Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Devil Goblins from Neptune by: Keith Topping and Martin Day

An outrageous title is a double-edged sword: yes it will immediately grab the attention of someone looking through a bookstore and entice them to pick up the book, but if the title is too outrageous the contents of the book will not live up to the expectation of the title.  One such title is the inaugural novel of the BBC Books line of Past Doctor Adventures, Keith Topping and Martin Day’s The Devil Goblins from Neptune, a book with a title that just makes you do a double take and a cover that does not really give anything away about the contents of the books.  Unlike Virgin Publishing’s hand-painted covers by the likes of Andrew Skilliter and Alistair Pearson, BBC Books hired the company Black Sheep to produce digital covers often without input from the author.  The big issue with this is that this is 1997 and Photoshop is nowhere near as advanced as it would become, so the inaugural cover (and many covers to come) is just a red and purple vortex with the face of Jon Pertwee and a crude drawing of a goblin.  It does not really convey anything about the book except that it’s a Third Doctor Novel.  What the actual story is about is Topping and Day’s tribute to the seven episode serials of Season Seven of the show complete with political intrigue, UNIT antics, a bigger plot surrounding aliens, and for an odd reason hippies.

The Devil Goblins from Neptune’s biggest issue is that in emulating a style of a three hour serial in a novel format where you have over 270 pages to flesh out your story.  The issue with this is that the length is almost too long for the story it is attempting to tell.  Between each episode of about three or four chapters in length is an interlude which shows other characters being affected by the events of the novel.  These interludes do not follow characters with any real depth as to who they are or what they want, often being a group of hippies so Topping and Day can reference famous bands of the period.  The hippies are not interesting outside of their interactions with Sergeant Benton who has to infiltrate them, and the scene where the Doctor encounters a van of hippies when escaping kidnapping.  The Russian branch of UNIT as well as a traitor inside the organization (of course being an American infiltrator).  Valentina Shuskin is the operative from the Russian branch of UNIT who acts almost as a one time companion to the Doctor and Liz Shaw during this particular adventure.  As a character, Shuskin makes me at least think of the parallel Liz and her interactions with Liz and the Doctor echo Inferno in quite a few places.  Like parallel Earth Liz, Shuskin is hardened and is not averse to using violence to achieving her goals in life and being part of a plot early on to kidnap the Doctor to get his help.  The one flaw is that by the end of the story, along with a lot of the earlier elements of the novel, she just gets dropped from the events.  This theme of dropping events in the book happens quite a bit, as the Waro (the titular devil goblins from Neptune) only really show up around what is Episode 4 or Episode 5.

This isn’t to say the Waro aren’t good villains, far from it.  Topping and Day write the aliens as these savage beasts who while the Doctor would be for helping them, they’re just too violent and murderous for his help.  Their immediate actions are to rip apart whatever comes in their paths, which is also a double-edged sword: mainly how do they want to invade Earth if they’ll practically rip each other apart?  And their enemies, a species of the classic small grey aliens of the Roswell kind.  The major source of enjoyment from this novel is the excellent fleshing out of the UNIT cast.  Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart gets his own subplot where he’s attempting to discover the conspiracy inside UNIT is extreme fun, even when he’s talking to a bunch of prostitutes.  Mike Yates as well is essentially the star of the show: he’s in charge while Lethbridge-Stewart is out of action and does his best at his job, but has to be the one who makes the big decisions.  Liz and the Doctor also have a lot of fun, even if this is supposed to be post The Scales of Injustice.  Overall, the start of the Past Doctor Adventures is much stronger than that of the Eighth Doctor Adventures.  8/10.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Eight Doctors by: Terrance Dicks

The Virgin New Adventures and the Virgin Missing Adventures lost the license to publish Doctor Who fiction in 1996 with the airing of Paul McGann’s television debut in the TV Movie.  BBC Worldwide wished for the license back as they saw an avenue for making some money in the new imprint of BBC Books so when the license expired from Virgin in May 1997 with the publication of The Dying Days and So Vile a Sin.  June 1997 was the first time a book was released by the BBC itself with an original Doctor Who storyline and the latest Doctor.  They called up Terrance Dicks, who was willing to write, set it right after the TV Movie, introduced a new companion, and made it a multi-Doctor novel including the seven previous Doctors in one grand adventure.  It should have worked, it should be heralded as one of the great novels, but sadly The Eight Doctors is an example of the continuity fest going too far and fails to introduce the range to the adventures of the Eighth Doctor.

The Eight Doctors opens with a small prologue setting the novel right at the end of the TV Movie.  The Doctor has left Earth and finds himself back in the room with the Eye of Harmony where the Master has laid one final trap for his archenemy, something to make him lose his memory so he has to cross his timestream to earlier adventures and the paradox it causes will for whatever reason restore the memories up to that point.  There’s also a subplot on Gallifrey where President Flavia (not the previously established President Romana) and a bunch of Time Lords watch in awe and horror as the Doctor travels his path.  Ryoth, a Time Lord of the Celestial Intervention Agency, uses a Timescoop in an attempt to stop the Doctor but is eaten by a Drashig halfway through the novel.  He’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, but as he dies halfway through and without much interference from the other Time Lords, the back half of the novel is without a real villain.  The first segment takes the Doctor to where it all began, the I.M. Foreman junkyard.  This time it’s the 1990s where poor vegetarian Samantha Jones is being attacked by some drug dealers because she’s an informant on the evils of crack cocaine.  It becomes readily apparent that Terrance Dicks cannot write for an anti-drug PSA as the first few chapters try to be, so much so that they end with Sam in danger and the Doctor abandoning her.  Yeah, this is not a good start to the novel as Sam is made out to be our new companion with a weak characterization as annoying vegetarian and activist.  There is no sense of personality with Sam, no sense of humor or chemistry with the Doctor leaving the audience no drive to see if the Doctor is going to save her in the end.

