Adventures in Reading


Fiction: Nation by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been trying to write on Terry Pratchett’s Nation for ages, so here are a handful of notes I wrote down while reading: story begins with a creation myth, looks at god superstitions, written by an atheist, some characters taught an unquestioning faith in belief, religion and/versus science.

Nation is Terry Pratchett’s most recent novel and the first in quite awhile not to occur within his fantastical Discworld series. In a bit of an alternate reality that is very similar to our own 19th Century, a tsunami strikes destroying much of the populations of this world’s equivocal South Pacific and also happens to shipwreck an English ship. The only immediate survivors are a man-child (with no soul (give me a moment on this)) MAu and a British girl going by the pseudonym Daphne.

I can think of three reasons why you would want to read this book, and the first most easily being that you love Terry Pratchett and as there is no new Discworld book this year what else are you going to read? Believe me, you won’t be disappointed!

Secondly, this is a wonderful book for young adults. Our protagonists are both at the coming-of-age period when the tsunami strikes – it’s The Lord of the Flies with much less madness and much more humor. Mau is returning home from his rite-of-passage during the disaster and his ceremony is never concluded, and thus he finds himself in limbo without his soul from childhood, but no way to enter manhood. Daphne is going to meet her father who is a member of the British Empire and one in a long queue to be the next king. Nation is interesting, thoughtful, funny, and has some brilliant speaking points: sex and gender, religion, colonization, beliefs, etc.

Three, you love atheism, hate atheism, or are interested in atheism. Pratchett, an atheist, has written a book on belief, why people believe, and perhaps even the need for some people to believe. The book concludes with a series of warnings including that the book might make you think. Unlike Pullman’s more in your face style, Pratchett is putting out the query of why do people believe and trying to present his answer.

The book concludes with Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins visiting the island. Really, what more do you need?

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.



Fiction: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, 1986

“The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.”

Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic continues from the cliffhanging finish of The Colour of Magic. Our heroes, the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower, begin the story dangling off the edge of the world; thanks to one of the eight great spells (left behind by the creator) lodged in Rincewind’s head, the two travelers find themselves on a haphazard journey to save the Discworld.

The Light Fantastic is a great and early example of Pratchett’s literal engagement with the Discworld; for example, Great A’Tuin the world turtle acts like a regular, old turtle. Thus the strength of the main plot doesn’t have to rely on too far fetched ideas, something that seems to crop up particularly in fantasy, but rather depends on a turtle doing turtle-like things. This early book in the series does have a couple of developmental issues ranging from scene switches to some thematic humor issues, but these don’t take away from the story.

A lot of the fun in rereading The Light Fantastic is in discovering the loose assortment of foreshadowing. Pratchett seems to reference at least three future books. If not the best of the Discworld series, The Light Fantastic is a satisfying read with the usual Pratchet philosophical wanderings.

Conclusion: Keeper.



The stack

book2

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Writing Women in Central America by Barbas-Rhoden
13 Ranchwater by Steven Maus
Things That Make Us [Sic] by Martha Brockenbrough
Days of Awe by Achy Obejas
Arsenic Soup For Lovers by George Z. Post
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
The Giants by J.M.G. Le Clezio
The Flood by J.M.G. Le Clezio
The Lullaby of Divine Music by John Addiego
Being Written by William Conesco
Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Nation by Terry Pratchett



Fiction: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
September 16, 2008, 11:50 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

“Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant ‘idiot.'”

The first book to occur on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, The Colour of Magic describes the journey of Rincewind and Twoflower — the Disc’s first tourist and tour guide. The reader follows them on their journey starting in Ankh-Morpork and concluding at the end of the world. Pratchett’s wit and style keeps the reader entertained along with his “serious” take on fantasy as his protagonists make their way through various fantasy genres including dungeons and dragons and magic pony.

The Colour of Magic often comes with a warning: though it’s the first it’s not the best, and some Amazon reviews seem to uphold this opinion. Though it’s rather unlike Pratchett’s later works, it’s a humorus and endearing novel in its own right. As Pratchett has described it himself, it’s a novel of travel and exposes the reader to the Discworld at its roughest stage. This is the “primordial goo” that the rest of the Discworld bubbles forth from and definitely worth a read.

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other opinions: Trish’s Reading Nook.



Nonfiction: The Turtle Moves! Discworld’s Story (Unauthorized) by Lawrence Watt-Evans

I frequently hem and haw in regard to my “favorite” author but if someone forced my hand to make a list, and despite that it’s a list that would likely alter on a daily basis, Terry Pratchett would appear on the list every single time perhaps making Pratchett my favorite author ever. (Or perhaps simply uncloaking the feverish eyes of the fan girl living in a closet in my heart.) So when I stumbled across The Turtle Moves! an unauthorized expose on the Discworld story by Lawrence Watt-Evans I had to take a look at it.

