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Pyramids (Discworld, #7) Pyramids by Terry Pratchett


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Discworld. A young man comes home from assassin school to rule his tiny, backward desert kingdom, with an agenda that starts with building his father's pyramid and then goes on to a few novel ideas like plumbing.

Others have said this book marks the point in the series where Pratchett stopped writing parody and started writing richer, more layered satire. I can see that, but I can also see it took a few books to get there. This book is almost -- almost as funny as later books, almost as richly charactered, almost as well-plotted. Pratchett does take aim at some pretty hefty themes here – tradition and religious dogma – but I just recently read his fantastic Monstrous Regiment, so I happen to know he does a better job of it later.

Still, you know, Discworld. Yay.

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Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #32) Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Discworld. Unseen University gets a football team, a university cook gets a chance to be repeatedly awesome, and an abused child just gets a chance.

I was looking forward to this book because hi, Discworld. And it was a pleasure to read, sure. But it's sort of like he took all the bits of a really great Discworld book – an extremely smart heroine, an absurd cultural artifact, people with something to prove – and assembled the whole thing, but then forgot to, I don't know, strike the match. There are a number of hilarious or wonderful or sad moments here, but there's no real unifying spark. It's still a very good book by generalized standards of 'things I want to read,' but judging against Pratchett himself . . . no, just not quite.

That, and okay, I just don't give a damn about football. I give an anti-damn, actually.

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Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #28) Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Discworld. Innkeeper's daughter cuts off her hair and joins the army to save her brother and her inheritance and, eventually, her entire crazy country.

Oh, yes, I loved this one. I mean, Discworld does cross-dressing, of course it's awesome. It's also scary in places, and sewn with a few nasty little bites of what people can do to each other – can do to young girls, mostly. Not the deepest book he ever wrote, partly because Polly is kind of his standard-issue girl protagonist: she's whip-smart, determined, and clear-eyed. But he defaults to that type because that type works, so there's that.

And in the background there's Vimes, stomping around being cranky because when two drunks fight, you just bang their heads together until they quit, so what's he supposed to do here, bang two countries together? Well, naturally.

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The Wee Free Men (Discworld: Tiffany Aching, #1) The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Young sheep farmer's daughter begins training to be the witch of the chalk hills that she loves. She has the help of a lot of six-inch fairies with drinking problems and pointy swords, which is good because there's no school for learning witchery, unless you think of the whole world as the school.

Oh, marvelous. I read the three published books straight through everywhere I went, and I know I disturbed people by standing there beaming in the elevator. There may also have been bouncing.

These books! Hilarious, of course, as well they should be. But also rich and scary and sad. People die in these books, and children are faced with truths they shouldn't be, but it's all still fundamentally hopeful. But the thing I like the most is the magic. There is magic, you see, but that's not really what witching is about. Witching is about women, women being so smart and relying on each other and being midwives and caregivers and judges and priests and anything else that's needed. These are books about growing into power that are about the growing, not the power, which is so rare. So many fantasy books use magic as a shorthand for power – these books are about how they overlap, yes, but how they really aren't the same thing at all.

*happy sigh*

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Finger Lickin' Fifteen (Stephanie Plum, #15) Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Fifteenth verse, same as etc. except with a lot more bodily functions humor. Exact same level of forward motion/actual resolution, which is to say none.



Best thing about this book? I didn't pay for it.


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The Color Of Magic (Discworld, Book 1) The Color Of Magic by Terry Pratchett


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ah, so whoever it was that advised me to start with the Watch books, instead of going by publication chronology, was completely right. Probably the most entertaining thing about these books is watching Pratchett working really hard to tune his funny. And there are flickers of that perfect pitch he has later, but mostly it's just sort of random-incidents-strung-together, and there's only occasional bits of there there.


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The Truth: A Discworld Novel (Paperback) The Truth: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Exactly the sort of Discworld book I like. I like most Discworld, you understand, but particularly the books about Ankh-Morpork development. It's the press here, and it's totally awesome. I think part of what Pratchett does so well is reuse stock fantasy hero tropes, but keep them fresh. Here it's the disillusioned outcast aristocrat with secret but profoundly held ideals. This book does what Discworld is best for – funny but heartfelt.


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Thud!

Most recent Watch novel. My very favorite Discworld arc, so I've doled them out carefully to myself over the past few years. This one lives up and then some. Sam Vimes and his men coppers face civil unrest as racial tensions flare between the dwarves and the trolls. Meanwhile a mysterious museum theft may have surprising consequences, there's been a murder, and Vimes must get home by six to read "Where's My Cow?" to his son.