After the segment at Coal Hill School, we go through the Doctors chronologically, starting with a rendezvous with the First Doctor during the events of An Unearthly Child.  The scene is the forest of fear and the caveman Za is injured; the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan are escaping the tribe of Gum and the reader can guess where this is going.  The Doctor is about to commit a murder so he can escape and the Eighth Doctor comes in to stop him.  It’s a quick little sequence as well as the sequence with the Second Doctor, set during The War Games where the Doctor must call in the Time Lords to help with beating the War Lords plan.  Both as segments Dicks is able to make them both easy to read, but nothing is above average in the characterization and the plot leaves much to be desired.  The Third Doctor’s segment however is the weakest of the novel, taking place after The Sea Devils.  It can be accurately described as a redo of the ending of The Daemons where the Master finds his TARDIS and escapes, whilst the Doctor acts horribly to Jo and everyone around him.  Odd considering Terrance Dicks was script editor for the Third Doctor and novelized much of the novels of the Third and Fourth Doctors.

The section of the Fourth Doctor is one of the highlights, taking place in the closing moments of Dicks’ own State of Decay.  The Doctor and Romana are lured away from the TARDIS and in the midst of a cult of vampires wishing to make the Time Lords their new king and queen.  The Eighth Doctor shows up and begins to get in on the vampire slaying action as well as giving the Fourth Doctor some of his blood to stave off death at Logopolis.  Terrance Dicks obviously enjoyed writing this one because the quality of the short passages shines through the rest of the book’s problems.  The Fifth Doctor’s section doesn’t work however as it’s another continuity fest with Raston Warrior Robots, Sontarans, and Drashigs.  Most of all, it is a dull segment of the book, overshadowed by the Sixth Doctor’s segment.  The Ultimate Foe is the setting of the penultimate segment where the Doctors have to uncover the conspiracy to kill the Doctor over the course of the Trial with the Valeyard.  The Sixth Doctor is a bit out of character being portrayed as just a fatty at points, but it’s at least enjoyable and close to his television counterpart.  I shall not comment on my favorite Doctor’s portion as it really isn’t a plot and just happens.  Then the book is over and we can get on to something better.  4/10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Oh No It Isn't! by: Paul Cornell

The British pantomime tradition is a form of theater that I am for the most part, unfamiliar with and as such reading a novel that takes place inside a pantomime becomes an interesting task for one such as myself.  The flagship novel in Virgin Publishing’s line of Bernice Summerfield novels begins with Oh No It Isn’t! written by Paul Cornell, the creator of the character of Benny way back in Love and War, and picks up where The Dying Days left off with Bernice Summerfield an actual professor of archeology with her own book deal.  I mean she already published and had no intention of writing a sequel, but she just had a really bad divorce and is attracted to one of her students.  Yeah, Benny has already had a pretty weird year and it’s about to get weirder as she takes an archeological expedition to the planet Perfecton, home to an ancient civilization of the Perfectons who have connections to the People from The Also People.  In orbit around the planet, however, are the Grel, a race of squid-like humanoids obsessed with creating facts who bombard the planet with missiles sending Benny on an adventure into Pantoland where she’s joined by her students (as the Seven Dwarves), her cat Wolsey (who is sentient), her colleague Professor Arthur Candy (who becomes a woman), and the ship’s crew as Menlove Stokes from The Romance of Crime and The Well-Mannered War looks on trying to find a solution to the problems.

Creating this fantastical environment for Benny to react to is a great way to start off the novels, while not having to begin any real overarching series plot.  Cornell creates a believable way for Bernice to get to the planet and has Benny like a fish out of water and utterly confused.  The parts of the pantomime our characters play alter as Benny alters the reality around her through several breakings of the almighty fourth wall.  Her first character is that of Dick Whittington, a pantomime role often done by a woman in drag, leading to several Dick jokes from the pussycat Wolsey who gained sentience to serve as companion to the adventure.  They go through several fairytale tropes before saving the day.  Benny keeps her general wittiness about her yet has a reserved sadness.  Her robotic room servant Joseph brings one of her students early on in the book for a bit of romance and you really get to see how bad losing Jason Kane at the end of Eternity Weeps has left her.  She thinks the student, Michael Doran, she’s brought is cute, but cannot bring herself to do any lovemaking with him as it would be wrong.  She has the desire to do it all, but she controls herself making her mood even worse.  It falls deeper once she goes into pantoland and sees Doran as one of the dwarves who are infatuated with Benny and able to see through the character.

