JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

REBLOG: The Adventures of Iric Review

Dec
30

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

Sep
23

1

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.

~J.M.


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

Nov
24

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

Nov
23

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

Nov
23

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