earth, destroying much of the world we know by blowing up the Yellowstone supervolcano, and going on explore Mars, you had to wonder what Pratchett and Baxter were going to do next with their gigantic imaginary playground. The Long Earth is, for those who haven’t encountered it before, their take on the many Earths hypothesis, only they’ve gone for empty worlds as opposed to alternate histories. And Pratchett and Baxter have had a lot of fun creating some interesting characters and then letting them loose to explore the possibilities. Not to mention potatoes…

What they decided to do in the Long Utopia was to send some of their major characters out to New Springfield on Earth West 1,217,756, there to begin home-steading. Only, it’s not so simple, and by a very long coincidence (or not at all by chance) that world has intersected something very nasty, very invasive, and potentially able to destroy all of the many Earths and with them all of humanity if it is allowed to spread. Somehow it must be stopped, and to save the worlds, sacrifices must be made.

There is much that is great and grand about the Long Earth. The characters are well-crafted, and the writing is excellent. But there is something missing. It feels like two great writers at play, wondering what they should do next, with no real objective other than exploration. Will there be any resolution to all of their assorted plot-lines? Well, there is one last long earth novel to come.

Published by Doubleday

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

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raising steam

Nothing yearns to be something, and small entrepreneurs are complaining of the distance and travel time between Ankh-Morpork and the food sources. Enter Dick Simnel, whose father had disappeared in a cloud of pink steam and shrapnel after a furnace accident, a lad armed wi’ a flat cap and Iron Girder, a furnace that moves. On tracks. In Harry King, the waste merchant’s yard. There’s also a problem with factionalism among the Dwarfs. Not all are happy with the settlement Lord Vetinari imposed on them and the Trolls at Kroom Valley.

This is Terry’s 40th (and penultimate) Discworld novel. It is a multithreaded tale, with Dick Simnel, the Goblins, Moist von Lipwig and the Dwarves all facing various challenges. For those that haven’t guessed from the title, the tale is ostensibly about the arrival of rail transport on the Discworld, and the demand is driven by the wealthy of Ankh-Morpork for fresh produce from their fisheries and market gardens. So naturally the opportunity for international incidents abound. A competing thread is the disaffection one faction of Dwarves has for the Kroom Valley settlement. This has Lord Vetinari concerned. More than Moist von Lipwig is when The Patrician has charged him with securing the smooth implementation of various rail routes. And we learn something interesting concerning the Low King of the Dwarfs.

The story seamlessly flips between the various threads as rail travel comes to the Discworld. To my taste, the story lacked a little focus with so many competing threads it was difficult to decide which was the primary tale – the rail road, Dick Simnel or the threatening war among the Dwarfs. An enjoyable read, it probably isn’t Terry’s best. But then, it isn’t his worst either. Good, lightweight Discworld fun.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

A Slip of the Keyboard

Terry Pratchett is famous for writing fiction, particularly the Discworld series of books, and this is a collection of his non-fiction work. The dustjacket is carefully annotated as such, just in case the careless purchaser thinks it might be otherwise. Thematically, Pratchett’s scribbling’s are divided into three main sections.

The first section concerns the behaviour of a professional writer. Not only what this particular one does during the day to continue writing, but the other minutiae of a professional writer’s existence, such as promoting the book, attending Science Fiction conventions (Terry is famously a Science Fiction author, but please don’t let that discourage you.) He presents some words of wisdom for the budding writer, such as Douglas Adams’ advice that once you’ve finished a project, you should immediately start a new one. Pratchett notes that Adams famously did not follow his own advice in this regard. Pratchett, on the other hand, has been a professional writer almost his entire working life, first as a journalist, then working as a press officer for an energy board and finally as an author.

The second section is a miscellany of essays about what got him to where is now, including his first book purchase – Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable – a title that is referred to more or less constantly in several essays. There is also the proprietor of a porn shop that sold Terry his first substantial quantities of SF (and possibly the inspiration for Nanny Ogg).