Benny then becomes a princess ala Cinderella in the pantomime before finally manifesting as the character of Aladdin and having to fulfill the plots of those stories, all the while Wolsey and the dwarves sort of tag along for the ride.  Being not your traditional seven dwarves, they make for some good comic relief along with Dame Candy, the quintessential Panto Dame.  Menlove Stokes and the rest of the faculty’s plot only really ties in at the end of the novel and it is easy to see why it was cut out when Big Finish adapted this book for an audio drama in 1998 (only a year after its release).  Stokes is still the funny character we’ve seen and Cornell populates the University of Dellah with interesting people such as a pair of old ladies who constantly bicker and a Pakher Professor, but they don’t really hold a candle to the comic adventure that Benny has embarked on in the rest of the novel.  As a novel, it is not quite perfection, but it at least gives us a good base to start on the series for Bernice Summerfield as well as give us a jumping on point for new readers outside of Doctor Who’s sphere of influence. 9/10.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Eric by: Terry Pratchett

FaustEric is the ninth Discworld novel and the shortest of Pratchett’s series, at least amongst the ‘adult’ novels.  It clocks in at less than 150 pages and was originally published in an illustrated edition.  Serving as a tribute to Goethe’s Faust and Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Homer’s The Illiad, and Dante’s Divine Comedy, Pratchett puts Rincewind in the role of Mephistopholes and the titular Eric in the role of Faustus.  Eric is a demonologist who is attempting to summon a demon, but gets Rincewind and the Luggage instead.  After some time poking fun at the 13-year old who thinks he knows what he wants and his vulgar mouthed parrot, Rincewind finds out that he can grant the wishes of the boy with the snap of his fingers.  This is because demons in Hell have plans to use Rincewind because allowing him to escape the Dungeon Dimensions from Sourcery because they want to revolt in Hell.  Apparently bureaucracy is the complete evil, something that is quite a bit cliché.  It doesn’t really matter because the demonic characters of the novel are the weak link, the strong link are the three mini-adventures in the form of the wishes which allow Rincewind and Eric to have good jokes at each other’s expense.

The first wish is ‘to be ruler of the world’ so Pratchett transports the pair to a parody of the Aztec empire with a parody of Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth.  Quezovercoatl is this version of the Feathered Serpent and all life’s misfortunes are blamed on the Ruler of the world.  You can see where this is going and we have some scenes of Rincewind and Eric on the top of a pyramid where they are to be sacrificed.  The Luggage is the one who gets the two incompetents out of their troubles and Rincewind snaps his fingers again, transporting them elsewhere.

The second wish is ‘to meet the most beautiful woman in all history’ where Pratchett parodies again the Trojan War with the city of Tsort.  They materialize in a wooden horse which is discovered by the soldiers of Tsort.  Also the Luggage eats four people which causes Pratchett to potentially make a reference to Doctor Who as it seems to be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Eleanor of Tsort is apparently the most beautiful woman in all history, but the reality of the situation is that she has gone middle aged and had children since the war started, pissing off poor young Eric.  Rincewind and Eric also meet an Odysseus parody Lavaeolus which means Rinser of Winds, indicating that he is possibly one of Rincewind’s ancestors, who doesn’t like him for spoiling the war so to speak.

The final wish is ‘to live forever’, so Rincewind snaps his fingers and bang: they’re transported to the beginning of the universe outside of time.  God or ‘the creator’ is having trouble with finishing the Discworld and the universe begins with a paper clip.  Death is there and he’s just starting out, so he is content to wait until his function becomes necessary as he knows that it is coming.  Eric is at his limit because he doesn’t want to wait millions of years with only Rincewind to talk to because Rincewind is not good company.  Rincewind convinces Eric to reverse the summoning sending them to hell.  In hell they are let out after the two demons have a fight, one is deposed and trapped in the prison of his own making, and Rincewind and Eric escape.  FaustEric is a light read with many clichés, but it is at least enjoyable.  6/10.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Guards! Guards! by: Terry Pratchett

A redemption story is one that can always draw in a large audience as its one of those story types that lends itself well to sympathetic characters.  The down on their luck protagonist always has to overcome some sort of problem of their own making and bring glory to their surroundings, returning them to a point where they can live their lives.  Guards! Guards! at its heart is a redemption story about returning the Ankh-Morpork City Watch to its original purpose as men of the law protecting the city from near do wells.  Terry Pratchett’s redemption arc is created through a simple, yet effective plot about a power hungry brotherhood overthrowing Patrician Vetinari and unleashing a dragon on the city.  Dragons, at least the big, fire-breathing, burn down the village, dragons, the draco nobilis, have not been seen on the Discworld in eons, being cast into another dimension by a book that our villains steal under the nose of the Librarian of the Unseen University so they can instate a puppet king by slaying the dragon.  It’s up to the Watch to bring the villains to justice and reinstate Vetinari at all costs.  The plot is constructed simply as to keep everything moving at a brisk pace and the 400 pages of the novel devote a large amount of the book to fleshing out our characters.

The City Watch is led by the rather drunk Captain Samuel Vimes, introduced in a bar, drunk, and unable to remember his own name.  Vimes has this cynical attitude about him throughout the book, attributed to the fact that he was born two drinks too sober, and unable to find any enjoyment out of life.  It’s because of his mismanagement and the fact that Ankh-Morpork has organized crime that the Watch has fallen apart after all of these years.  Yet, with his laziness and cynicism, Vimes still doesn’t want to see the city fall apart and is ready to go to almost any lengths to save the city.  He even gets a love interest in the form of Lady Sybil Ramkin, a breeder of swamp dragons, aristocrat, and all around swell woman.  Ramkin’s role in the novel, apart from the understated romance, is to be the motivator to the Watch.  She is responsible for giving them a new headquarters when it burns down because of the dragon and is the one who gives them the confidence to fight back against the dragon, and as Ramkin and Vimes fall in love, the solution to the novel is the dragon mascot of the Watch (Errol) and the dragon king fall in love.

