Monday, June 16, 2008

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is always good for a lighthearted yet surprisingly intricate plot. Sure there are ridiculous scenarios and bizarre characters; tons of wordplay and humor on nearly every page, but there is still a lot of quality (almost seriousness) to his novels. There are many diverse characters, but they are consistently like they ought to be. Do not assume that just because the story has many silly twists to it, that all of the characters must be simple-minded or ridiculous. Instead, there are many keen minds in Pratchett's stories, and observing their verbal interplay can be quite rewarding. I suppose what I'm trying to get across is the fact that there is a lot more to these novels than you might expect.

The setting is mostly within the city of Ankh-Morpork. It has a rich history, being used in several books before Going Postal, and it shows. Our hero, Moist von Lipwig, (there are always plenty of silly names) is a refreshing character. He is a criminal, a very smooth thief and swindler, who begins the book in a prison cell awaiting hanging. Instead of death, however, the self-proclaimed dictator, Lord Vetinari, has a form of redemption in mind for Moist, and sets him up as postmaster for the city. The post office is unfortunately in a miserable state, due to the competition of the Clacks, a telegraph sort of operation involving tall towers with lights and shutters, as well as a slow but steady backlog of mail that permeates the place. The mail hasn't been delivered for a very long time, and it appears to have a staff of about two members, Jr. Postman Groat and Stanley.

Moist is supervised by Mr. Pump, a golem assigned double duty as his parole officer and to appear to all others as his bodyguard. He attempts to bring the post office back to a place of prominence in Ankh-Morpork, and slowly but surely seems to be making it work. He starts actually delivering some of the old mail, which brings mixed results from people depending on how the news affects them. However, his efforts bring attention, first from the local paper, The Times, and then from the corrupt businessman and owner of the Clacks, Reacher Gilt. From then on, a bitter rivalry escalates, and the book takes on a frenetic pace as Moist, using his keen mind and silver tongue, attempts to stay one step ahead of disaster.

I won't give away any more of the plot. I would say that the trials he faces, and especially the manner in which he overcomes them are a lot of fun to read about. He crafts miracles on a daily basis, and winds up doing a lot of good that he never thought possible. There is a romance with one of the prickliest women ever, Ms. Dearheart: "Would you like to have dinner tonight?" "I like to have dinner every night. With you? No." There are countless other interesting people, from Gilt and Vetinari to Mr. Grout and Stanley, not to mention Miss Cripslock, the wizards, the carriage drivers, and the mysterious men on the roof.

I'd say Going Postal was a good read. Still not my favorite Pratchett novel, but I didn't find much to complain about either. There are plenty of witty, thinking moments that keep it from being too simplistic, and solutions to problems are reasonable and don't involve too much coincidence or luck to believe in them. You don't have to begin with the first Discworld tale and work your way forward, either (a daunting task that would be). Going Postal works just fine as a stand-alone novel, and is a good introduction to Moist von Lipwig, who appears in at least one later work, Making Money. It is a very good parody of the fantasy genre, but also so much more than that. Give it (or any other Pratchett book) a try if you're interested in something that will stimulate your mind while also putting a smile on your face.


Anonymous said...

Is this the same author that wrote those fantasy parody books that you had when we were kids? I loved those books.

Byron said...

No, actually. Those were by Craig Shaw Gardner and featured Wuntvor, a hapless magician, and included such memorable things as ferrets saying "Eep" and death. I still have them, six books in all. They are quite ratty by now, probably from Joc borrowing them and from youthful neglect. I bet I could read one a day and get my count up to 17 within a week.

I didn't recall that you read them, just Jocelyn. They were funny, though quite over the top. Pratchett seems reserved by comparison, although he's the far more successful author.

Byron said...

Backpacks, road trips, and messy rooms can be hell on a book. I would take care not to break the spine on an 800 page paperback, but then I would stuff it into my 30 lb. backpack next to a sack lunch, pens, and pencils.

Anonymous said...

I would love to read that series again.

Byron said...

They might not satisfy now that you're older, but you never know. I haven't read them since back then, either. Of course I'm willing to let you borrow them, although they may seriously hurt your credibility here on 5-squared. If you still want to, I'll try to remember to bring them out west with me the next time I visit. Should be sometime this summer.

Amanda said...

speaking of coming out west, I'm thinking about holding a cousin's reunion in July. Becky's going to be in town for a couple months trying to get the immigration stuff going for Rami, and William is also coming in from Michigan (today I think). I just figure that while they're here, I might as well do something for us all. Especially as once becky goes back to Palestine, I don't know how long she'll be there before they can get Rami over here.

Byron said...

Definitely, sounds good! So let me just say that Thursday through Sunday works best for us at the moment. It could change if I get a job. Still, we could do Monday through Wednesday, Laura would just have to reschedule some of her private lesson students.

But we should do it, for lots of reasons.

Amanda said...

I'm sure it'll be a Sat or Sun, since Jason works during the week so it'd be hard for me to do it any other day. I'll let you know later in the summer because I"m not sure right now especially since Becky doesn't get in to the very end of June.

Are you trying ot get a job?

You should come to the family reunion this year. Jen and I are going to try to get a picture of Joseph Burrell and Anna Marie Karm.