Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 4, 2005
by Terry Pratchett
HarperCollins, 377 pp., $24.95
By my count, the wildly prolific British satirist Terry Pratchett now has somewhere in the vicinity of scads of published novels. All of them are bestsellers somewhere, the better part of them being his Discworld books, which for want of a better explanation very handily (and humorously) explain the inner-workings of today's modern go-go lifestyle by transporting readers to a time and place that feels suspiciously Tolkien-esque if Tolkien had been raised on The Goon Show and Monty Python's Flying Circus while ingesting a steady diet of Jonathan Swift and Trebor Toffees. The Discworld novels take place on a planet whose inhabitants believe it to be flat, carried through space on the back of a giant turtle (elephants figure in there somewhere as well), which, come to think of it, makes entirely as much sense as much of the pseudo-scientific prognostications arriving daily out of the Bush administration, so maybe it's not so much a satire after all. Set, for the most part, in the thriving city-state of Ankh-Morpork, overseen by the cunning Lord Vetinari and populated by all manner of citizenry ranging from the noble to the ignoble to simple nobs, Pratchett's novels are blazingly addictive reads that manage the clever and difficult task of commenting relentlessly on the present grim state of affairs by poking fun at them from behind a veil of light fantasy. Going Postal is actually the 29th Discworld novel (discounting maps, companions, and comics) after last year's Monstrous Regiment, and it's just as crafty and punning as its predecessors one of the few things you can actually count on these days is Pratchett's unswerving sense of humor, which veers from the aforementioned puns to intricately plotted parody that would do Douglas Adams proud. Here's Moist von Lipwig, former swindler and conman literally at the end of his rope and suddenly the freshly minted Ankh-Morporkian Postmaster General. Overseen by a golem parole officer named Mr. Pump, Lipwig sets aside his natural inclination towards chicanery in favor of continued life and finds himself quickly embroiled in a battle with the even more duplicitous Grand Trunk Clacks Company (which, in the context of the Discworld, sounds suspiciously like what we call "e-mail") while attempting to sort through so many mountains of undelivered mail that it's taken on a life of its own. Chaos, naturally, ensues. Like Ambrose Bierce and Samuel Clemens and others before and since, Pratchett is a master at underlining the less charitable aspects of human nature with a twist and grin. The joy of reading Pratchett's skillfully constructed artifices is in the discovery of his endless fascination with How People Work, and Going Postal, puns aside, is practically an instruction manual.