The behavior of the dragons in the novel is reflective of dragons of classic literature, especially Beowulf and The Hobbit, with a nature of hoarding for gold and wisher of virgin sacrifice.  They like to burn things down and have short fuses overall.  Yet the dragon’s reappearance leads to some great gags from Pratchett involving people selling merchandise as the city burns.  Our protagonist of the novel is Carrot, a volunteer to the Watch.  Carrot was raised by dwarves and identifies as one, in spite of his six foot, six inch height, causing him to have a strong sense of justice and a literal mind.  Tell him to throw the book at someone, he will do just that.  His adoptive parents volunteered him for the Watch and he immediately gets in trouble for arresting the head of the Thieves Guild.  He’s read all the laws of Ankh-Morpork and that thick book is what guides him through his everyday life.  He’s the one who initially teaches the Watch what it means to be in the Watch.  There are also a couple of supporting characters in the novel who all have their own little quirks and things.  There are more members of the Watch who all have their own problems: they steal things off murder victims.  There are also plenty of normal citizens, especially merchants which Pratchett uses to help give the story some sense of a life.  There really isn’t all that much more to say about the novel except that it is the first of the works of Terry Pratchett that are worth a 10/10.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Pyramids by: Terry Pratchett

Pyramids is a novel that shows that Terry Pratchett has a loving admiration for the society of Ancient Egypt, as it’s a Discworld novel that doesn’t really connect to the others in any significant way and is an excuse for Pratchett to give his views on Ancient Egypt.  The book tells the story of Prince Teppic of the far off land of Djelebeybi (literally baby of the Djel river) an Egypt like place that worships a Pharaoh as a living god and at least has some sort of divine powers granted to the Pharaoh because of this.  Like The Color of Magic, Pyramids is split into four sections and shall be reviewed in that style because of this.

“The Book of Going Fourth” is the first section of Pyramids and describes Prince Teppic’s time in Ankh-Morpork where he is training to become an assassin for reasons never quite properly explained.  The idea is that his father has this whole idea that his son needs a good idea of education before he can become a god and the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork apparently gives this out in spades but comes with dangers.  The Assassin’s Guild does not accept failure, leading to death with anyone who fails even slightly.  Pratchett is parodying the British boarding school system here with what American readers may believe is a reference to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but no this book was published in 1989, nearly a decade before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.  This section of the book is an extremely fun read and allows Pratchett to introduce and quickly kill off a few characters rapid fire style as they fail their exams.  Dramatically this helps Teppic seem like he is achieving something, but these characters are largely one note.  Cheesewright is the closest to being interesting as his death elicits quite an amusing reaction of one character being owed fourpence which he will never get.  Teppic is placed in the Viper House and eventually passes his final exams with Chidder, another character who may or may not be important later, before having to go home.  Sadly this section of the book fails to give Teppic any real standout character, creating a blank slate for Pratchett to bounce some jokes off of before moving on to the stuff in Djelebeybi which is found much more interesting.  The jokes do land though for the most part and the King’s death gets a good laugh as well as a lot of the explanations of the assassins. 6/10.

The plot then takes itself and goes right back to Djelebeybi for “The Book of the Dead” which is where Pratchett gets to expand his humor on Ancient Egypt, the concept of mathematics in pyramid building, and monarchy.  The one hundred or so pages comprising this section are full of little nods to kings with very long titles as Dios, the high priest for Teppic, must say Teppic’s full name which is ‘His Greatness the King Pteppicymon XXVIII, Lord of the Heavens, Charioteer of the Wagon of the Sun, Steersman of the Barque of the Sun, Guardian of the Secret Knowledge, Lord of the Horizon, Keeper of the Way, the Flail of Mercy, the High Born King, the Never Dying King’.  This is stated as Pratchett fails to impress at landing a number of jokes based on the concept of traditionalism in monarchy not being an effective rulership as Teppic finds himself bored out of his mind and doesn’t really come across as a well defined character.  Teppic is much more of a blank slate for the reader to project themselves on top of.  He gets his moments, such as chewing out Dios for distorting his decisions in court, which includes ruining many peasant lives as a result.  There are also side jaunts into the ghost of Teppic’s father who didn’t wish to be buried in a pyramid as well as revealing Teppic’s love interest is his half-sister, but they don’t really go anywhere.  The love interest is the servant of Teppic’s father, Ptraci, who is just as bland as poor Teppic.  Teppic hides her away and is accused of being his own assassin.  Pratchett tries to raise the pace by including the Disc’s greatest mathematician, You Bastard the camel, and a family of architects and leading Teppic and Ptraci out of their home as they are accused of murdering Teppic, but the whole is not the sum of its parts.  3/10.

Pratchett loves a good pun and the third section of Pyramids is a pun. “The Book of the New Son” is a play on the idea of the sun being reborn each day in Ancient Egypt, yet most of this portion takes place outside of Djelebeybi, in Pratchett’s Ancient Greek counterpart Ephebe.  Teppic and Ptraci seem to lose their way and go to Ephebe to meet with some philosophers about getting back to where they came from.  This is only mildly entertaining if you are familiar with Plato’s Symposium and the works of Xeno, so if you know that sort of thing you may find this section more entertaining but without the context Pratchett just leaves it at a bunch of dialogue between characters who do not make an impact.  There is some stuff with the ghost of the old king, some jokes on the idea of silent p’s, and an architect and his two sons which at least give the plot something to go forward to, but Teppic and Ptraci are both bland characters and there isn’t much going for it.  The second half fairs slightly better with Chidder showing up and some jokes being made about food, but not by much. 4/10.

