Terry Pratchett

After years of hearing people rave about the Discworld novels, I've finally given in and am reading a couple of them. They are interesting enough to read through without risking serious boredom, but they are in many respects rather disappointing.

In the first place, the author just doesn't have enough restraint. He hints too strongly and too often about what is going to come, so that what might have been interesting or surprising twists become expected and mundane. For instance, the first of the books that I picked up was Guards! Guards!, and it starts out with an explanation of where the dragons went, in short, that they did not die off but are dormant. Now, a good author, after introducing a little explanatory nugget like that, would have proceded to let it simmer in the back of the reader's mind for a while, distracting him with other aspects of the story, so that when a dragon shows up in the storyline eight or ten chapters later, it comes as a bit of a surprise, even though the reader knew it was possible. Pratchett doesn't handle it that way. The characters are talking about dragons, and plotting to summon one, a mere eleven pages later.

Then there's the satire. Satire is supposed to be subtle. Pratchett's satire is about as subtle as flashing neon lights.

Perhaps the most annoying thing is the way Pratchett treats the fourth wall. A lot of authors, even some quite good ones, occasionally break the fourth wall and speak to the reader, but Pratchett charges through it repeatedly to pester the reader, which after about the third time in a single paragraph gets rather old. The best example I can think of is in The Light Fantastic (the second Discworld book, and coincidentally the second one I picked up to read), when he is describing the heroine whom Trymon sent to find Rincewind. First he mentions the writer and the cover artist, then he mentions the narrative itself, and discusses a specific action the writer might take. Then he editorializes about the sort of writing that results and about the character. Then he pretends to get back to the story and actually describes the character, only to go off again with a metacomment. At this point the gag, neither very interesting nor very funny in the first place, is Officially Worn Out(TM), but Pratchett isn't done. Next he pretends once again to get back to the story, briefly describing some additional characters, only to say that they don't need much description because they won't last long in the story. Then he directly addresses the reader in the second person, offering to let the reader make a decision about the attire of the characters.

It isn't that Pratchett isn't capable of interesting writing. He is, and occasionally he even does a little of it. (Cohen, for instance, is an interesting character.) But the author continuously makes such a nuissance of himself that I want to put the book down in disgust.

I checked out three of his books from the library, and I'll probably read the third one (Mort) when I finish the second. But I'm unlikely to check out any more. The people who compare Pratchett favorably to Niven are on drugs.


Andy said...

Some of us find Pratchett quite funny for the same reasons you find him annoying. But it's been generaly observed that different people have different senses of humor.

The only Pratchett book that I have bothered to *own* is The Last Hero.

Jonadab said...

Okay, but how many times in one chapter is the same gag funny?

Dgolightly said...

The three you mentioned are not anywhere near to joining my collection because they are nowhere near his best. They are, in fact, near what I'd call the very bottom of his rather extensive number of award-winning books. I'll leave it at that.

To top that off the man has a wasting disease, of the mind if I'm not mistaken. He doesn't do worse than any other author would or probably could(and probably does better than any could considering that he's managed to continue getting better despite it).His wit and the wisdom found nestled in his excessively satirical humor, as well as his "breaking of the fourth wall"(as you put it) are parts of what his true fans find so funny. It's "british" humor in a book form.

It's also a breath of fresh-ish air and its welcome in a world where any number of authors (NEARLY ALL) follow such strict and predictable formats. I never know what to expect when I pick up a Pratchett, beyond a decent story, told in a unique manner, with plenty of humor.

I agree with Andy's first paragraph, though I own quite a few beyond "The Last Hero" (a fantastic "semi-graphical" novel). I also have a particular love for "Small Gods," "Pyramids," and "Thief of Time."