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‘Granny Weatherwax is going to hear about this, and you’ll wish you’d never been born…or un-born or reborn or whatever you are!’

‘We look forward to meeting her,’ said the Count calmly. ‘But here we are, and I don’t seem to see this famous lady with us. Perhaps you should go and fetch her? You could take your friends. And when you see her, Miss Nitt, you can tell her that there is no reason why witches and vampires should fight.’

Pratchett and vampires? Oh you do know how to make me happy.

I have always liked the Discworld take on vampires, which is essentially that they are pathetic poseurs (which is how you spell ‘posers’, in this instance). However, the Discworld also happens to be a fantasy world where racial pluralism is a reality (take that Tolkien!) so there are vampires who are members of the Black Ribbon society in Ankh-Morpork. Sure they are undead, but do they have to live as monsters? – is their creed and it is a very amusing take on the traditional fiend.

With Carpe Jugulum Pratchett returns to oldschool vampires, with a slight twist. No more talk of temperance. Just systematic murder, organised under the simple principle of their being superior to humans and all the other ‘low’ races of the Discworld.

The story itself is set in the kingdom of Lancre, the setting for most of Pratchett’s Witches novels. Now some folk like Rincewind, others Vimes, but my personal favourite Discworld protagonist has always been Granny Weatherwax, the witch who will brook no nonsense (needless to say I am also a big Nanny Ogg fan). At the start of the story Granny is feeling her age once again, as well as a sense of isolation. She abandons Lancre in a fit of pique, believing that she was snubbed by her fellow witches and Queen Magrat when she does not receive an invitation to the royal baptism. Of course her departure comes at the worst possible juncture. King Verence, the former court fool who was revealed to have royal blood, is once again trying to be modern and extends an invitation to a very important family from the Überwald region.  Except of course they are vampires and by inviting them, Verence has literally just handed them the keys to the kingdom.

Only Agnes Nitt seems to be immune to the glamour of the vampires. The youngest of the Lancre witches, Agnes literally has a thin girl inside her trying to get out – which is to say, she hears this voice in her head making a running commentary on everything that she does wrong. This ‘Perdita’, allows her to resist the influence of the vampires, enough for her to realize what is happening to the rest of the citizens of Lancre. Her only companion is a young priest from the theocratic state of Omnia, last seen in an early Pratchett novel Small Gods (which happens to be one of my favourites). Mightily Oats suffers from profound religious doubt about his vocation, so like Agnes he too is of ‘two minds’, about everything. Together they try to organise the people of Lancre to rise up against the racial supremacist vampires and find Granny Weatherwax before it is too late.

Pratchett is simply too clever by half at times. Yes on initial inspection this book seems like a merging of Small Gods and that *other* book about Lancre falling victim to an invasion Lords and Ladies. It is a brilliant combination of themes though. The crisis of faith suffered by Mightily Oats allows the writer to expound on his humanist beliefs to great effect.

What’s more the book also addresses the limits of tolerance in multicultural society. This is something of a bugbear with me, the notion that ‘multiculturalism has failed‘ continues to gain traction in political circles, which is absurd as the definition of what it means seems to change all the time. Different races living together is nothing new. What has changed is that now there is this expectation that races should be treated with equal respect, under a shared national identity, which is where politicos come grinding to a halt. How can a statesman exploit class and racial divisions in a multicultural society? The very idea.

Pratchett wittily dispenses with all of this in a book about vampires, little blue people with Scots accents and a dwarf highwayman. This is why he is the master.

Wonderful book.

Folks I am disappoint.

I had ambitions of ploughing through several books on the long air-journey home to Ireland. In the end a combination of tiredness and Etihad‘s in-flight entertainment service (“OMG – The Warrior’s Way…just try to stop me watching this!”) resulted in my reading only three books.

Which were -

Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum, the twenty-third Discworld novel. This one is about vampires and in the author’s inimitable style, becomes an essay on the limits of toleration.

Stephen King’s The Mist, a novella I have been meaning to read ever since I first flew to Australia and saw Frank Darabont‘s film adaptation (in-flight entertainment again). I was impressed by the film and thankfully enjoyed the book as well. Although I still don’t like King’s protagonists. He writes them with a series of flaws that are meant to express a sense of honesty I guess, but David Drayton just seems like yet another sleazy alcoholic to me.

