Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #170: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

tumblr_lusgh4XSgk1qhl1c8o1_1280Pratchett’s an author I more or less gave up on. Like with Gaiman, it wasn’t worth suffering the status quo of disappointment in case of that rare anomaly or two. Funny that both got my hopes up with the same book, AKA Good Omens, which the two of them co-wrote. With how perfectly Pratchett and Gaiman complete (and better) one another, I dare say I would advocate for Gaiman divorcing Amanda Palmer and marrying Pratchett. Neither has even approached a book of Good Omens caliber in their respective solo careers, and with their increasing age, and Pratchett’s mental deterioration, it’s doubtful either ever will. Gaiman, though, has come closest; The Graveyard Book is, admittedly, fantastic, yet it still can’t break into the same lofty stratosphere Good Omens resides in for me. The best Pratchett has to offer outside of Good Omens, on the other hand, is… I don’t know, the mildly-amusing, middle-of-the-road Hogfather? Can you see, then, why I was quicker to abandon him than his cohort, Gaiman?

With authors of their (supposed) caliber, however, it’s nigh on impossible to ever give up on them cold turkey like that. There’ll always be that nagging thought that maybe you simply haven’t found the right book yet. Every author has his or her share of misfires; Stephen King wrote the likes of The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Colorado Kid, and Doctor Sleep, so why can’t I allow a similarly prolific author such as Pratchett more time, more books to win me over to his side? This is the attitude that convinced me to read Small Gods, held by nearly all of his fans to be one of his best. As per usual, Pratchett, known largely (primarily, you could argue) for his humor, fails to make me laugh or even to smile. In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that if I’m reading or watching something meant to humor me, and it fails entirely, it’s game over. Being funny doesn’t even necessarily have to be its main pursuit; if it makes repeated stabs at humor that leave me stone-faced, my patience for it will’ve been exhausted pretty quickly.

Even if I were feeling especially forgiving, I couldn’t credit him for much else. A god’s existence relying upon belief is something I’ve seen multiple times before, in American Gods, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and probably in another book or two I just can’t happen to remember at the moment. Nor is skewering religion satirically something I’m not familiar with; Pratchett himself did it better, I feel, in Good Omens, and it wasn’t even as big a part of that work as it was of Small Gods. When you’re preaching to the choir, as Pratchett is here, seeing as I’m an agnostic who finds many aspects of religion, namely organized religion questionable and, yes, laughable, you’d think it’d take very little to get me to nod along. Quite the contrary. I’ve heard so much said about religion by this point in my life that my standards are higher. I’ve seen this all before, and it was funnier and more biting then than it is here. That leaves me with the characters, all of which I find unlikable, and the plot, which has never been Pratchett’s strong-suit, in my opinion.

So, all tolled, there’s not a thing I single positive I could key in on here. This isn’t necessarily because it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read, because it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a worse sin to be forgettable, which Small Gods, and almost all I’ve read of Pratchett’s body of work, is. It’s just another book of his that left me desperately in want of a laugh, or anything memorable for that matter. That all having been said, this doesn’t represent Pratchett’s last chance for me; I still have Unseen Academicals to read, and Lords and Ladies, if it ever gets down the line to me (it’s been “in transit” to the person above me in the hold queue for days). And my expectations are so astronomically low by this point that one of them could easily surprise me. If neither does, though, I think that’ll be it, that I’ll officially be done trying with Pratchett. I guess we’ll see.

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Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #116: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

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Earlier this year, I said I was done with Terry Pratchett, though not in those exact words, and not with as great a deal of certainty. After Sedaris, I got the sense I was better off cutting ties when I found all but the rare book utterly lacking in humor; both Pratchett and Sedaris have it in them to be funny, yet them actually coaxing that ability out into the open is too big of an anomaly for me to see it as anything but an anomaly. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing something, that I just hadn’t read the right ones. When you have a friend telling you how wrong you are for not falling completely and hopelessly in love with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, that’s an easy feeling to get.

Well, since my choices were all failing me, I consulted said friend for a recommendation. Her pick was Wyrd Sisters, which I would have to put in an interlibrary loan request for if I wanted to read it. So I clicked “want to read” over on Goodreads and promptly forgot all about it, other books taking higher priority when it came to interlibrary loans. Two cannonballs later, though, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. In a word, it was… enjoyable. Not mind-changing, but… enjoyable. Like Hogfather, the only other Discworld book I’ve taken to,Wyrd Sisters never quite got over that hump stopping it from becoming one of my favorite works of humor. That is to say, I found it consistently amusing, and yet never hilarious. Overall the book was more of a success than, say, Christopher Moore’s Fluke; however, I don’t recall anything in Wyrd Sisters as riotously funny as Fluke‘s best moments, nothing hinting at a greater comedic talent.