It's a Watch novel – either you know why it's awesome and you're already smiling, or you don't and you should stop listening to me and go off and find out. Except listen long enough to know these books are hilarious, and also the sort of sneaky wonderful that makes you sit up in the middle of the page and snortgiggle up the tear you just cried without actually realizing it. Particular highlights for me in this one were the changes in Sam upon the birth of his son and the consequent exploration of Sam's untapped potential for violence in the name of right. Also, I laughed a lot. Also also, Vetinari.

Who knows what's to come, but if this is the last Watch novel we get, the world will be just a little bit less bright.
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Two later Discworld novels, starring reformed crook Moist von Lipwig, pardoned by the Patrician in order to revitalize the city's moribund postal system and, later, the royal mint.

Oh man, so much love. Not the book-shaped awesomeness of a Watch novel, but they have a really similar feel to them. Moist is clever as clever can be, but kind of broken in the way he can't live without Adrenaline. Pratchett does such a good job with him – I mean we know this guy, right, the trickster with a heart hidden away back there somewhere. But Moist is complicated and kind of messed up in really quiet ways that only he ever calls himself on. These books feel, I don't know, a little grown-up Discworld, in the really good way where Moist has this awesomely real romance.

Which isn't to say they aren't hilarious books, because they are. Plus Vetinari! Everywhere!
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Death is not a person; he’s an anthropomorphic personification. And he’s pretty emo, if you ask me. In Mort Death takes an apprentice, and then a holiday. In Reaper Man Death has an existential crisis and takes a holiday. And in Soul Music Death’s granddaughter has an existential crisis while Death takes a holiday.

See, I needed to read Discworld while I was studying for finals, and while these books suffer grievously for the lack of Sam Vimes, I did come around eventually to be a Death convert. He likes kittens, you know.

But these weren’t quite the books I was expecting. They were funny, of course, if a bit drier than the Watch books I’m used to. And it’s not like the Watch books are all hilarity all the time, but the Death books are startlingly, well, sad sometimes. People die -- I mean duh, right? -- and sometimes it’s awful and often they really don’t want to go. My favorite of the lot was Reaper Man which was both hilarious and painfully melancholy. Because as Pratchett says, “you have to dance both. Otherwise you can’t dance either.”

Good winter reading, as it turns out.
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Another Watch novel, in which Sam Vimes Is accidentally transported decades into the past in pursuit of a murderous psychopath, whereupon he must play the part of the old Sergeant who first taught young Lance Corporal Sam Vimes what it means to be a copper. Meanwhile, political unrest spreads across the city, the old Patrician is on his way out, and the barricades are going up. Vimes knows what’s going to happen – he was there after all – and he’s visited the graves every year since. And now he’s got to do it again.

Oh. Oh, oh, oh. Okay, I’m fine – it will take a lot more than this book to reduce me to a gibbering, inarticulate wreck. This isn’t as funny as some Discworld novels, by which I mean that it’s not as giddily hilarious, though it is dry and sarcastic and unflaggingly witty. Pratchett usually has a selection of particular targets for that wit, and this time around It’s Les Miserables, which he sort of turns inside out and upside down and then sets it going with a gentle pat. This is a book about doing the job that’s in front of you, about being clever in the face of stupidity. Vimes starts out just trying to catch a killer, and ends up trying to assure his own future and, by the end, save as many innocent bystanders as possible from being crushed between the military machine and the shifting tides of political power. Because Vimes is a copper. His master is the law, and this book wholeheartedly believes that the law is not something we are given by higher authority, it’s something we’ve got just because we are.

And that’s what I love about the Watch novels, I think. They’ve got a keen, unerring nose for the right of the thing, and a deep disdain for those who maintain there is no right. And by ‘they,’ I mean Sam Vimes. Vimes believes in things like justice and truth with a purity and strength which should be laughable, and which is usually idiotically obnoxious in a hero. But Vimes’s justice and truth aren’t the cheap knock-offs, manufactured of pasteboard and excuses glued together with a stew of stick-up-your-ass. They’re the real thing, and they’re worth it. And that’s just so wonderfully refreshing after spending too long navigating between two equally irritating options – the books that’ve never heard of a shade of gray, and the ones who think absolutes are just way too much fucking work, so better chuck away the whole mess in a nihilistic tantrum. (Sorry. That last one, in particular, really gets on the nerves of this pragmatist with an idealist’s heart).

So these books make me happy because they believe in things with towering strength, and the things they believe in are actually worth it.