I have never found an adequate way to explain the Discworld series and have many times seen the patina of fear glaze over a customer’s eyes as I ramble on how “it’s like this” but “also like this” and “like this too.” One of the memorable examples Watt-Evans provides is by comparing the Discworld to other fantasy and science-fiction books: Lord of the Ring fans have their ancient swords and elfin jewelry, Star Trek fans have their Klingon and spaceships, Discworld fans have their stamps, cookbooks, and bawdy drinking songs.

More so than many other books in the genre, Discworld is very much about humanity and people and their stories (and humor and at taking things absurdly literally). Watt-Evans set himself on a difficult path by exploring the 30+ novels, grouping them, and commenting on the many nuances of the Disc. Within the first few pages of the book Watt-Evans explains why you should be reading this: either because you like the Disc and can use a fix or because you’ve never experienced the Disc and ought to.

I admit I scanned much of the book because after starting it I thought, “Hey, I really should just reread Pratchett’s books.” I also confess that I disagree with one of the more emphasized issues in the book and that is the grouping of the novels (something Watt-Evans warned that various fans may do!). The odd thing about the Discworld is that it is often referred to as a singular series but truly it’s multiple series but unlike other fantasy series it doesn’t much matter what order you read any of the Discworld in.

So how do I disagree? Traditionally the books are frequently listed as character categorizations: Rincewind, Death, the Witches, etc. And Watt-Evans and I agree here, but some Discworld novels have limited or no re-appearing characters and I have always considered these stand-alone books. This is where we disagree as Watt-Evans intermingles the character categorizations with thematic categorizations. Nothing wrong with that, but ultimately I think it’s a bit sloppy to intertwine these as such extensive overlap does exist.

Watt-Evans book is fun and definitely written from a fan’s perspective as well as someone familiar with the fantasy genre. I confess I wasn’t overwhelmingly impressed (and was definitely a bit disappointed that the Discworld MUD was never mentioned (I spent a great deal of my life there!)) but it’s funny and I always enjoy reading other people’s opinions on interests I have. But what I liked best of The Turtle Moves! was not so much the commentary on Pratchett, but Watt-Evans illumination of the fantasy genre as a whole. I know very little of fantasy/science-fiction and there was a great deal of interesting information in the book. [1] I suppose what I really need to do now is give in and pick up Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature.

[1] Dear Lawrence, Please consider writing a book/article on the history of the fantasy genre so lay(wo)men like myself can broaden our horizons!



Revisted Reviews: Atheism by Julian Baggini

I finished Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini. For the most part, it reassured my beliefs and choices as well as answered some of the questions I was seeking. Largely, does atheism only exist as a critique against other religions (which it seems to be in many discussions) and atheism as a belief system itself. It lightly delved into quite a few philosophical arguments for atheism and responses to arguments against atheism.

Of course, Baggini did dwell on the relationship of atheism and religion and did spend some time refuting religious beliefs and reasons to believe in religion in the sense that there are practical and factual reasons. That is, Baggini doesn’t so much as negate religion as much as realistic belief in it and the requirement of blind faith to accept it.

I think what I enjoyed most is Baggini’s look that atheism is neither a positive nor a negative outlook on life. Rather, it’s a realistic and naturalistic approach to life and that atheists can define and find their own good and bad. Too often atheism is confused with nihilism. Additionally, the book helped me to distinguish the lines between atheism and existentialism more so than I previously had.

Interestingly enough, the book included a quote from my favorite – Terry Pratchett, “I think I’m probably an atheist, but rather angry at god for not existing.” When I shared this with my partner he didn’t get it at first, but everyone reaches for belief differently and Pratchett succinctly describes my somewhat rocky journey in wanting to believe in something only to realize that what I wanted wasn’t some supernatural entity. I’ve also slowly been becoming more and more aware of the religious privilege around me.



The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey

When I learned that Mercedes Lackey already had a new book coming out in the Five Hundred Kingdom series, I could not resist adding my name to the list at the library. The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey is a reinterpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved fairy tale by the same name. In Lackey’s retelling, Godmother Aleksia actually assumes the role of the “terrible” Snow Queen and under this guise helps wayward magic souls nearing the dark side by helping them appreciate the love, bounty, etc. they already have at hand. But when a Traditional Snow Queen starts operation next store and the blame of ever winter and entire villages dying is blamed on Aleksia the real story begins.

The Snow Queen is set apart from the other stories in the series mostly because of Godmother Aleksia: prior to becoming a Godmother Aleksia was unwittingly pursuing a Traditional story where she would kill her sister to marry her brother-in-law. Even when she is rescued from this and set in place as the Snow Queen, Aleksia remains concerned how her isolation and solitude makes the dark side in many ways appealing.

The Snow Queen is an enjoyable summer read and more similar to the first two novels in the series. Oddly enough I keep finding fragments of Terry Pratchett throughout this series, and either Lackey is paying homage to my favorite fantasy writer or I’m looking for him where he doesn’t exist! But the two authors employ some similar ideas when it comes to story telling and tradition.