“The Book of 101 Things a Boy Can Do” closes Pyramids in a similar fashion to the ending of the previous Discworld novel, Wyrd Sisters.  Teppic gives his throne to Ptraci who is actually his sister, so he loses any interest in her as a potential mate, the Ephebeans are allowed to go to war with Tsort, introduced in the previous book as a Troy allegory, and Dios is revealed to be over 7,000 years old.  It’s a very ‘all’s well that ends well’ ending to the book and doesn’t really conclude, so much as to stop in the middle of things.  Every wrong is righted in what can only be described as Pratchett pushing a deadline for a page count.  2/10.

Pyramids as a whole does not do well with being over 300 pages long.  The first section is the most interesting, but is too long.  After that there are just too many ideas and plot threads, some I didn’t even mention in this review.  ‘And now this happened’ is a very good descriptor for the novel and is the first Pratchett that I have had real difficulty finishing.  3.75/10.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Wyrd Sisters by: Terry Pratchett

Ah, Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers of all time famous for plagiarizing a bunch of famous stories and turning them into plays that will be the bane of high schoolers everywhere.  I personally have always had a soft spot for the Bard of Avon and it seems Terry Pratchett does as well.  Wyrd Sisters, the sixth Discworld novel, takes its cues from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth to craft a story about the death of the king of Lancre, cat-hating ghost much to Death’s annoyance, murdered in cold blood by his own brother the Duke and the scheming wife.  Pratchett’s story overall presents itself simply, working more as a character piece than any real plot.  Sure there are plenty of jokes cracked at the Bard’s expense, with flowery language and ripping off of history and famous stories galore, but mostly it’s the characters.  Alas the King was a sensible king overall and he gives his son, not yet named, to three of the psychically inclined, our three wyrd sisters, three witches of the title.

Yes the three witches are our protagonists for the novel as they form a sort of coven.  First is returning Granny Weatherwax, again resuming her role from Equal Rites as kindly, yet extremely stubborn, old woman.  With one foot always stepped in the past, she doesn’t like the idea of a coven or curses or unnecessary harm to people, but make her angry and you’re going to regret it.  I hear being a toad can be quite nice, but not everybody is so amphibiously inclined as others.  Granny is also ever the traditionalist, not really being able to see the reality of the world around her, refusing to admit that she could potentially be lost, and witches should not be interested in *gasp* men.  She has this air around her that she thinks so highly of herself that she’s almost wrapped right around to the lowest of the low levels of self-confidence.  She’s the one character who really doesn’t develop much and that’s all a part of her charm.

The other two witches are foils to Granny Weatherwax in their own ways.  Nanny Ogg is the older of the two, a mother of fourteen children who all adore her, and a grandmother of, well I don’t actually know.  She’s also got a demon cat and seems to know how to cook.  Yeah her character works in the fact that it is simple.  She’s sort of that fun uncle that everyone has and the scene where the duke ‘tortures’ her is really the highlight of the book.  She’s got to be Magrat Garlick’s mentor after her old mentor Goodie Whemper, not appearing in this novel, died and because Granny Weatherwax is such a traditionalist that poor Magrat is really naïve.  The thrust is that they have to take care of the prince whom they call Tomjon and give to a bunch of actors.  Magrat Garlick is kind of a hippie overall and she doesn’t really understand sexual attraction or love which is of course hilarious, and she ends up actually having a decent relationship with the Fool, who also becomes the King because he’s the bastard of the previous king so is crowned Verence II.  Their relationship is never really explained by the end of the novel and I cannot tell if that’s because Pratchett is being confusing like Shakespeare or just doesn’t know what he’s doing with the novel.  Tomjon’s fine with it because he’s an actor now and his friend William Shakespeare, I mean Hwel, build a theatre in Ankh-Morpork called the Dysk.  Yeah this one’s just a bit too odd, but in a pretty good way where it doesn’t quite make sense, but hey that’s a lot of Shakespeare. 9/10.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sourcery by: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett opens his fifth Discworld novel by stating the origin of an eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son: a wizard squared, a source of magic, a Sourcerer.  Sourcery is the first Discworld novel to return to a previous storyline as its main plot (The Light Fantastic doesn’t really count as that’s a direct sequel to The Color of Magic and they work together as one story).  This installment returns to the story of Rincewind who actually gets to go on an adventure where is characteristic cowardice and ability to talk his way out of situations is actually one of the solutions to the plot.  I contend that one of the issues of the first three Discworld novels read like short story anthologies to the detriment of their plots and my overall enjoyment.  Mort as a novel improved on this to show that Terry Pratchett can write some great stuff when he focuses his effort on one plot and message with generally linear progression from exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  Sourcery, while keeping two plots going, at least does that to great effect while adding in Pratchett’s brand of comedy and commentary.

This time the commentary is twofold.  First as we are returning to the Unseen University, Pratchett is writing on gripes with traditionalism and bureaucracy.  Touched upon in Equal Rites, the Unseen University is obsessed with the procedure of gaining wizardry levels like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  Coin, the Sourcerer of the title, comes to the University and finds it laughable at the lack of power the so called “eighth-level” wizards have and immediately enacts changes.  This brings up Pratchett’s second commentary, the throwing the baby with the bathwater in the changes.  This is revealed slowly over the course of the novel as his initial changes of replacing the Archchancellor and allowing everyone to improve in magic and reach new heights.  That changes when Coin decides that the library books must be burned down because they are of the old ways and he will bring the new ways of Sourcery.  It’s okay though because the Librarian locks himself in and saves the books.