The third is the most intriguing – as most people ought to know, Terry is famously suffering from a degenerative brain condition, similar to Alzheimer’s disease – and Terry does not wish to pop his clogs suffering from an advanced case of going gaga. It is a tribute to his skill that these essays are neither insufferably egocentric nor bathetic. We will all die. Most of us will be blissfully unaware of our manner of going until quite late in the piece. Terry is one of the few who knows how. He would also like a degree of say over when.

There is a delightful introduction by Terry’s good friend Neil Gaiman. Read this book. You shan’t be disappointed.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The Long Mars

The “alternate earths” concept is not new in science fiction, there are even multiple role-playing games and campaign settings based around the idea, but I have to admit that Pratchett and Baxter have gone somewhere original with it. Apparently, it is all based on an unpublished short story, The High Meggas, which Pratchett wrote while The Colour of Magic was being published. Discussing the idea with Stephen Baxter in the 2000s led to this collaboration. Unusually, they haven’t gone for alternate history – there are no Britannias or Reichs here – but alternate biology, geology, even astronomy. And it is the latter that is the key to “The Long Mars”, because among an infinite number of Earths, there is the Gap, where Earth has been smashed to fragments by a catastrophic cosmic collision. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get to the Mars of the Gap. It’s a Long Mars, of course, which means that there must be sentient Martians out there somewhere among the infinite alternates of the Red Planet.

While Sally, Willis and Frank explore the Long Mars in stepper-equipped modified gliders, Captain Maggie Kauffmann leads an airship expedition further west into the Long Earth itself than anyone has been before, to versions of the Earth that become increasingly alien. Closer to home is Joshua Valianté, and the problem of the Next; young people who despite their human appearance have somehow evolved beyond human. And let’s not forget the Datum itself, still devastated by the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano some twenty years after Step Day.

If that’s sounds confusing, it was… mainly because I came to The Long Mars without reading either of its predecessors, The Long Earth and The Long War. I loved the ideas here, but there was a bit too much going on, maybe even too many narrative threads. And at the back of my mind was a niggling doubt – not about the Long Earth itself – but about infrastructure and logistics, the practical issues of a series of new, wild Earths. Step sideways into an uninhabited Earth-like world… how long can you survive? How long does it take to build a civilisation from the ground up? Never mind having a sizable chunk of the Earth you came from being blown up and the rest thrown into the deep freezer of a volcanic fimbulwinter! Maybe it’ll make more sense with the two books in the series yet to come.

Doubleday

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

The Science of Discworld IV

This is the fourth in The Science of Discworld series, and if you haven’t caught the gist by now, here it is: Roundworld science is explained by reference to Discworld magic/physical laws. Terry, Ian and Jack supply the text and try to expand on the Roundworld experiment that Hex, the Unseen University’s Magic Collider/Computer, created in the first place. This volume explores the doctrinal argument of what science has a right or duty to explore and whether religion can proscribe that right or duty. This makes the book more philosophical than the previous three in the series, and perhaps a bit more… I want to say turgid, but that is not the right adjective especially when dealing with Terry Pratchett… dry than the others.

The structure is much the same as the previous volumes, a chapter of story followed by a chapter of exposition on a concept raised in the story chapter. The story this time around is that of Marjorie Daw, a Roundworld librarian drawn into the theological argument brought on by the Omnians as to who owns the Roundworld experiment (and the artefact known as Roundworld). This debate is presided over by Lord Vetenari, which he handles with his usual caustic irony. Marjorie’s testimony on the witness stand may be invaluable to the Wizards’ cause, but it is completely overshadowed by a later witness’s.

For those who enjoy Pratchett/Stewart/Cohen in any combination, this a great book concerning the Church v. State debate. And the term “quantum” does make an appearance, much to the disappointment of Lord Vetenari. But these are modern times and he’d much rather you got your information of the case first hand via the book, rather than second hand via me.

Ebury Press

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve