JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

The Lies of Locke Lamora — Initial Impressions



So I’ve finally started digging into some modern fantasy. All cards on the table, though, this came only after I gave up on “A Princess of Mars”, which is supposed to be science fiction, but really isn’t. I would probably count that book as fantasy as well, but it’s far from modern.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” has come up in many lists on many blogs and fantasy sites. In fact, I’ve had it on my phone, waiting to be heard, for some time. That time came yesterday, when I was on a long drive and in need of a book, after the previously mentioned deadlock with Burroughs.

So far the book is proving to be a mixed bag. I noticed several problems from the start, most significantly the sheer overload of exposition and info-dumping. Ever new scene, it seems, starts with an info dump. Maybe things have changed in the last decade, but I’ve always felt, from my learning and experience, that scenes should start with action and that world-building should be done, as much as possible, with action and dialogue rather than exposition. It seems Lynch didn’t get that memo. There’s simply too much world-building in the opening pages, rather than character and action, you know, the stuff that draws a reader (or in this case listener) in emotionally. It also gets to the point where it seems the author is gloating about how fine a world he has crafted, rather than telling us the story. Much of it seems unnecessary at the time of delivery.

The book also doesn’t do a great job of distancing itself from common tropes, particularly the child-thieves (or thieves in general) concept, or from its generic (if well-designed) fantasy setting. I imagine that is going to come later with the plot and the character.

I wonder if being a writer myself has made me too critical of storytelling in many forms, not just fiction but also film.

It is those two things, plot and character, that have managed to secure my interest thus far. I found the humorous backstory of Locke’s exploits as a new thief to be highly entertaining, enough to want to see where his character goes.

So, I’m going to keep listening to this one, for a while at least. I’ll let you know how it goes.


My Review of “I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett


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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t really like this book as much as some of the other Discworld novels. Of course, dislike is a relative thing–not liking a Discworld book is very different from not liking, say, a Stephen King book.

This novel has a very straightforward, linear plot. The easiness of this book is certainly due to its younger target audience. I found the climax to be rather anti-climatic, an event that just sort of happens as other things happen. Tiffany manages to defeat the threat that follows her through the entire book a bit too easily. This devalues the prior tension quite a bit. The relationship “twist” at the end is rather expected, but I was delighted to see it happen nonetheless. I would have been rather mad if Pratchett turned away from the implied romance, though was happy it wasn’t stuffed into the core narrative.

I find Pratchett is at his best when the plots are complex, the story is scattered and even a bit confusing at the start. The best books start out with you wondering for a bit what exactly is going on, but at the end all the threads come together. The Watch novels are probably the best example. This book lacks in such complexity.

Even so, the book does have some interesting things to say. Pratchett always uses his books to examine and satirize the real world. This is one of the things that makes his work so enduring. In that case of I Shall Wear Midnight, Pratchett digs at power relationships, hierarchy, and the concept of duty. At its center is the question of what it means to be a witch, and where such a person (or any person) falls into the established order. This question takes up most of Tiffany’s time, and results in the most relevant satire in the work.

In general, a decent book but more appropriate for the clear young adult target audience than for someone like myself. Not in my top ten of the Discworld novels, but a good effort.

View all my reviews

Quotes from Discworld 38, Part 2



I haven’t made a whole lot of progress on the book since the last post. Other things have been taking up all my time. There was the Lunar New Year, which is big here in the East, though not as much for my wife’s family. Still we had to go out to meet people and eat too much food. Not that I can complain about the latter part.

I also worked on the drafts for two new Storm Hamilton stories, which I plan to send out at the end of the month. The stories actually came to mind when I stumbled on a couple new publishers.

But I did make some progress on I Shall Wear Midnight. Pratchett’s skill at description,  both of characters and situations, stood out to me this time. Sir Terry always had the uncanny ability to write something completely ridiculous and yet perfectly clear and appropriate. At times his crazy way of approaching descriptions works even better that a straight-forward method would.

For example, there is this passage where he is describing Letitia, the mean duchess’s wishy-washy daughter (and Tiffany’s rival for the attention of the young baron Roland):

Her hobby, and quite possibly one activity in life, was painting in watercolours, and although Tiffany was trying, against the worst of her instincts, to be generous to the girl, there was no denying that she looked like a watercolour – and not just a watercolour, but a watercolour painted by someone who had not much colour but large supplies of water, giving her the impression of not only being colourless but also rather damp. You could add, too, that there was so little of her that in a storm it might be quite possible that she would snap. Unseen as she was, Tiffany felt just the tiniest pang of guilt and stopped inventing other nasty things to think. Besides, compassion was setting in, blast it!

This description is so dense; there is so much here. When we first meet Letitia, she is portrayed as bland and emotionless–in other words, colorless. She is also see as weak, being pushed around by her mother and others (“there was so little of her”). But this passage marks a turning point in how Tiffany, and the reader, views the girl. Letitia begins to deepen and even shine as a character. Over the stretch of the entire story, her development is masterfully done.

Another thing that Pratchett does well is dialogue and character interaction. He has great pacing and the humorous descriptive bits in between what is said serve to amplify the tone of the dialogue.

This is my favorite exchange (in part because the duchess had it coming for a while):

‘You there! Yes! You there in the shadows! Are you lollygagging?’ [the Duchess said].

This time she [Tiffany] paid attention. All that thinking had meant that she hadn’t paid enough attention to her little don’t-see-me trick. She stepped out of the shadows, which meant that the pointy black hat was not just a shadow. The Duchess glared at it.

It was time for Tiffany to break the ice, even though it was so thick as to require an axe. She said politely, ‘I don’t know how to lollygag, madam, but I will do my best.’

‘What? What! What did you call me?’

The people in the hall were learning fast and they were scuttling as quickly as they could to get out of the place, because the Duchess’s tone of voice was a storm warning, and nobody likes to be out in a storm.

The sudden rage overtook Tiffany. It wasn’t as if she had done anything to deserve being shouted at like that. She said, ‘I’m sorry, madam; I did not call you anything, to the best of my belief.’

This did not do anything to help; the Duchess’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, I know you. The witch – the witch girl who followed us to the city on who knows what dark errand? Oh, we know about witches where I’m from! Meddlers, sowers of doubt, breeders of discontent, lacking all morality, and charlatans into the bargain!’

The Duchess pulled herself right up and glowered at Tiffany as if she had just won a decisive victory. She tapped her cane on the ground.

Tiffany said nothing, but nothing was hard to say. She could sense the watching servants behind curtains and pillars, or peering around doors. The woman was smirking, and really needed that smirk removed, because Tiffany owed it to all witches to show the world that a witch could not be treated like this. On the other hand, if Tiffany spoke her mind it would certainly be taken out on the servants. This needed some delicate wording. It did not get it, because the old bat gave a nasty little snigger and said, ‘Well, child? Aren’t you going to try to turn me into some kind of unspeakable creature?’

Tiffany tried. She really tried. But there are times when things are just too much. She took a deep breath.

‘I don’t think I shall bother, madam, seeing as you are making such a good job of it yourself!’

I don’t know what else can be said about this passage. It’s like a perfect joke. There’s the setup, and then, with perfect timing, the punchline. I was enjoying the work in audiobook format.  Stephen Briggs has been the primary Discworld narrator for some time, and his delivery is just perfect. 

It’s rather funny that this bit of conflict begins with a miscommunication and a differing understanding of the meaning of words. More humorous is the choice to use a word like “lollygagging” which is almost out of place in this setting. As a mid-19th century word, it is a bit recent, even for the industrialized Discworld. I don’t know if Pratchett is trying to suggest that the duchess is a person who tries to be on the top of fashion and culture trends. It does exemplify the cultural distance between her and Tiffany very well–not only in class and rank (at least in the duchess’s mind), but also in culture, urban versus rural.

But mostly, this is a great example of Pratchett giving us his usual morally-strong characters. Unlike the colorless Leticia, Tiffany is not willing to stand around and take the duchess’s abuse. For good or bad, Pratchett’s leads are typically morally straight and as this passage shows, morality is often an important aspect of the conflicts in his work.

I hope you enjoyed these two quotes. As I mentioned in the last post, if you haven’t read a Discworld novel before, I strongly urge you to give one a try. The best place to start, in my mind, would be with Small Gods or Monstrous Regiment, which are two of my favorites and are both stand-alone stories.

Thanks for reading!


Review of “The Game of Rat and Dragon” by Cordwainer Smith


The Game of Rat and Dragon (Illustrated)The Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The concept here is incredible and ridiculous in equal measure, but never to the point it seems like something that couldn’t happen. That being said, the story suffers from what a lot of old SF does, too much, way too much exposition and description, and little care for characters. I just read the story a few hours ago and I do not remember anything about the characters besides their work. Definitely a plot and concept centered work. And a strange one!