Coin, while responsible for doing these terrible things, is not the villain of this novel.  Coin is just the victim of circumstance in this situation as his actions have been manipulated by the spirit of his father.  Coin is just a child and has this childlike desire of escaping to what would be his perfect world, which he does in the end.  His father, Ipslore the Red, is introduced on his deathbed with a scene with Death.  Ipslore had passions of the heart and against the lore of Magic he went and got himself a wife and had eight sons.  He was against the idea that wizards shouldn’t be falling in love and having kids, because he thinks that’s the pinnacle of life and without love life wouldn’t be worth living.  Death responds with cat’s are nice in a lovely nod to Mort.  Ipslore ends up cheating Death, who reacts appropriately.  Ipslore’s soul is placed in his staff and it is through this that he influences his son.  It’s his vendetta and Pratchett doesn’t actually explore this aspect of the novel that much except at the end of the novel when Rincewind is trapped in the Dungeon Dimensions, the University is saved, Ipslore is taken by Death, and Coin goes off to his own little world to enjoy the rest of his life.

Oh yeah, Rincewind doesn’t get a happy ending in this one.  The Luggage is smart enough to get him out of the University before Coin’s reign of terror begins, but as the hat of the Archchancellor is stolen by Conina, Cohen the Barbarian’s daughter, he’s on an adventure in no time fast.  Rincewind as a wizard hears the voice of the hat whispering in his ear to escape the city.  This takes them to Al Khali, a parody of Disney’s Aladdin and stories of that like which is a large section of the novel.  The party gains a few new members in the form of Nijel the Destroyer (a barbarian in training who falls in love with Conina) and Creosote (the seraph of the city who is just an idiot who allows his evil Vizier to run the city).  There are shenanigans with magic carpets, snake pits, snakes, and a rather small genie before returning to Ankh-Morpork.  The Patrician is turned into a lizard and Rincewind again has to face the Things in the Dungeon Dimension where he remains.  I won’t ruin most of the best jokes of Pratchett, but the novel is a great one with some issues with choosing not to go down certain possible story paths in favor of returning to Rincewind.  8/10.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mort by: Terry Pratchett

Sometimes a book will come along and reach deeply into the heart of the reader and not let itself go until you’ve finished.  Sometimes it’s because of an amazing plot, sometimes it’s because of amazing characters, and sometimes (just a few sometimes mind you) it’s because it’s a book that comes around at just the right time to read.  Something similar to all three of these things happened to me when reading Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel, Mort, or as I would have called it Death’s Apprentice.  Mort is the first Discworld novel that Terry Pratchett would describe in his own words as a good book and is the first in the series to feature Death as a major character.  Yes, he had appearances in the other books, but here he’s really one of the highlights.

Death’s motivations for taking on an apprentice are varied, but include two major points.  First, he wishes his adopted daughter Ysabell to have someone her own age to talk to and second, he’s not quite satisfied with his lot in life.  Oh yes he realizes life and Death isn’t fair, that if he leaves his position whoever replaces him will be worse than him because he will remember living, and that he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter.  None of this matters as he tries it anyway and Pratchett writes Death in such a way that you really feel bad for the guy.  He’s somehow the most human and inhuman character of the novel.  He has the power to stop time, slice reality, yet his horse’s name is Binky and he likes cats.  He doesn’t quite understand the concepts of love or fun; music and dancing cause him to be flustered; he can be drunk and sober whenever he wishes; he drinks an entire bar; and yet the climax of the novel is an ultimatum: a fight between him and Mort.  This is where in the novel he is presented as an extremely menacing figure ready to kill Mort, yet in the final scene he is adorably grateful that he was invited to Mort and Ysabell’s wedding.

Ysabell made her first appearance in The Light Fantastic and here in Mort she’s gotten a bit of a change in the character department.  She’s still crazy and immediately dislike’s Mort when her father brings him home, which means that by the end of the novel they are married happily.  She has been sixteen for thirty years because time does not work the same in Death’s domain.  She’s been annoying Albert, Death’s manservant/butler/closest thing to friend, by taking books out of Death’s library about girls and reading them.  She has extreme sexual tension with Mort and they eventually find themselves the duke and duchess of a land, due to Mort’s meddling with time.  Of course Mort meddles with someone’s fate because he has some sort of attraction and this is where the book falters.  Princess Kelli is supposed to be who we are rooting for as she is accidentally saved from assassination by Mort while doing the Duty and while the plot revolves around her not being dead, Pratchett cuts back to her plot too many times for comfort and it gets boring.  She’s just there so we can get to the Unseen University with Albert, fix reality, and get Mort and Ysabell set up as a couple.

Albert is a much more entertaining character, even if he is a bit minor.  He’s your standard curmudgeonly old man who does his job, is good for a bit of a chat, but is harboring a great secret about his past.  He’s actually the founder of the Unseen University, where we actually get a cameo from Rincewind which is entertaining, and he’s probably able to keep Death calm and convince him to get back to his job.  He also becomes afraid of Mort when Mort starts to become Death which is an intriguing transformation, if not a complete one.  Mort is the emotional centerpiece of the novel.  Pratchett brings him quickly into the hearts of the reader by setting him up as the black sheep of his family.  He is sent to be picked up as an apprentice and has to wait until midnight, when all the other candidates are gone before Death comes along to make him his apprentice.  He’s not emotionally stable, probably stemming from his bad family life, and cannot help himself in saving a poor girl when he should have been doing his job and leading her on to the next life.  His quick wit and quick understanding of Death and his ways is something that really endears the reader to him further.  His slow transformation into the new Death happens by a few words in the same text style of small capital letters that Death’s dialogue uses.  His eyes become blue and he begins to lose control of himself.  He is a great character and he and Ysabell’s romance actually works well.  Mort as a novel gets an 8/10.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Equal Rites by: Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites is about million in one chances, eighth sons of eighth sons, men, women, witches, wizards, and numbers.  Terry Pratchett’s third Discworld novel takes on a new main character in the form of Esk Smith, meant to be an eighth son of an eighth son and ergo a wizard, but she comes out a daughter.  She still becomes a wizard of course, but not without lack of trying as Drum Billet passes on his powers before the cosmic mix up can be found and our dear old Death takes him away before they can be taken back, and now we have Esk destined to become a wizard even if the world around her tells her that women cannot be wizards.  Witches surely but never wizards.  Ironic that this is a girl power narrative often confused to be written by a woman implying that men cannot write satisfactory girl power narratives.