At his best, Pratchett is a charming enough writer, and fellow, yet not a winning enough one to earn a spot even in my second tier of go-to authors, alongside Moore and Jeff Lindsay, two others who I admit aren’t by any means revolutionary, with some noteworthy exceptions (ex. A Dirty Job). Moore’s success rate, for instance, isn’t worlds better than Pratchett’s (8 for 13, with only 5 of those being great), but his highs still beat out Pratchett’s by a large margin. Unless you count Good Omens, which seems now like the happiest of all accidents, considering Pratchett and Gaiman both are first-rate teases that do just enough to get your hopes up. Maybe if Pratchett and Gaiman became primarily a two-man writing team, I’d be as enamored with them as everyone else is.

By himself, however, Pratchett will never earn his way into my good graces in the same way as other writers like Moore. I’ll probably now at least seek out the follow-ups to Wyrd Sisters, and perhaps take another recommendation or two from that friend of mine. But, besides that, Pratchett will continue to live alongside other authors who I’ve either given up on or know not to place much faith in.

Except I realize I have said very little, if anything, about the book itself in all this, so allow me to remedy that. Wyrd Sisters, like Moore’s Fool, takes great joy in fiddling around with the works of Shakespeare (something I too take great joy in, as I’ve said before), namely Macbeth. A king is murdered by the man who’s next in line, motivated by his more blood- and power-thirsty wife, and the events that follow seek to right this wrong, with the requisite number of references, such as numerous callbacks to “out, damn spot.” At the same time, though, theWyrd Sisters named in the title of the book, Pratchett’s three wizard “coven,” are the real focus, as this is their story arc. And, using them, Pratchett plays with our preconceived notions of what a witch is, does, and says just as much as he toys with Shakespeare. Things go about as you’d expect, given the ties to Shakespeare, but with Pratchett subverting expectations on an occasion or two.

So the scene Pratchett’s set is ripe for humor, which he capitalizes on more or less from start to finish. There are a couple hiccups where a joke misses, except they’re so infrequent that they’re barely worth mentioning. With Wyrd Sisters, Pratchett has managed to be about as good as I can imagine him ever being by himself, and for me that’s just not quite enough.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #79: Making Money by Terry Pratchett

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There’s not much else I can say on the subject of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, so there’s not. Of the four installments I’ve read, only Hogfather left a favorable impression on me. I only read this, my fourth, because I’d paid for it all those years ago and wanted to get my money’s worth. This was something like my fifth stab at reading it, and finally I was able to commit myself to finishing the thing.

Though it had nothing to do with a change of opinion. If anything, I grew to like it less with each passing attempt. A character named Moist? A rich family whose last name is Lavish? A character who’s allergic… to the sound… of the word…garlic!? Pratchett might as well have been stopping after every line to gesture and say “huh… huh… that was funny, right!?”

My answer is a resounding no. Pratchett isn’t without a funny bone in his body.Hogfather and Good Omens prove that. I just think that bone, more often than not, is broken, like here. The idea of a former bank robber being hired to run the bank is filled with potential hilarity. But reading the actual story of it, with a dog named Fusspot as the damned chairman of said bank, in one of Pratchett’s most blatantly obvious bits of social commentary, a character named Moist von Lipwig, etc. it exercises none of it.

I’m starting to think Wyrd Sisters, suggested to me by a friend and Discworld enthusiast, will constitute my last try at liking Pratchett before I write him off as a one (and a half, since I only really half-liked Hogfather) hit wonder who I’d be better off avoiding. Don’t expect me to be reading it anytime soon, though. It’s been at least a week or two since I put in my first inter-library loan request, I’ve gotten only one out of the three thus far, and I can’t even put in another until all three have been received, read, and returned. It’s probably for the best, anyway.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Julia’s #CBRV Review #15: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

the-light-fantastic-1I feel guilty for disliking The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.  I feel guilty because I was in the audience of one of Terry Pratchett’s panels at The NY Comic Con this year, and Pratchett seemed incredibly sweet and highly intelligent. Sean Astin was the main feature of the panel and he was hugely enthusiastic about Pratchett’s work. Everyone in the audience seemed to be in the Pratchett fandom. So I gave The Color of Magic a try, and now I’ve given it’s sequel, The Light Fantastic a try, and all I’m walking away with is a resounding shrug. The Discworld series is a fantasy answer to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (which, for the record, I adore), yet somehow, for me, it didn’t quite work. And I feel awful about that.