View all my reviews

Stephen King’s IT — I Just Can’t



Failure sucks. When you set a goal for yourself, it can be disheartening to not reach it, no matter the circumstances. I have mentioned on this blog for several months now, I think, that I was working my way through Stephen King’s IT, one of the favorite stories of my childhood. But I just can’t do it. I can’t go on.

Fourty hours in and I’ve still got three hours left in the audiobook, but I can’t. I know what you’re saying. Only three hours! Just get it done! That’s what I thought two weeks ago when there was only four hours left, and see how that went. Part of me wonders what the hell can be in those last three hours, as the lead characters have already confronted the monster in its lair. What is there that is left to say? Tangents, tangents and more tangents–the most recent one a potty-humor digression about exploding toilets that was as humorous as it was relevant. Meaning not at all. Which is why I am giving up.

IT was my favorite King story since I saw the old TV miniseries starring Tim Curry. I loved the idea of outcast kids banding together to fight a powerful monster, and returning as adults–returning to their childhood in a way–to kill it for good. After being very impressed by King’s writing manual and memoir, On Writing, I decided to dive in. Little could I have know that IT was written well before King learned how to write.

There are too many problems with the text to go into detail here. I was planning to do a thorough review, but I no longer have the patience or desire. Here are just a few of the issues:

  1. In On Writing, King tells us to avoid adverbs as much as possible, particularly in conjunction with dialogue tags. In IT, I would guess a good quarter of all the dialogue tags have adverbs.
  2. The POV and narrative voice is horrible. This book clearly wants to be in limited third-person POV, but King throws in a lot of unnecessary omniscient bits for no clear reason. He also makes some horrible choices of which character’s POV to be in, such as the long-winded section in the beginning from Stan’s wife’s POV, describing this irrelevant woman’s life background when the only important bit of the section is Stan’s suicide. King shows in places a competency to do POV well, using narrative voice to color his villains. However, he is not consistent, and the voice for the protagonists is bland by comparison. Then there is the section from It’s POV which is complete nonsense, since there is no way to relay the point-of-view of an omnipotent evil.
  3. The narration is problematic in many other ways, such as tense. The story has two different threads, one in past tense and one in present. Until suddenly, and without reason, the present tense thread starts being told in past tense. Not only is this incredibly confusing as the narrative begins to jump quickly between past and present, it is also totally illogical, since present time events at the end of the book told in past tense actually occur after earlier events told in present tense. You can’t have past tense events come after present tense events in time, that’s just absurd.
  4. Another, equally problematic issue with the narration is the tendency to go off on tangents that have no real bearing on the immediate story. There are entire chapters that can be removed, without affecting the story at all. The whole second chapter, that deals with characters entirely unrelated to the protagonists, and which comes before we even meet the protagonists, is one example. Another is the entire Patrick Hogsteadder chapter, which only slows down the narrative as it is reaching it’s crisis.
  5. The villains are boring. The places in the narrative where we either get the monster’s POV, or have the monster speak to us, do not help make the creature more interesting. In fact, the opposite is true. The more we know about It, the less terrifying it is. There is something about an unknowable horror that is compelling. On the flip side, the secondary villain, Henry, is boring because he is given no depth. By simply making him crazy, the character falls flat. Much more interesting would be a Henry who feels justified in tormenting the kids, and hunting the adults for payback, due to what he learned from his father as a child. Psychopathy is not necessary, and is rather a hindrance.
  6. The book is blatantly sexist. The treatment of the only female lead in the book is horrible. Despite attempting to show a liberalness to things like racism and sexism, the work falls flat on the latter end. Everything about Beverly is presented, in some way, as related to men, whether it be her father or her husband or her friends. She is given no real agency of her own. Also she is the only character who is sexualized in the book, whether by appearance or description or the situations she finds her self in (such as watching the bully boys masturbate–part of that completely unnecessary Patrick chapter). Another example of the overt sexualization of Beverly is when the adults are in It’s lair, holding hands to send their power to Mike who is under threat in the hospital, it is Beverly who is described as “rolling her head in ecstasy.” This is followed by a comment about orgasms. She is also routinely seen with her shirt open, with numerous comments made about her breasts. When describing her as an eleven or twelve year old. No other character’s sex life is described, but Bev’s is scrutinized. It all becomes clear during the “love scene” between Bill and Bev. Here you realize that she is just a sexual object for King’s own fantasies, acted out through his stand-in Bill, the successful horror writer who critics hate. The comparison could not be more obvious.

Much more could be said, but I just want to be done with it. Maybe someday in the future, I will finish those last hours, so that I can say that I did it, I battled through, but not now.

This whole experience has only gone to show just how much better at storytelling the filmmakers of both versions of IT on video were than King himself. They understood the need to cut all the needless fat (which in the case of the book, I would say is around a third of it), to stick to the main plot, to have a coherent POV and timeline, to not over explain the monster, to not make Henry just a crazy guy, and to respect the female cast, among other things.

Stephen King routinely rants about the criticism he received early in his career, but I see now that it was well deserved. He was not a great writer, not even very good. But he managed to rope an agent or editor in with his first novel Carrie, and from that point on, he was in the club. Merit was no longer required.

This feels horribly unfair, as modern writers will usually only get an agent contract for a single book, and will have to submit again and be subject to the same scrutiny as the first time. And modern writers have to know how to write well, from the very beginning. We have to study and practice. We have to know all that stuff in On Writing, and be able to implement it, before our first noteworthy publication. King didn’t. That sucks.

At it’s core, IT is a great story about childhood, and the power of having an open, inquisitive, childish mind. But the execution fails. For anyone looking for the best version of the story, the 1990 miniseries is the way to go. It is more true to the original concept than the new films, but without all the troubles of the original text.

Well, that’s it. I’ve said my peace and now it’s time to move on. I think I need to jump back into the Discworld for a little while, to recover my sanity.

Thanks for reading!


I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter in the coming weeks. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

REBLOG: The Adventures of Iric Review


Thank you, Victorique, for the great review. I am surprised I got off so well. For those who don’t know, she is usually very hard on books! A 4 of 5 is a great score from her.

I really like this anthology. It doesn’t need you to constantly change characters, but each chapter is indeed a story. Resembles a serial in its own way but very much is still made up of pieces that all together work. Each one telling a little more about Iric as he begins to experience life. From […]

via Adventures Of Iric — Dreamingmtthoughts

The Best Scene of Discworld 37



Are you sick of Discworld posts? Is that even possible? Well, try and stop me. Actually, you’ll probably be successful at that, since I am planning to wrap it up with this post.

Maybe you haven’t read any of Terry Pratchett’s work yet. If that is the case, you should really stop what you’re doing an binge-read the fourty-odd books right now. Stop everything, don’t go to work, don’t eat–you’ll be fine, trust me.

If you haven’t read a Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals is probably not the place to start. It’s part of a mini-series of books with recurring characters–the wizards–which you should probably have some sense of before jumping in. It’s also not as good as many of the other books. While I loved this book, as I have loved all the others, I think I’d rank it pretty low on the list.

I still think Small Gods is the best place to start learning about the wonderfulness that is the Discworld. It’s a stand-alone novel that does not connect directly to any of the others. Thus, you need no knowledge of the series going in, and there is no compulsion to continue if you did not enjoy it because you are clearly a gang of squirrels in a trench coat. (Thought I didn’t know?)

My favorite book is still Monstrous Regiment, which also is a decent stand-alone book, and would not be a bad place to start, especially those who like works with a slight feminist slant.

When I was younger, I was a crazed fan of Star Wars, in all its incarnations. I dove deep into the Expanded Universe novels and played all the games. And while I still love Star Wars, the Discworld has overshadowed the Galactic Republic as my favorite place to spend my time.

There is one very good reason for that–Terry Pratchett creates characters that are deeper, more memorable, and more meaningful than any I have encountered elsewhere. His writing is not the best–a bit too many adverbs and fancy dialogue tags–but his stories, and his characters are peerless.

In this book, the characters Nutt and Glenda are the best, in my opinion. One of the things that makes Pratchett so great is his ability to take any sort of genre–from prose fiction, but also film, TV, stage–and craft a great new version of it that walks a fine line between honest interpretation and parody. In the case of Unseen Academicals, the obvious genre being parodied is the sports film, which Pratchett does in an almost cinematic way. But there is also a sub-genre of romance that colors the plot, particularly between Nutt and Glenda.

To highlight this sub-plot, and to offer an bit of insight as to why Pratchett is so popular, to those who haven’t experienced his storytelling yet, I’d like to share my favorite little scene from the book. As is typical with his best, this scene offers philosophical insight into the way people think and live. The people of the Discworld are not so different from us. And in the end, it’s just a lovely, emotional exchange between two people who care for each other but can’t get around that social awkwardness that is all too real.


from Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett

‘Why were you running away?’

‘Because I know what will happen,’ said Nutt. ‘I am an orc. It’s as simple as that.’

‘But the people on the bus were on your side,’ said Glenda.

Nutt flexed his hands and the claws slid out, just for a moment. ‘And tomorrow?’ he said. ‘And if something goes wrong? Everybody knows orcs will tear your arms off. Everybody knows orcs will tear your head off. Everybody knows these things. That is not good.’

‘Well, then, why are you coming back?’ Glenda demanded.

‘Because you are kind and came after me. How could I refuse? But it does not change the things that everybody knows.’

‘But every time you make a candle and every time you shoe a horse, you change the things that everybody knows,’ said Glenda. ‘You know that orcs were—’ She hesitated. ‘Sort of made?’

‘Oh, yes, it was in the book.’

She nearly exploded. ‘Well, then, why didn’t you tell me?!’

‘Is it important? We are what we are now.’

‘But you don’t have to be!’ Glenda yelled. ‘Everybody knows trolls eat people and spit them out. Everybody knows dwarfs cut your legs off. But at the same time everybody knows that what everybody knows is wrong. And orcs didn’t decide to be like they are. People will understand that.’

‘It will be a dreadful burden.’

‘I’ll help!’ Glenda was shocked at the speed of her response and then mumbled, ‘I’ll help.’

The coals in the forge crackled as they settled down. Fires in a busy forge seldom die out completely.

After a while, Glenda said, ‘You wrote that poem for Trev, didn’t you?’

‘Yes, Miss Glenda. I hope she liked it.’

Glenda thought she’d better raise this carefully. ‘I think I ought to tell you that she didn’t understand a lot of the words exactly. I sort of had to translate it for her.’ It hadn’t been too difficult, she reckoned. Most love poems were pretty much the same under the curly writing.

‘Did you like it?’ said Nutt.

‘It was a wonderful poem,’ said Glenda.

‘I wrote it for you,’ said Nutt. He was looking at her with an expression that stirred together fear and defiance in equal measure.

The cooling embers brightened up at this. After all, a forge has a soul. As if they had been waiting there, the responses lined themselves up in front of Glenda’s tongue. Whatever you do next is going to be very important, she told herself. Really, extremely, very important. Don’t start wondering about what Mary the bloody housemaid would do in one of those cheap novels you read, because Mary was made up by someone with a name suspiciously like an anagram for people like you. She is not real and you are.

‘We had better get on the coach,’ said Nutt, picking up his box.

Glenda gave up on the thinking and burst into tears. It has to be said that they were not the gentle tears they would have been from Mary the housemaid, but the really big long-drawn-out blobby ones you get from someone who very rarely cries. They were gummy, with a hint of snot in there as well. But they were real. Mary the housemaid would just not have been able to match them.

So, of course, it will be just like Trev Likely to turn up out of the shadows and say, ‘They’re calling the coach now—Are you two all right?’

Nutt looked at Glenda. Tears aren’t readily retractable, but she managed to balance a smile on them. ‘I believe this to be the case,’ said Nutt.

Pratchett’s Thud!- Part 3, the Aftermath


So I am nearing the end of Thud! and the suspense is killing me, as usual. Pratchett does do a good mystery. I got past the part where Angua and the girls finally call an end to the night. It was too funny not to share:

“I’ve never been on a Girls’ Night Out before,” said Cheery, as they walked, a little uncertainly, through the night-time city. “Was that last bit supposed to happen?”

“What bit was that?” said Sally.

“The bit where the bar was set on fire.”

“Not usually,” said Angua.

“I’ve never seen men fight over a woman before,” Cheery went on.

“Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it?” said Sally. They’d dropped Tawneee off at her home. She’d been in quite a thoughtful frame of mind.

“And all she did was smile at a man,” said Cheery.

“Yes,” said Angua. She was trying to concentrate on walking.

“It’d be a bit of a shame for Nobby if she lets that go to her head, though,” said Cheery.

Save me from talkative druks … drinks … drunks, Angua thought. She said, “Yes, but what about Miss Pushpram? She’s thrown some quite expensive fish at Nobby over the years.”