Finally J.D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. I remember reading this book when I was 12, on the bus from Rathcool village into Dublin city centre at 7am. It was dark and freezing cold. The material of my school uniform was pathetically thin and my coat did not stretch far enough to keep me warm (darn long legs). There I was sitting on the bus seat with my hands hiding the cover – because I thought The Catcher in the Rye was salacious! Reading it now my twelve-year-old self seems so naieve and yet I can still detect in Salinger’s prose this brilliant sense of iconoclasm, masked by the occasionally petulant thoughts of Holden Caufield.

I was also going to read Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, but at that stage my brain had gone to mush. It is a fascinating premise for a book – a political reading of the use of ‘apocalypses‘ (my thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer)  in film. Never fear, a review is coming.

I will write up more direct reviews of the three books in my usual manner in the next few days. This is just to let you all know I made it to Ireland and am happily sipping tea on a cold morning watching my dog snore in her sleep.

Take care everyone.

‘She’ll be right. No worries.’ It was an amazing phrase. It was practically magical all by itself. It just…made things better. A shark’s got your leg? No worries. You’ve been stung by a jellyfish? No worries! You’re dead? She’ll be right! No worries! Oddly enough, it seemed to work.

Wow folks. What a fantastic afternoon. We are just back in the door from seeing Terry Pratchett be interviewed by Garth Nix at the Bugarup Opera House. We even sang him Happy Birthday, but first, we were talking about The Last Continent

In attempting to rescue the Librarian from his morphic dissonance, Archchancellor Ridcully and his motley crew of academic wizards find themselves transported to a far-off land through a mysterious portal. The island presents certain mysterious phenomena, such as plants that produce pre-rolled cigarettes, which seems to be an example of a very literal form of evolution.

Meanwhile Rincewind finds himself corralled by a talking kangaroo into saving the land of EcksEcksEcksEcks from the oppressive heat, where the people living there (who all claim to be descended from folk who were washed up ashore on a piece of driftwood) believe that rainfall is a myth. Talking Gator bar-men, trampolining spiders and magic sheep-shears are just some of the strange things Rincewind has to get used to, while desperately attempting to run from his destiny, which as usual only serves to land him straight right back in the middle of it.

Yes there are a lot of jokes at the expense of Australian culture, including town names such as ‘Dijabringabeeralong’, or ‘Bugarup’. There’s even a supercharged vehicle driven by someone who self-applies the term ‘Mad‘. Pratchett does not poke fun in a condescending manner, however. The tone is affectionate throughout.

I also love the notion of Rincewind being the ‘eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs‘, a nice reversal of the Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Ridcully’s complete refusal to be confused by the vagaries of time travel, due to pure ego, as well as the notion of an ‘atheist god’, attempting to study evolution is just pure Pratchett.

This is a fantastic piece of comedic satire, an absolute laugh riot.

Right, let’s talk about the Sydney Opera House gig.

Firstly I think Stephanie and my mother-in-law were converted into genuine Pratchett fans by the experience. Garth Nix and Pratchett came out on stage, greeted by a huge applause. After introductions, the audience was treated to a reading from the next Discworld novel – Snuff. Pratchett described the book as a pastiche of Agatha Christie, with Duke Vimes going on a trip to the countryside and in typical Poirot-fashion discovering a murder mystery. The crowd were falling about laughing during the reading.

Nix had a series of questions from members of the audience, but Pratchett, ever the digressive raconteur, only managed to get around to two of them. A question relating to the satirical content of the Discworld novels resulted in a discussion of religion. Amusingly Pratchett argued that all of Christianity could be boiled down to Bill & Ted‘s catchphrase ‘be excellent to each other‘. He also questioned whether a religion should choose as its symbol ‘a torture device‘. On the other hand, he criticised atheism as evidencing ‘too much certainty‘, a form of extremism equal in intensity to religious fundamentalism. As a humanist he even campaigned to rescue an old church in his community, for the sake of ‘hedging his bets‘.