The simple girl power narrative in the book is the weakest aspect, mainly because after the first few mentions and the first few times Esk overcomes someone saying she cannot do something because she’s a girl, it becomes rather boring as the book comes to the same flaws as The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic.  The plot is paper thin and really there so Pratchett can move from one scenario to another scenario.  At least we do not have a third book of this happening to Rincewind and Twoflower, as they’re characters are developed enough as a third book would have the narrative become stale.  Pratchett decides to introduce an entirely new set of characters to facilitate a new story.  Eskarina Smith is the novel’s plucky young protagonist, who is written perfectly as a child.  Esk never feels like one of those too perfect to believe perfect children, nor one of those too evil to believe troubled children.  She has her moments of naiveite, not understanding how the world works and her wizard’s staff facilitating this worldview through its weird actions.

The bulk of the book is taken up by Esk and Granny Weatherwax journeying to the great city of Ankh-Morpork to enroll Esk in the Unseen University.  They get in all sorts of troubles on their travels including bar fights, fortune telling, and defending the Unseen University from the Things from the Dungeon Dimension in the book’s rather rushed climax.  Granny Weatherwax is a character who will reappear in later books, but here she is just a supporting player in Esk’s story.  Granny is a witch who specializes in herbs and headology, basically telling people what they would like to hear causing their own futures to line up.  She can of course do magic and you would regret crossing her, but why bother when her methods work wonders.  Weatherwax is a kind soul deep down, but she puts on a stern air as she teaches Esk witchcraft and begrudgingly takes her to the Unseen University.  She has no real time for wizards and their so called pure magic and steals the scene whenever she’s present.

The final important major character is Simon, a wizard in training with a stuttering problem.  Simon is quite a poor character as he immediately falls for Esk who is only happy to help him speak.  He’s got extremely powerful magic powers, but is obsessed with working through complex mathematics which are magic in their own right, and sitting back while abuse is hurled at him constantly.  It is through poor Simon that the Things nearly enter our world, but he eventually gets better.  There are plenty minor characters in the novel with highlights being the librarian of the Unseen University (an orangutan) and Archchancellor Cutangle who has no chance of getting together with Granny Weatherwax, but sadly the book does not do enough with the abundance of characters to leave the deepest of impressions.  5/10.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Light Fantastic by: Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic is an interesting novel if you are coming to the Discworld with no prior experience to the series like I am.  It is first and foremost a direct sequel to The Color of Magic, but it demonstrates a real improvement in the writing style as Pratchett, while not doing a satire on anything more than fantasy tropes as was with The Color of Magic, has improved at telling a story and sticking to that story.  The format of The Color of Magic as four short stories which allows for Pratchett to tell two great ones and two average ones, but The Light Fantastic is first and foremost a character piece.  This character piece is based on that of our incompetent wizard Rincewind, who only knows one spell from the Octavo which jumped into his head and has been waiting for the right moment to jump out.  The problem with this one is that Rincewind isn’t exactly a deep character.  Sure he’s extremely enjoyable to follow, but he doesn’t really have much growth or development beyond being a coward and being manipulated into doing the Octavo’s bidding.

The more interesting character of this novel is Trymon, the kniving wizard who becomes the Archchancellor of the Unseen University after an accident with the Luggage kills the old one who was trying to summon the final spell of the Octavo.  Trymon is one of those villains with one character trait and a lust for power, coming straight out of a hammy B-movie, he invites the audience into his thoughts in a series of schemes before his eventual defeat.  There’s a reason that Tim Curry plays him in the television adaptation of the novel as there’s nobody else who could really play Trymon.  He could do without the tentacles at the end though.

While the format of the novel was indeed improved upon, there is still a very episodic nature to the events.  The plot is tied together with a shooting star signaling the time that all eight spells of the Octavo are to be read before the end of the world.  Of course it is up to Rincewind and Twoflower to stop this, even if they end up reading the spells and the Disc continues to be except the Great A’Tuin gives birth to eight baby space turtles.  The plot is tied up very loosely and Terry Pratchett has gone on record saying he didn’t really know where he wanted the book to go at points and it shows.  There are some amazing scenes: Cohen the Barbarian and Bethan have a great relationship, the eating of the gingerbread house abandoned by a witch because of those horrible children, Twoflower teaching the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse how to play bridge and Death becoming addicted to it, and Death’s daughter Ysabell are all highlights of the novel, but the whole is still not the sum of its parts.  The book is extremely enjoyable overall, but feels like it’s a first draft with no endgoal in mind.  7/10.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Color of Magic by: Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic written by Terry Pratchett is the first novel set in the Discworld, a planet like disc sat on the back of four Indian Elephants on the back of the Giant Space Turtle A’Tuin, gender to be determined.  It was published in 1983 and can be likened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but in the genre of fantasy.  I first heard of the Discworld in a 2013 quiz bowl match at my high school, but would not pick up one of the books until January 2015, when I read The Color of Magic.  I would continue with the first two sequels The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites, planning to go in publication order until I got to the then final book Making Steam.  This was until after I had finished Equal Rites when on March 12, 2015, Terry Pratchett passed away after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  While I had no real emotional connection to Pratchett, I stopped reading the Discworld novels and promptly forgot to pick them back up again.  It has been three years since Pratchett’s death and after reading and enjoying Good Omens, I have decided to pick up the Discworld and enjoy in its absurdity.  So I raided my local Barnes & Noble and over the past few months have acquired the first six Discworld novels and am beginning today with The Color of Magic.