“We’ve struck a blow for ugly womanhood,” Sally declared loudly. “Shoes, men, coffins … never accept the first one you see.”

“Oh, shoes,” said Cheery, “I can talk about shoes. Has anyone seen the new Yan Rockhammer solid copper slingbacks?”

“Er, we don’t go to a metalworker for our footwear, dear,” said Sally. “Oh … I think I’m going to be sick…”

“Serves you right for drinking … vine,” said Angua maliciously.

“Oh, ha ha,” said the vampire from the shadows. “I’m perfectly fine with sarcastic pause ‘vine’; thank you! What I shouldn’t have drunk was sticky drinks with names made up by people with less sense of humor than, uh, excuse me … oh, noooo…

“Are you all right?” said Cheery.

“I’ve just thrown up a small, hilarious, paper umbrella…Oh dear.”

“And a sparkler…”

It’s a good wrap up to the previous scenes (there’s a second bar scene, but it doesn’t add much to the first). The scene above clearly demonstrates the rapport developing between Angua and Sally, in that she felt secure enough to make fun of the stereotypical vampire accent.

In the Discworld, vampires speak with a very caricatured German accent, with Vs substituting for Ws. But this is the first time I recall characters being annoyed by it. Vimes does the same in an earlier scene in the book:

“Mr Vimes,” said Mrs Winkings, “ve cannot help but notice that you still haf not employed any of our members in the Vatch…”

Say ‘Watch’, why don’t you? Vimes thought. I know you can. Let the twenty-third letter of the alphabet enter your life.

In all, it’s turning out to be a great book. Pratchett is pushing gender a bit more than usual in this work, especially with the girls at the bar. He clearly making a statement about the fluidity of identity and the weakness of generalizations and stereotypes, here and throughout the book. I think people these days might benefit by giving the decade old book a go.

Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 1
Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 2

For decent discussions on Pratchett and gender, you can visit the webpage of Tansy Rayner Roberts

She offers a good gender-focused review of Thud! HERE. Though I have only read half of the article, since the second part reviews a book I haven’t gotten to yet.

Pratchett’s Thud! – Part 2, the Ladies Night Out Scene


Terry Pratchett is a master of fiction, and his Discworld novel Thud! is a masterpiece. While I am not fully though the book, I felt compelled to share this commentary while it is fresh in my mind.

One scene that stood out to me as representative of Pratchett’s humor and brilliant characters was the scene in Thud! where the main female cast goes bar hopping. Strangely, I often find myself drawn to Pratchett’s female characters. Being a male writer, I am often concerned with the portrayal of my female characters, where they ring true and honest. Writing from perspectives you have no experience with seems to be a gamble. It is one that Pratchett often wins.

(My discussion on the topic and more Pratchett analysis can be found here. )

Below I will share the text of the scene interspersed between my analysis and comments. Since I enjoy my Discworld in the form of audio books, this passage is derived from ear and from quotes found online. As such it may have different formatting from the original text.

The Ladies Night Out Scene:

The drinking had started in The Bucket, in Gleam Street. This was the coppers pub. Mr. Cheese, the owner, understood about coppers. They liked to drink somewhere where they wouldn’t see anything that reminded them they were a copper. Fun was not encouraged.

It was Tawneee who suggested that they move to Thank Gods It’s Open.

Angua wasn’t really in the mood, but she hadn’t the heart to say no. The plain fact was that while Tawneee had a body that every other woman should hate her for, she compounded the insult by actually being very likable. This was because she had the self-esteem of a caterpillar and, as you found out in any kind of conversation with her, about the same amount of brain. Perhaps it all balanced out, perhaps some kindly god had said to her: Sorry, kid, you are going to be thicker than a yard of lard, but the good news is, that’s not going to matter.

And she had a stomach made of iron, too. Angua found herself wondering how many hopeful men had died trying to drink her under the table. Alcohol didn’t seem to go to her head at all. Maybe it couldn’t find it. But she was pleasant, easygoing company, if you avoided allusion, irony, sarcasm, repartee, satire and words longer than chicken.

One great thing about Pratchett’s work is the incredible world he built. The city of Ankh Morpork–the core location of the Discworld where the Watch series and many other stories take place–is clearly based on London, though in a very warped and cynical way, the negative aspects of urbanism overpowering the positives. There is a river passing through the city, which is a key to its geography and identity. The headquarters of the Watch–the police force in the city–is located at Pseudopolis Yard. These are clearly drawn from real-world London.