Nix as the author’s interviewer seemed at once awed at the opportunity to speak to Pratchett, referrring to him as a literary master, although he in response insisted that he is only a journey-man writer. A status he claims he only graduated to with the publication of I Shall Wear Midnight. Nix was also visibly affected by the toll of the author’s early onset Alzheimer‘s. The Australian media pounced on the opportunity to run a story about Pratchett vis-a-vis his status as a spokesperson for assisted dying, which he ruefully stated was an odd position to be placed  in by reporters. He’s busy enough arguing with his own government, so getting into it with the Australian government too seems absurd.

For me though the most emotionally resonant portion of the evening was Pratchett talking about his early days as a local journalist. His bio often refers to how he saw a dead body on his first day on the job, but here he elaborated on how having to report from the scenes of gruesome suicides and deaths left him devastated. He remains haunted by the image of a woman who smoked six cigarettes before jumping in front of an express train, which he managed to piece together when he discovered the discarded butts near the scene of her death.

Sir Terry Pratchett proved to be a wonderful soul. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to finally see him in person.

My friend Carol just let me know the link to the video is up – enjoy!

Discworld is a world and a mirror of worlds. This is not a book about Australia. No, it’s about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit…Australian. Still…no worries, right?

Tonight is a very exciting night. Stephanie and I are travelling down to Sydney to see Terry Pratchett speak at the Sydney Opera House. In fact we are about to leave in the next twenty minutes. So here’s the deal. This is going to be an abridged review. I am posting my initial impressions of the book and then this evening, when we eventually arrive home, I will throw up some more of a review, as well as some thoughts on the talk itself.

With added Garth Nix (that fellow gets around…which reminds me, I also need to write up something on Zombies Vs Unicorns.)

First off, this is a Rincewind book. My very first Pratchett novel featured Rincewind and each title has continued that initial Fritz Leiber-esque fantasy pastiche of The Colour of Magic. These Pratchett novels are vaguer than the Ankh-Morpork novels, filled with the exciting stuff of pure Pratchettian imagination (is that a word?….it is now).

The book opens with the wizards of the Unseen University concerned over the state of the Librarian. Originally an ordinary wizard transformed by a random magical event into an orangutan (one that happened to involve Rincewind) and who has since come quite to like being a hairy biped, thank you very much. Unfortunately the magical morphic field of the Librarian is in flux and he is being transformed into sundry other shapes and objects. The wizards decide the best solution is to find Rincewind, who might be able to help them stabilise the Librarian by providing them with his original name – unfortunately he is far away on the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks.

Rincewind himself has somehow managed to survive the typical (and oddly Australianish) flora and fauna. In fact he continuously finds water and something seems to be protecting him from any harm.

Could he be destined to save the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks? And what does a god who believes in Evolution have to do with this?

Later folks – ride is here!

She thought of the faeries she had known when she was a child – impish, quick things – no mention of wars or magical arrows or enemies, certainly no lies, no deception. The man bleeding in the dirt beside her told her how wrong her perceptions of Faery had been.

I was a little wary about reading this book. The cover carries a single word rave from Michael Moorcock, ‘Superb’, and after my last brush with the kind of books that warrant his approval, I was afraid my favourite fantasy author had steered me wrong once again.

As it happens this book is a surprising update of Celtic mythology in a modern setting, with no shrinking away from sexual undertones and the capriciousness of ‘the Fae’. In fact the darker tone of this book reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, which includes the following passage (and for the purposes of this review, read for ‘elves’, ‘fairies’) –

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.

Sixteen-year old Kaye gets that most people think she’s a weird kid. After all, she’s lived a pretty weird life. She never knew her father, as she is the product of her mother’s promiscuous past as a rock chick groupie. Her Asian features combined with bright blond hair tends to turn heads wherever she goes. Also she dropped out of school a few years ago so she could work in a Chinese takeaway to help her failed musician mother pay their bills. Oh and when she was a kid, she was visited by faeries.

When the latest in a long line of crummy boyfriends assaults her mother, Kaye’s grandmother agrees to let them stay until they can find somewhere else to live. During the day Kaye pretends to go to school and hangs out with friends she has not seen in years. The faces from her childhood are not only older now, but carry the glazed expression of drink that she has grown familiar with from life on the road with her mother. Still they are the only friends she has. Kaye is used to living with less.