The oddness that comes with The Color of Magic, and the novel’s greatest weakness, is that it has no real plot.  Sure the book is put into a sequence of events and point A goes to point B, but there is no point C for conclusion.  The novel reads like a collection of four short stories exploring little adventures on the Disc that involve our two protagonists.  The first is “The Color of Magic” where we begin our tale in the twin cities of Ankh-Morpork as it is burning down.  The Disc has had its first tourist, the glasses wearing, insurance selling Twoflower, who is determined to see everything the Disc has to offer.  Sadly he has brought with him mounds of gold and the Luggage, a suitcase like creature which is sentient and hires wizard Rincewind as his guide.  Hilarity ensues as Rincewind, being a wizard who only knows one spell, is told to keep the man safe or else provoke a war, takes his eyes off Twoflower when things go south.  A pub owner takes out a fire insurance policy, and then proceeds to burn down his tavern to claim the money.  The city burns, Rincewind, Twoflower, and the Luggage escape, and the story is over.  It reads as extremely quick and quick witted, with Rincewind being a complete coward through and through, while Twoflower is naïve, and the Luggage is just plain weird.  This story also introduces the concept of the Disc which is already creative, and Death.  Death as presented here must take Rincewind’s soul personally as he is a wizard, even if he failed at the Unseen University.  Death pops up a few more times over these four stories and is entertaining whenever the text begins to become a capital font.  “The Color of Magic” has the problem of being a character piece without too much plot which is just fine for the beginning of the novel, but leaves you with some desires for more.  7/10.

The second story in the anthology is “The Sending of Eight” which is included to show how magic works in this universe.  The number eight must never be said by a wizard and must never under any circumstances near a temple of Bel-Shamharoth, the Soul Eater.  The plot of this one is that some gods of the Disc, mainly Fate and the Lady, have been playing a boardgame controlling Rincewind and Twoflower.  Fate is tempted, and Twoflower is naively wandered to said temple while Rincewind is imprisoned by dryads, before meeting up with Hrun the Barbarian in the temple.  Hrun mutters the word eight, which summons Bel-Shamharoth to kill them, but the camera Twoflower brought allows them to escape and Hrun begins to travel with our heroes.  This story is most definitely Rincewind’s story as we are introduced to his backstory and the significance of 8.  In the Unseen University, there is a book containing five plus three spells called the Octavo, and Rincewind, a resident of room 7a, accidentally opened the book and one of the spells lodged in his mind.  It will not leave until uttered or the death of Rincewind, and nobody knows which of the spells was read.  This and the idea of gods playing a game with our characters is excellent, however, while it is the shortest of the four stories, it is the weakest.  Hrun is a funny parody of your standard fantasy hero, and the imp in the camera is a joy with his wit, but the plot itself is weak and the pacing is far too off.  5/10.

“The Lure of the Wyrm” is the penultimate, and by far, the best of the four stories.  Our trio of heroes travel to the Wyrmberg, an upside-down mountain.  Here there be dragons, as the old saying goes, but these dragons lie in the mind, coming into existence in the vicinity of the mountain.  The inhabitants have a tradition where the new lord must kill the previous lord, their father, and their siblings and the three children of the dead lord cannot do it.  Liessa, the daughter of the previous lord, has poisoned her father, but she cannot seem to get her brothers to die.  She gets Hrun to do it for her and they marry.  Meanwhile, Rincewind and Twoflower are captured, Twoflower thinks up a dragon whom he names Ninereeds, and they escape.  Twoflower passes out due to lack of oxygen, Ninereeds disappears, and Rincewind magics them to a passenger jet in the real world on the way to the United States of America.  Rincewind is a doctor of nuclear physics and Twoflower is a tourist.  The Luggage appears and drags them back to the Discworld where they fall to the ocean.  This is by far the best story of the novel as it has a plot that grabs the reader, characters who are pretty well rounded (the previous lord of Wyrmburg being a standout in the humor department), and is only brought down by the odd ending.  9/10.

The Color of Magic ends with “Close to the Edge” a story where Pratchett decides as he is setting these books on a flat world, he must explore what that means to fall off.  There are astrozoologists attempting to determine the sex of Great A’Tuin in case he/she/it may be going off to mate.  Our protagonists are found by a troll, Tethis, on the Circumfence (get it) and are sadly sent to be sacrifices to Fate, who has promised the Krullians that their mission will succeed if these two are thrown off the edge of the Disc.  The Lady appears to them promising they will save them, Death is ready to get Rincewind, and they are thrown off the edge.  Death comes to meet Rincewind, who insists he is not dead, and recognizes this figure not as Death, but Scrofula.  As he feels cheated, (Death is dealing with a plague at the moment and could not attend) Rincewind is allowed to live.  This one feels more like it is set up for The Light Fantastic, it does not reach the levels of enjoyment.  I want to see just where this is going, but for now it gets 6/10.

As this novel is more like a short story anthology the score will come from an average of the four main stories.  The Color of Magic gets a score of 6.75/10.