Also, I love Sam Vimes with every fiber of my being.
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Back to the Discworld, rollicking satire but also heartfelt and marvelous just for its own sake. These are two more Watch novels, detailing the exploits of the Ankh-Morpork city watch as they trip and stumble their way into solving crimes. Jingo details the attempted assassination of a foreign leader during the opening moves of war over a newly discovered island, and The Fifth Elephant takes Vimes and other members of the Watch out of the city altogether to attend the coronation of the new dwarf king in Uberwald, where things are a whole different kind of nasty.

The Fifth Elephant is a slice of the usual Pratchett fare – hilarious but heartfelt, exquisitely plotted and accomplishing more character work per square inch of pagespace than many of us manage in a few thousand words. And all while sniggering behind its hand and insisting that no really, you oughtn’t take any of this seriously, all just stuff and nonsense. But what I really want to talk about is Jingo It’s a sociopolitical parody, and a quietly vicious one, of western/Arab relations, racial prejudice, and the things we believe about war. Through Vimes’s copper’s eyes (and Vetinari’s tidy, clockwork understanding of the ways of politics) the book puts its head to the side and has a long hard squint down its nose at accepted historical authorities on war like, “war, Vimes, is just a continuation of diplomacy by other means,” and “if you want peace you must prepare for war.” And then it calls them bullshit.

War isn’t just a thing that happens to us, according to the book. That’s just a comfortable story that makes it easier to live with all that dying. Because as Vimes puts it to himself, ““History was full of the bones of good men who’d followed bad orders in the hope that they could soften the blow.” And if there’s anything we know about Sam Vimes, it’s that he’s not always the best at following orders. Particularly bad ones. And if there’s another thing we know about Vimes, it’s that he’s a copper first and foremost, and it’s his job to stop people disturbing the peace. This book is dry, a little embarrassed to find itself so deeply passionate, devastatingly eloquent in the way of the best parody which isn’t just interested in kicking holes in things, but also in showing a different way of shoring things up. That, and it’s just damn good writing:


Vimes glanced down and pulled the baton out of his pocket. It glinted in the moonlight. What damn good was something like this? All it really meant was that he was able to chase the little criminals, who did the little crimes. There was nothing he could do about the crimes that were so big you couldn’t even see them. You lived in them.


And you know the best thing? There are like thirty more books I haven’t even read yet.
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This is the city of Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld, where the guards are men (until affirmative action, anyway), where the dwarves are men (though there must be women somewhere behind the beards), where you can walk the streets in safety (as long as you pay your annual fee to the thieves guild), and where solving crime can get a bit complicated (especially when you don’t just pick who-done-it ahead of time and send Detritus the troll after them about it until they confess in self-defense). Guards! Guards! is about the mysterious summoning of a dragon, Men at Arms is about affirmative action coming to the night watch (they hire a dwarf, a troll, and a woman), and Feet of Clay is a complex little knot about golems.

Okay, so, for anyone out of the loop, these are just a few out of an enormous parody series about the Discworld, which is, you know, a flat disk which rides through space on the backs of four elephants which in turn ride on the back of a turtle. Obviously. They poke a lot of mostly gentle fun at fantasy novels, while simultaneously being very good ones themselves. The trick of the humor is a sort of deadpan acceptance of the rules – of fantasy novels, of stories in general, and sometimes of our world. The books ask what it would really be like if the things we believe about how the world ought to work are actually true, and generally concludes that it would be pretty freaking ridiculous. There’s a great sequence in Guards! Guards! where a few characters are trying to kill a dragon with one shot from one lucky arrow. It’s a million-to-one chance, and so they of course know that it must work. But then they start worrying – what if it isn’t exactly a million-to-one? What if it’s only a thousand-to-one? Everyone knows that would never come through. They do think, however, that the odds of a bowman making the shot backwards while standing on one foot with a handkerchief in his mouth are just about right.

The thing about Pratchett is that he’s completely shameless. Most of the funny works because it’s delivered so straight-faced, but once in a while you just know he’s sniggering back there somewhere because you’ve just let him get away with a really freaking awful joke. From a footnote:

Fingers-mazda, the first thief in the world, stole fire from the gods. But he was unable to fence it. It was too hot. He got really burned on that deal.


How can you not love that sort of cheek? Also this, just because:

The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though it were designed by Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than stories and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is knowledge=power=energy=matter=mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel black hole that knows how to read.


Anyway. It’s riotously funny, but like really good humor, it’s because it’s set on deep foundations. The political and social commentary flies thick and fast, and even with all that, the characters simply shine. Well, except for the ones who don’t bathe.
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Snatches of late night show commentary pretending to be a book. That is, liberal-leaning punchlines about sports, politics, and society ranging from the funny to the facile with a pointless, self-congratulatory introduction and a shelf life of about twelve seconds. Flip through it sometime in a bookstore, but don’t buy it – that just encourages them to think writing a book is just like having a TV show.