I don’t idly mention Adams’ work. Both stories have similar construction, there’s the bumbling straight man who has been thrown into a world he knows nothing about (Adams’ Arthur Dent vs. Pratchett’s Twoflower), his narcissistic friend (Zaphod Beeblebrox vs. Rincewind), and the important item he must travel with (a towel vs. the luggage). Both books have the same dry British wit. Both books poke fun and the silliness of their genre while celebrating it. So many similarities, yet I found myself struggling to maintain interest in The Light Fantastic, which was never a problem for any of the Hitchhiker books.

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Tyburn Blossom’s #CBR 5 Review #3: Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett

accrocs_du_roc05-628x1024I swear that one of the best things to ever happen to me was kindle books available through my library. It’s fantastic. I’ve been calling it library service for shut-ins, which is pretty much what I’d be if I could work from home and get groceries delivered.

One of the wonderful things available in my library’s kindle collection is the entire Discworld series. Starting last year, I’ve been working my way through all of the books, in order. I’m up to number 16, Soul Music.

One of Discworld’s strengths is that you can pick up any book in the series and enjoy the story in isolation. Some are stronger than others, and they are loosely connected–some more than others–but you aren’t missing anything vital. I am finding that reading the stories in order does enrich them. I also tend to read several books in between, and will sometimes find myself looking forward to picking up the series again. I think there will be an empty place in my life when I run out of new Discworld books to pick up.

Read more at The Everyday Alchemy Lab.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #09: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

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Pratchett and I continue to have an unsteady relationship. He entices me with Good Omens, co-written by him and Neil Gaiman. Thoroughly lets me down with Feet of Clay, my introduction to the Discworld. Re-instills my faith in him with Hogfather. Now, with The Light Fantastic, he’s inspired sheer disappointment once again.

As with Feet of Clay, his humor doesn’t feel as natural as in his other works, inducing far more groans and eye rolls on my part than smirks or laughs. Whatever you point to, though, there are clear signs of this being him just starting out. Even characters I’d consider favorites so far, such as Death, feel half-baked in this installment, like Pratchett wasn’t sure where to go with them. I imagine Death has evolved throughout the series, except I barely recognized him as the one seen in Hogfather, that book’s respective highlight.

Death in beta-format, however, I can deal with; what bothered me the most were the characters created for this particular story arc, namely Rincewind. He’s a wizard minus the magic who spends most of his time wallowing in self pity over this unfortunate fact. Furthermore, his every success seems to altogether be an accident or wholly due to luck. In short, he’s the embodiment of the worst aspects of Harry Potter, yet blown even further out of proportion, and thus a character I haven’t even a passing interest in following.

Maybe my opinion would’ve been different if I’d read The Colour of Magic first, giving myself the necessary background information on this story and its characters. I must say, though, the chances are slim if the reviews I’ve read are anything to go off of. The Light Fantastic is widely considered to be a vast improvement upon its predecessor, and Rincewind is just as popularly referred to as one of Pratchett’s worst character creations. If anything, it would’ve made me biased against the book from the start. Still, I feel that I owe it to Pratchett to read it… at some point. Just not anytime soon. I at least have to read Making Money first. It should even out the scales, balancing the good with the bad, and make The Colour of Magic easier to swallow.

I hope.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #08: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

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Last Saturday was my birthday, and I spent it in Pittsburgh mostly attempting, unsuccessfully, to do a whole number of things. Remember my netbook charger, which my father was luckily able to drop off at the bus stop minutes before my bus arrived. Avoid falling ill on said bus. Pay the fare for my bus into Oakland. Locate my friends’ apartment, the place I’d be sleeping and showering at until the buses back home started running once more on Monday morning, in time for me to make it back for my four o’clock shift at work. Adhere to the rules imposed upon me by one of those friends for the birthday dinner to which she’d invited a man I’d heard much about, yet never met, the man she’d long been harboring a secret, borderline unhealthy crush on.

