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The Shepherd's Crown (Tiffany Aching)

3/5. The last Discworld book.

Well, that's that, then.

It's not a particularly inspired book, but nor is it the dire mess of some of the recent offerings. Not too surprising, I guess – it's basically the same book he'd written four or five times previously, so clearly the steps were familiar: threat from outside, faeries, how the progress of technology and particularly the railroad changes the face of the world, coming into power as a function of coming into self-knowledge.

No, all that, *handwave*. Been there, done that, and much better than this version.

No, this book is made by the first quarter, which is all about the death of a witch. And as constant Discworld readers will know, a witch is aware of her impending death, and is able – required, even – to prepare for it. Dig her own grave, do the final washing up, scrub the place until it shines. And then lie down and wait.

The first quarter of this, the last Discworld book, is about that. And, um. Ouch.
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Small Gods: Discworld Novel, A

3/5. One of the Discworld standalones. A god is turned into a tortoise, and only one monk out of his entire religious order can hear him, because only that one still believes.

Read for the obvious sentimental reasons. Which was a good choice because this is Pratchetty and charming. And also a bad choice because it is Pratchetty and, uh, full of quick flashes of his particular brand of racism. You know, the cheerful kind of racism where a white guy goes "ha ha ha aren't racist stereotypes so stupid they're funny?" And you're like, "uh okay dude, but pretty sure that's a thing you get to think when they aren't about you, and also you apparently believe in a number of them yourself, so…"

But what I meant to talk about was Pratchett and religion. Because I don't think he is very good at it? Like, he seems very clear on the idea of religion as a system of order, and he seems extremely clear on it as a tool of political aggression. Both of which it totally is. But then, for him, it stops. Which – and I'm saying this as an atheist – doesn't seem right to me. The main character here is a man of faith. One of the very few in the novel. And I'll grant you faith is a different concept when your god won't stop talking to you, but. But there's no . . . the people I know who believe don't do it with their politics. Or their heads. They do it with their limbic systems, you know?

Like, I'm pretty sure Pratchett wrote Sam Vimes having much more complex, intense, personal feelings about city cobblestones than the protagonist of this book has about his god. Vimes's feelings are pretty strong, mind you.

Anyway, whatever. I'm just saying, if you're going to go mucking about in theocracies, you've got to put some actual religion in. And this book ain't got religion. It's got, like, a secular pragmatist talking about religion.
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Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This was great, until I metaphorically threw it across the room. I love the witches books; they are wry and a little grim around the edges and about women's power and agency. And this one – about the Discworld opera – is calibrated to my taste and humor.

But if anyone can come up with a reading of the ending of this book which avoids either concluding that (1) mental disability is, in fact, all in the mind and if only he really wanted to he could be normal, or (2) mental disability should be erased by a magical cure . . . I'd love to here it. 'Cause I've looked at this from five different directions now, and nope, not a one of them comes out the least bit okay.




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Raising Steam (Discworld, #40)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I've applied a lot of words to Discworld books over the years, not all of them good, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I'm going to call one of them boring. Bo-ring. So boring.

He's written this book a good fifteen times already, and most of them were better. A new piece of technology confounds the Discworld (the railroad), there are arguments, protests, less than a handful of good jokes, and an allegedly feel-good interlude about social progress in which, in this case, we have yet another "I'm really female, so there!" revelation from a dwarf.* This is number twenty five, roughly.

*Which was actually the most interesting thing in the book for me, because it pissed me off enough to actually get my blood flowing again. Because, like, all dwarves live as men, which apparently means that women don't get to be women because….they don't wear skirts? So when they "rebel," what they do is have their armor recast to include breast molds. Because that's what being a lady is. No for real.




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Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sorry, we're gonna be all 'me me me me' here for a minute.

July was terrible. Terrible. So terrible that my entire reaction to what was, quite possibly, an ocular stroke was a slow blink and to keep quiet about it for a week. By rights, it should have had me post traumatic stressing so hard, you'd need a trowel to scrape me off the ceiling, but it turns out I'd used up all of that and then some on the fun episode of 'is the cancer metastasizing?' the universe helpfully scheduled for my single vacation this year. (Answer: no. But it turns out that, to certain portions of my brain, the actual outcome was irrelevant.)

So then of course I got sick. I don't get sick much, so on those occasions I do, I really do it up right. Coughing up strange substances, full-body trembling for days, you know, the fun stuff. And somewhere in there, when I was lying on my office floor for five minutes because it just looked so amazingly comfy, I decided I was going to read some godamn Discworld.

My point is, people say it's difficult to read this book when it's not Christmas time, or if you are a person who doesn't have strong Christmas feelings. It was July, and I do not have the sort of Christmas feelings they mean. Christmas is a thing I endure, let's put it that way. So actually, it turned out, reading this book at the end of terrible, terrible July was brilliant. Everything was awful, so it was just like Christmas!