I do have to give a salute to anyone who makes that much fun of K-Fed, though. “And while we’re at it, stop bugging her [Britney] about smoking; it’s a little late to start worrying when half the DNA is Kevin Federline’s.” Heh. Heh heh.
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So, it’s 2057, and a time travel device has been developed. But the corporate sponsors and big researchers gave up the project in disgust when it was discovered that, though people can go back to most times, they can not bring anything forward. History is profitless, and so it is left to the historians. When we begin, the project has been overrun by Lady Schrapnell and her enormous donation to reconstruct the cathedral of Coventry, destroyed in a 1940 German bombing. Ned Henry, a historian, and his associates are being run ragged as she sends them back and forth through time to collect details and make measurements so the re-creation will be exact. Ned has made so many time jumps in trying to track down a particularly ugly bit of ornamentation that he is time lagged, a condition which leaves the sufferer confused, slow, and with difficulty distinguishing sounds. Ned is put on medical rest, but he is ensnared in the outward spreading consequences stemming from the actions of a historian stationed in 1888, who has brought a cat forward and may just have destroyed the universe. Ned is sent back to 1888 to keep him away from Lady Schrapnell, and on an urgent mission . . . which in his time lagged state he cannot remember.

The brilliant thing about this book is that it’s a science fiction story written as a Victorian comedy of manners. No, really – in the background there are time incongruities and something is wrong with the cathedral in 1940 and something is much worse in 2018 at the beginning of the time travel project. But the story plays itself out with cats and croquet and butlers and smelling salts and jumble sales and Victorian romances. This book is a tapestry of homages, most notably to Three Men in a Boat and various mystery authors like Christie and Sayers. Willis plays the style to a fault sometimes – Ned appears not to have any personal history before the beginning of the book, the protagonists spend a great deal of time running around missing the completely freaking obvious, and the whole thing goes on about 50 pages too long. I can’t decide whether it is worse that an author consciously make these choices in pursuit of a greater stylistic ambition, or unconsciously stumble into them. But that’s all part of the package, and it also has more than its share of the giddy charm of the style and characters, to say nothing of the adorable dog.

But really, it’s a science fiction story written as a Victorian comedy, and how freaking cool is that? The journey is rather nonlinear and rambling, and the conclusion satisfying for what it says about the nature of history (though much less so for what it says about the role of individual people). The concept is brilliant, strange, and occasionally hilarious, and that alone is more than worth the price of admission. Good stuff.
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Fiction. Humor/romance/mystery. Latest release in the Stephanie Plum series, and a disappointment. After breaking half out of the formula last time, she returns to it without a single variation. So, you know, it's funny and enjoyable and occasionally sexy, but everything is exactly the same on page 300 as it was on page 1. If I had more faith I'd put stock in the hints that she's actually going to set up the threesome, but it's never going to happen. Someone really needs to sit her down and explain the finer points of writing a successful, sustainable series.
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Fiction. Trouble-magnet bounty hunter Stephanie Plum chases fugitives, blows up cars, attracts homicidal maniacs, and regularly fucks up her love life. Rereads. I picked up the last one as a bit of a pallet cleanser, and ended up barreling through the entire series backwards. These are ungodly funny books with sparkling dialogue and characters drawn with comic boldness. For all that, these books manage to take themselves seriously to just the right degree, slipping in moments of fear and tenderness and familial outrage. The romances are funny and sometimes sizzling, the supporting cast strong, and everything always comes out okay in the end. Someone, I don't remember who, once complained to me about the female protagonist being such a professional screw-up (she sorta forgets to load her gun all the time) and so I went looking for feminist and other analyses. Unfortunately, I found them. It's a crap argument -- she fails to live up to male standards of kickassedness, so she's a bad female protagonist because those are the standards that really matter, and good female protagonists do it just like the boys do. And men can be screw-ups, but wymyn can't because it's just really bad wymyn PR, yo. Never mind that said protagonist has an uncanny instinct for tracing people and the tenacity of a mad dog. *shakes head*. It's good light reading that'll lift your spirits, and that's about as analytical as I want to get.
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Okay, yes, it's funny. Very much so, in places. But it's also one of those books that tries to be slick and hilarious by consciously making the most politically
incorrect jokes possible, with the result that it's by turns disgusting and actively repulsive. And, you know, I'll laugh at almost anything, as humor is one of the greatest forces of healing we have at our disposal. But the jokes here have a real bite to them, the face-saving retractions ring hollow, and I'm just not interested in wading through homophobia and sexism to get some whackily funny housekeeping tips.

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