Connect to Starbucks’ wireless as I ate breakfast on the morning of my birthday. Find anything at all worth purchasing at Caliban, the book store I’d previously bought a collector’s edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from. Get very far into Under the Dome without beginning to doze off. Manage to take a nap, not just a lie-down that involved my jacket and book-bag, which served as pillows, lining my face and one of my arms with awkward indentations. Reach the point ofRobot Chicken at which it became the show I’d sometimes stay up late to watch, despite having class early in the morning, the first season like those unfunny and random mash-ups that are all the rage channeled into a television series.

Discover outlets besides the ones out of reach of where I’m sitting, making my netbook with its old, prone-to-rapid-death battery of little assistance. Not arrive in Squirrel Hill over an hour before it was time for the midnight movie showing this whole trip was for. Yell out that it was Ken Kesey who wrote the book upon which Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was based and receive my prize of a free ticket.

When it came time for me to leave, though, things started looking up. Thanks to the service being down, I lucked out of having to pay for my bus downtown. Then it came to my attention that there was a Barnes & Noble in the area I could stop by and still be in time to catch my bus back to Butler. Caliban had failed me, but I doubted Barnes & Noble would do the same, and it didn’t. Sure, Sedaris was conspicuously absent from the shelves, as was anything by King that I hadn’t already read or didn’t already own, but what they did have was a sizable selection of Pratchett, at least compared to the two the Pitt bookstore only ever had (Making Money and Feet of Clay).

Did I mention that this Barnes & Noble pulled double duty as both a Barnes & Noble and as the Duquesne campus bookstore, or that this made me a smidgen jealous? As I was saying, though, I had my pick of at least a half dozen of Pratchett’s books from which to choose, eventually settling on Hogfather, a sticker on the cover reminding me it had been adapted into a TV movie. Scratch that, a “major TV movie.” It seemed peculiar that they placed such importance on a TV movie, but a movie was a movie, and I’d need to read the book before seeing it or else it’d likely be years before said movie was a vague enough memory that I could bring myself to delve into the source material.

So I bought myself another birthday present to go along with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective AgencyThe Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, a $14 bus ride to Pittsburgh and back, and a ticket to a midnight showing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was worried it would prove an unwise investment, like my first foray into Pratchett’s Discworld series, Feet of Clay, but what I got was a book similar in spirit to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Playing the role of Jack Skellington is Death who, due to the Hogfather (Discworld’s version of Santa Clause) being, for lack of a better word, “gone,” has to be the one go around spreading Hogswatch cheer.

Along the way, readers get to see more gods, some familiar, such as the Toothfairy, and some creations of Pratchett and the characters alike, such as the “Oh God” of Hangovers, those gods as surprised by their existence as everyone else. I wish Pratchett had played more with the idea of gods being believed into existence, but that’s not what’s behind the downturn Hogfather takes as it reaches its rather inevitable conclusion. No, it’s how Pratchett struggles to weave together the various storylines which, up until that point, had seemed almost entirely separate. It was a brilliant mess he made, or rather an amusing one, but a mess nonetheless.

Still, for the first three quarters or so, Pratchett presents a lovably skewed look at our faiths and traditions, using Death to provide a critical slant on the whole matter with Death’s Hogfather being naive, yet also well-intentioned and able to look at things with a certain childish clarity which none of the others can. It’s his story, and that of the unexpected gods, that carry Hogfather, and it’s partly their relative absence towards the end that accounts for the aforementioned drop in quality. Susan and the Auditors serve as the backbone of the story, one could argue, but they’re best left as that, the backbone, with Death and the others providing the meat instead of the other way around like it becomes in the end.

This is a line of thinking only furthered by suffering through the aforementioned TV movie. Though I argue nothing in it worked, Death came the closest, whereas Susan missed that mark entirely. Except no one failed as gloriously as Teatime who, for some unknown reason, was channeling Johnny Depp’s horrid Willy Wonka and doing a remarkably miserable job of it. Death, on the other hand, appears to be the only character they couldn’t ruin, not completely, which speaks volumes of how strong a character Death really is. Pratchett seems to realize that, given how big a role Death plays in the general proceedings of Discworld, but I wish he’d done more to show it in Hogfather.

However, it’s looking like Discworld is a rather up-and-down (and-all-over-the-place) series, with the early books (ex. The Light Fantastic, the next book up for review) being marked by a certain amateurish quality, whereas the later books seem to show signs of his gradually failing mind, and that I’ll just have to put up with these sorts of shortcomings for the eventual highs. My only hope is that Making Money, the next Discworld book on my docket, is one of those highs.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.