So anyway, you can see how this book's opening three-quarters of froth and vaguely plot-related nonsense was soothing, and then how the sudden tautening in the last quarter caught me by surprise, and drew me in, and held me, and talked to me about how if you milled the universe down to its component atoms and inspected all of them, not a one would be an atom of justice or mercy, but how we can make them anyway, with the component parts of belief. And you can see how Susan holding a poker and saying it kills only monsters made my chest seize up a little, because oh, what I wouldn't do with one of those.

Thanks, Terry Pratchett. This book needed at least two more drafts, but you haven't gotten me like that in a while.

It's August now. August will be better.




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Thief of Time (Discworld, #26)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Discworld. A one-off about a timepocalypse. This didn't do much for me. It sets up a lot of higher order dualities – order vs. chaos, that sort of thing – and then just sort of leaves them flapping in the breeze. I kept reaching out for more and pulling my hand back clutching a pile of ethnic stereotypes and a few puns. The puns were punny, at least? I want to say something high school book report here about the way this book breaks the usual thematic association between time and death, but even that is shallow and not doing it for me.

Oh, except Susan. Susan is THE BEST.




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The Long EarthThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Exploration out into the wild, uncharted transdimensional earths, where something is stirring.

I wish I could blame Baxter for this, since I came into this already thinking he's a hack. But Pratchett's name is up there too, and even though I'd bet you Baxter was in the driver's seat from about the 20% mark on, when you put your name on the cover of a book, it's yours and you gotta own it.

And this is a pretty bad book to have to own. Oddly paced, anti-climactic, sociologically far-fetched. This particular iteration of multidimensional earths is such a fertile concept, though, that I would have cut it a lot of slack if it hadn't gone for a spectacular ten-seconds-to-buzzer three point shot at ablism on nearly the last page. Like, my jaw actually dropped.

The context – two characters are discussing an unusual community many dimensions away from earth. It is held up as idyllic, the sort of magical place where people who need to seem to collect. And in the context of theorizing that it represents the next stage in sociological evolution, a better kind of world, it is noted with significance that you know who never seems to end up in that community? Violent criminals, and people with disabilities.

Yep. Those dirty awful broken disabled people, gotta leave those behind right next to your rapists in order to make a better world.

Baxter I would expect this from. But Terry Pratchett, what the actual fuck?




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A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter FictionA Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Pratchett completists should jump on this, but otherwise I think I'd be irritated to pay full hardcover or audio price for a collection with so much juvenilia and so many punchline stories. I mean, his drabbles and short shorts and poems are often quite good – "They don't teach you about death, your mom and dad. They give you pets," – but still. Oh, and the A.S. Byatt introduction is awful, because apparently she can be judgmental and dismissive of genre fiction while she's talking about genre fiction that she likes, but what the fuck ever, A.S. Byatt, you just keep chewing those snotty sour grapes. A few scattered thoughts:

"The Sea and Little Fishes" – A Discworld story of Granny Weatherwax, and what it's like to be very very good but not very nice. I, uh. I might have identified with this a leeeettle bit. One of the standouts.

"The Hades Business" – Apparently written at the age of 13, and my God, it doesn't show. Well, I mean, it does in the prose, and in the ideas when put to scale of his full range of work, but honestly, he was so clearly already himself at that age, it's a little eerie.

"# ifdef DEBUG "+ "world/enough" + "time" – Life and death and virtual reality. Dated, sweet, apparently adored by the masses. But it made me very uncomfortable in some subliminal gender related ways, and that feeling has only worsened with thought.

"The High Meggas" – A 1986 short story that later became The Long Earth. Dimension hopping across alternate earths with bonus survivalist and truth dilemma. It did make me want to read the novel, largely because it's such a fertile concept. Most notable for being maybe the tenth time in this collection Pratchett says something should have been/wanted to be/eventually was a novel, which is apparently his form of choice. If you couldn't tell. And knowing that . . . I honestly wish a few of his books were short stories now.




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DodgerDodger by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Plucky orphan is lifted out of the literal sewers of poverty in early Victorian London by accident and bravery and Charlie Dickens.

Fun but forgettable. I was honestly confused why this wasn’t a Discworld book. It’s not like that’s ever stopped him from introducing historical personages or anything, and this felt like Sam Vimes was just around any given corner. He kind of was, actually, only he was called Sir Robert Peel.

Then we got to the end, and there was an afterword about how Pratchett wanted to write a story about the nearly unimaginable poverty of the time. Which was pretty interesting, considering that usually when he wants to write about a thing from our world he tosses it in a martini shaker with some dwarves, some puns, and a pinch of Death, and then serves it chilled over some Granny Weatherwax wisdom. It’s not like writing from the remove of fantasy stops him from digging into something real he wants to talk about, is the thing.

