Friday, 30 May 2014

The Book I Read In May

'Thud!' by Terry Pratchett
I am the opposite of most people and read far less when on holiday than at work.  Having been kicked out of my job three weeks earlier than I had been anticipated for 'showing insufficient leadership', 'worrying too much about "treading on other people's toes"' (and anyone who has read the travails of my career will know why I felt I had to do that) and 'not speaking to enough of the right people' despite liaising with tens of them in my department and other departments.  Anyway, this has meant a forced holiday as they were still obliged to pay me.  The department went into crisis as so many staff are leaving.  Out of an office of four, one member of staff remains and myself, their manager has also gone.

A consequence of not having work once more is that I have read very little and only finished one book this month.  'Thud!' sometimes is reviewed as not being up to the standard of some of Pratchett's other work.  One key flaw as often happens with very successful authors is that people are unwilling to tell them to cut back on what they produce.  This could have been a much tighter story if reduced from the 430+ pages in my edition down by 100 pages.  I think the prime reason why reviewers do not rate it is because unlike many of Pratchett's book, for example focusing on vampires or the postal service, the target of this one is not a topic many general readers engage with.  The focus is policing ethnic violence, in this case between trolls and dwarfs.  In itself it hardly sounds an exciting topic.  However, this makes the book one of the sharpest satires of Pratchett's work.

In some ways this is one of Pratchett's more adult books.  I do not mean that in the sense of adult meaning pornographic, though there are references to the girlfriend of guardsman Nobby Nobbs being a pole dancer and a scene with a female werewolf and female vampire naked and covered in mud.  More that the topics are less likely to be engaging for younger readers.  This is not simply about racial antagonism and how history can be distorted to work for extremists, but also with the sub-plot of Commander Vimes as a father.  In some ways the stories involving the police of Ankh-Morpork should be read as a sequence as even more than those set in the Unseen University, they follow on, especially focusing on the career of Vimes and his staff.  In many ways it also feels a very British book and perhaps that reflects the challenges faced are more like those of the UK police than say, for example, US police forces.

This story also involves actual murders and quite gruesome ones at that.  There is also a Cthullu touch to the story with an element of an ancient evil seeking to control events.  Overall, this book is less humorous than others in the Discworld series, but it is a more thought provoking book and I imagine that was Pratchett's intention.  It certainly challenges easy assumptions about racial differences and antagonism by exploring them in a fantasy world.  Something that not a great deal of even humorless fantasy addresses, rather portraying a clear good vs. evil approach, rather than the multiple shades of grey seen here.  It is a book worthwhile reading, but be prepared for it to differ from other books in the series.