She goes out one night with her childhood friend Janet and a group of boys to hang out at an abandoned fair-ground. There Kenny, Janet’s boyfriend, suddenly becomes very forward with Kaye. Alarmed, she runs out into the night despite a raging storm. On her way home she comes upon a man dressed like a knight in black armour, lying in the mud with an iron-tipped arrow piercing his chest. He reveals to her that he is a faerie indentured into the service of the Queen of the Unseelie Court. When Kaye tricks him into revealing his true name, the two are bound together for better or worse. She soon discovers not only has she lived a weird life, but she herself is a lot weirder than anyone could have imagined.

While this book could easily be seen as yet another example of the ‘dark romance’ genre that is flooding the market now thanks to the success of Twilight and copycat novels, Holly Black infuses her mythic tale with a fantastical vision of sexuality more akin to novels by Clive Barker, or Poppy Z. Brite.

I mean this as a compliment. In transporting this tale of changelings, warring faerie courts and conniving monarchs to a modern setting, Black retains much of the sexually charged content of the original fairy tales. In particular the character of Nephamael, whose clothing is entwined with thorns, is an unabashed representation of gay S&M themes.

This is actually the first book in a new series of novels by Black, who also wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles for children. While this book does not shy away from portraying the difficulties faced by its teenage characters in these disaffected times – escaping into alcohol, sex and even comic books to avoid ‘real life’ – I would not recommend it for readers under sixteen.

I love the parallel corruption of Kaye’s fantasy world as a dark reflection of the adult world she is entering into. As a metaphor for the loss of innocence that comes after childhood, Tithe is well-paced and relatable.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said gravely. ‘We must partake of the game of the people – from whom, I might add, we derive. Has any of us, in the last few decades, even seen the game being played? I thought not. We should get outside more.

Football. Football, football, football! Right, that’s that over with. The game of two halves, jumpers for goal posts, all that, has landed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. Of course this means disaster is just around the corner.

The wizards of the Unseen University have discovered that essential funding for the faculty (mostly spent on their multiple breakfasts, lunches and dinners) is tied up with an arcane law that requires them to play a single game of foot-the-ball. Unfortunately the game has been made illegal and is played on the back streets of the city. Well not so much played, as fought. Often to the death. Of course Lord Vetinari the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has a plan.

There’s also the matter of the mysterious Mister Nutt, a goblin with a dark secret. Hidden beneath the University, employed as a dribbler (which is somebody who dribbles candle wax on the wick to give that perfect eldritch look that wizards require in their light sources). Seen as a posh sort, for having a vocabulary of more than seven hundred words, Mister Nutt is an unlikely candidate for such a dreary job. Yet he seems harmless enough and is taken in by Trev Likely and the kindly Glenda Sugarbean. Unbeknownst to them, their new friend’s past is about to catch up with them all. He is not just any ordinary goblin. The city has become a home for dozens of races, trolls, dwarves, even vampires. Mister Nutt is different, a pawn in a dangerous game of Vetinari’s to resolve centuries old racial conflict. It just so happens he’s chosen the game of foot-the-ball to resolve these issues.

The danger in reviewing Pratchett books is the temptation to try and be as funny. Of course, this is impossible. Also Unseen Academicals contains his usual mixture of satire and commentary. The Discworld novels may be set in a world of mythical creatures, but Pratchett introduces more and more contemporary issues into the mix. Of late the multicural mix of Ankh-Morpork has been given a great deal of attention.

Glenda Sugarbean is yet another strong Pratchett heroine, the only one who sees Mister Nutt for who he really is. As a cook working in the Unseen University, she is privy to the discussions on gentrifying football and resents the manipulation of the working class by ‘the nobs’. Vetinari’s plan is to make the city more progressive, no matter what anyone thinks. The men who play foot-the-ball in the backstreets are being chewed up by mob violence and their wives and daughters are trapped at home hoping for opportunity to snatch them away from their dreary lives.

Pratchett throws in references to Romeo and Juliet, women’s magazines and useless football commentators to keep the joke quotient high, but at the same time what’s most striking is his interest in people, how they think, how they act. Yes this is satire, but more a gentle ribbing of our weaknesses and failings. If ever you’ve read Pratchett before, you already know he’s a master of this kind of thing. If you haven’t, Unseen Academicals is a perfect introduction.

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