I don’t have a point here, I just think it’s interesting is all. Why this book? Why this way? I am the last person to believe that severe illness touches every corner of someone’s life, down to how he conceives of a story. But there is a temptation to speculate, I will admit.




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Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14)Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Fun and Pratchetty, but also disappointing. The Witch books have done a lot of work with female power -- hello, witches -- and its various . . . channels, I guess you could say. Power of magic, and headology, and matriarchy, and being promiscuous (Nanny) and not being promiscuous (Granny). And I was hoping this book would bring that out more, particularly as a main plot thread is about a young witch's marriage and assumption of a different, overtly political power. About a quarter of the way through, I was getting all excited, thinking this was going to be about marriage, and what it does to women's power of all kinds, and learning to inhabit the role you've got, or writing a new one, or--

And then it just . . . wasn't. Really any of that. And that made me sad.




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Snuff (Discworld, #39)Snuff by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Yeah, so I’m always excited to get a new Discworld, and particularly a new Vimes. But…



So it’s about Vimes going on vacation, which for him means foiling a goblin trafficking ring. And I think I like Pratchett better when he’s making fun of systems and institutions – the Death books, Making Money etc. Because sometimes he winds up and he pitches at some great evil, and I have to cover my eyes for a little bit. I had a lot of problems with this one, most of which boil down to how the book wasn’t actually all that sure that the people being enslaved deserved consideration and compassion. It thought it was sure, and Vimes carried the banner pretty damn well. But the shape of it, the rhetorical flourishes . . . like, just one thing, we had to have a goblin musical prodigy, you see, because if a goblin can play the most complex of human classical music, well then, goblins might actually be people. And the book sort of knew it was playing with the ways we define who gets – let’s call them sentient rights – and who doesn’t. There’s this great scene at the end where Vimes and Vetinari talk at each other about trafficking, one from a natural law stance and one from a positivist stance, and it’s painful and sharp, because Vetinari is saying ‘no, no it was not a crime, and it can’t be until we pass this law making it a crime,’ and Vimes is saying helplessly, ‘no, but, it’s just wrong.’ But there are many many big and small ways that this book was . . . participating in the rhetorical game playing over who goes into what category, and how, and why. It didn't own its own shit, not nearly enough. And it was uncomfortable.



Anyway. Still a really good book, and Sam Vimes still basically owns me. And his kid is awesome. But. Uncomfortable.





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Witches Abroad (Discworld, #12)Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


If this one had a subtitle, it would be “Wherever they go, there they are.” The witches go, er, abroad, to the strange land where they put the plumbing indoors (can you imagine? How unhygienic!). Lots of adventuring, toing and froing, and making themselves understood in other languages by the time-tested method of saying it louder ensues. And then when they get there, what they find is bits of themselves. Pratchett and his mirrors stuck bang in the middle of fractured fairy tales. I swear, he just can’t help himself.



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Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Discworld. Early enough so I was a bit worried going in, but far enough along to feel like it’s arrived at some kind of essential Discworldiness. I don’t have anything big to say here – this is Pratchett taking one of his many swings at institutional power. It’s got this whole Pratchetty Macbeth thing going on, and at one point Granny Weatherwax thinks to herself that art is holding a mirror up to life: that’s why everything’s the wrong way round. Ha. There’s Discworld explained, yeah.



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I Shall Wear Midnight (Tiffany Aching, #4) (Discworld, #38)I Shall Wear Midnight (Tiffany Aching, #4) by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is more of the same for this subseries – which is a good thing! More adolescent witch adventures, more growing up too fast, more dry humor with teeth underneath.



Critics go on about how magic in fantasy novels is a metaphor for political power or social power or insert power here. Which is usually a really unsatisfying reading to me because fantasy novel magic is so often inborn, inexplicable, a random or genetic gift. Which is a good metaphor for social power, often, but it’s not very interesting – you are powerful because you are, and you are because you are. Okay then.



I read this months ago, but I still remember what I liked about it. Tiffany is a really powerful witch, but not in the usual fantasy novel way. Her power is in direct proportion to how smart she is, and how careful. She doesn’t have some inexplicable inner spring of magic, and this book is very clear: Tiffany wasn’t born chosen. She made herself a witch because there was a terrible need; because someone died in a small, common, horrible way; because someone had to do something, and she was there. That is a magic whose metaphors I can get behind. IN fact, the metaphors pretty much collapse. These aren’t books with stupid extended training montages where young people learn magic by chanting a lot. Tiffany learns by living. That’s not a metaphor at all, that’s good literature.



I love that. And I love that Tiffany doesn’t always wear power well, that she struggles for compassion, that she feels isolated. I love how almost everyone in this book is faking it inside whatever role they’re living.



I don’t love some slightly odd ways this book talks about post-violence trauma, but that’s a whole other conversation.





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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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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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