Over thirty-odd years Pratchett was able to create a world of incredible depth–much like the development of Ankh Morpork itself–by building right on top of what was laid down previously. In the passage above we see him create a new space in his city, the Thank Gods It’s Open pub. This is added to already established locations such as The Bucket and Gleam Street. I would not be surprised to see it mentioned again in the future.

The scene continues:

Angua was tetchy because she was dying for a beer, but the young man behind the bar thought that a pint of Winkles was the name of a cocktail. Given the drinks on offer, perhaps this was not surprising.

“What,” said Angua, reading the menu, “is a Screaming Orgasm?”

“Ah,” said Sally. “Looks like we got to you just in time, girl!”

“No,” sighed Angua, as the others laughed; that was such a vampire response.

This was the exchange that stood out to me, which made me want to share this scene. The timing and rhythm of the joke is simply perfect, masterfully delivered by the audiobook narrator Stephen Briggs.

The whole purpose of this whole scene is to develop a character bond between Angua and Sally. Angua is tired, emotionally and physically, and Sally suggest going out for drinks and time off. Up until this point, their relationship always focused on the fact that one is a werewolf and the other a vampire, mortal enemies that could never possibly be friends. Here the animosity begins to break down.

The scene continues:

 “I mean, what’s it made of?”

“Almonte, Wahlulu, Bearhuggers Whiskey Cream and vodka,” said Tawneee, who knew the recipe for every cocktail ever made.

“And how does it work?” said Cheery, craning to see over the top of the bar.

Sally ordered four, and turned back to Tawneee. “So … you and Nobby Nobbs, eh?” she said. “How about that?” Three sets of ears flared.

The other thing you got used to in the presence of Tawneee was silence. Everywhere she went, went quiet. Oh, and the stares. The silent stares. And sometimes, in the shadows, a sigh. There were goddesses who’d kill to look like Tawneee.

“He’s nice,” said Tawneee. “He makes me laugh and he keeps his hands to himself.”

Three faces locked in expressions of concentrated thought. This was Nobby they were talking about. There were so many questions they were not going to ask.

“Has he shown you the tricks he can do with his spots?” Angua said.

“Yes. I thought I’d widdle myself! He’s so funny!”

Angua stared into her drink. Cheery coughed. Sally studied the menu.

This whole scene is about characters, and here we start to see how varied they can be. We get a impression of the main girls–Angua and Cheery–the reputation of Nobby (the ladies of the Watch assume him to be a lecherous hound, but we are given a different perspective here), and we start to unravel the new character Tawnee. All delivered with humor and great care.

The scene continues:

“And he’s very dependable,” said Tawneee. And, as if dimly aware that this was still not sufficient, she added sadly, “If you must know, he’s the first boy who’s ever asked me out.”

Sally and Angua breathed out together. Light dawned. Ah, that was the problem. And this one’s a baaaad case.

“I mean, my hair’s all over the place, my legs are too long and I know my bosom is far too…” Tawneee went on, but Sally had raised a quieting hand.

“First point, Tawneee…”

“My real name’s Betty,” said Tawneee, blowing a nose so exquisite that the greatest sculptor in the world would have wept to carve it. It went blort.

“First point, then … Betty” Sally managed, struggling to use the name, “is that no woman under forty-five…”

“Fifty,” Angua corrected.

“Right, fifty… no woman under fifty uses the word bosom to name anything connected to her. You just don’t do it.”

“I didn’t know that,” Tawneee sniffed.

“It’s a fact,” said Angua. And, oh dear, how to begin to explain the jerk syndrome? To someone like Tawneee, on whom the name Betty stuck like rocks to a ceiling? This wasn’t just a case of the jerk syndrome, this was it, the quintessential, classic, pure platonic example, which should be stuffed and mounted and preserved as a teaching aid for students in the centuries to come. And she was happy with Nobby!

Here we really start unpacking the character of Tawneee. She’s described as divinely beautiful, something that she doesn’t realize. She is clearly quite slow, but is kindhearted and humble in a way that defies revulsion.

We also see Pratchett’s take on gender in the concept of “jerk syndrome.” This is further defined later in the book, but essentially means the situation where a woman (or hypothetically a man) is so attractive that the opposite sex is too intimidated to ask her our, feeling he is far our of her league. In such cases, only a jerk who is too stupid to realize he is lesser than her will ask her out.

(A decent explanation of Jerk Syndrome can be found here )

Angua assumes Nobby is bad for Tawneee because he is remarkably ugly (the running joke being he must carry papers certifying he is indeed human) and she beautiful. This is how the main girls judge the situation, in very standard way, but Tawneee offers a quite different point-of-view. She appreciates Nobby for his kind personality (which seems to be, in fact, well established in Pratchett’s books). This clash of perspectives only helps to deepen the characters involved.

The scene concludes:

“What I’ve got to tell you now is…”she began, and faded in the face of the task, “is … Look, shall we have another drink? What’s the next cocktail on the menu?”

Cheery peered at it. “Pink, Big and Wobbly,” she announced.

“Classy! We’ll have four!”

Of course Pratchett felt the need to end the scene with a joke, which had me giggling. Its a good wrap-around to the original drink-name joke, and it also anchors the scene on its key discussion, sex and relationships. That is part of how Angua and Sally ended up at the bar, the former jealous of her significant other’s approval of the latter, the latter wanting to diffuse tensions with the former. What we get is an examination of the complexity of relationships and how simple concepts cannot fully explain human bonds and relationships. And we get some good humor at the same time.

This scene represents those aspects that draw me to Pratchett as a reader, as a devotee of strong and complex characters. The writing is not lofty, convoluted or self-important. It is direct, meaningful and humorous. That is the appeal of Pratchett. There is a reason why he has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.

The literati might not like Terry Pratchett, but I love the man. I wonder how I will get by after finishing all the Dsicworld books. Only seven left. I get teary just thinking about it.

The scene analysis above is not thorough or deep, I just needed an excuse to share this great piece of writing with you!

Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 1

Pratchett’s Thud! – Part 1, A Medley of Characters


I am currently working my way through the final pages–or rather minutes–of Terry Pratchett’s incredible Discworld novel Thud!. It is an amazing piece of work, one of Pratchett’s finest, and I feel compelled to share my response. My main purpose in writing is to share a specific scene from the book, the “ladies’ night out” scene, but first I want to detail why Pratchett and this book are so deserving of your attention.

I’m sure that I mentioned many times before how much of a Terry Pratchett fan I am. The man was a master of world-building, in particular, deep and resonate characters. Though he includes humor in is work, much more in earlier works, he does not rely solely on humor and eccentricity to keep readers hooked like Douglas Adams (not that there is anything wrong with that, I love Adams, too).

The characters are what keep readers like myself coming back for more, and Pratchett’s best characters are those in the City Watch series of books. His watchmen (and women) feel real, with honest reactions to the strangeness of the world. Though Sam Vimes takes most of the limelight, I find myself more attached to the supporting characters such as Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs, Angua, Detritus–characters that have much more varied backgrounds and personalities than  the stock soldier/copper types in the lead.

Here is an interesting exchange between Colon and Nobbs (their exchanges are always interesting) as Sergeant Colon tries to Elicit a response from his protege.

“War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?” [Colon] said.
“Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?”
“Absol—well, okay.”
“Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?”
“All right, I’ll grant you that, but—”
“Saving civilization from a horde of—”
“It doesn’t do any good in the long run is what I’m saying, Nobby, if you’d listen for five seconds together,” said Fred Colon sharply.
“Yeah, but in the long run, what does, Sarge?”

This passage reveals the dichotomy between the characters, Colon’s suspicion against Nobby’s optimism. It also reveals Pratchett’s humor, and the way he connects the present to the past, our world to the Discworld, in a very fluid way. Everyone knows the reference here (except Colon, of course), but it does not seem out of place in a book where the plot revolves around conflict and potential war. It fits, and it’s funny.

But Pratchett’s books are more than just humor and adventure, there is a subtle philosophy to it as well. This is best embodied in the lead character of the Watch novels, Sam Vimes. The character represents authority in a world shifting from authoritarianism to a sort of republicanism; Vimes often finds himself on the side of the latter. This is well demonstrated by another Thud! quote, this one a passage from Vimes’ perspective:

He hated games that made the world look too simple. Chess, in particular, had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the king lounged about doing nothing. If only the pawns would’ve united… the whole board could’ve been a republic in about a dozen moves.

Pratchett’s characters are deep, thinking people who are affected by their world and affect it in turn. That is the hallmark of good fiction, in my opinion.

In my next post, I will examine a specific scene from the book that stood out to me as memorable and warranting mention.

Pratchett’s Thud!, Part 2