Category Archives: Discworld stories

Time moves on, even on the Discworld

Review: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

A keeper? Definitely

Of course, sometimes time on the Discworld moves backwards. Or sideways. Or does a loop-the-loop.

We first met Sam Vimes, back in Guards! Guards!, when he was in charge of the last guttering remnant of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch. By the end of that story, the usual shreds of order had been restored, and Sam had met his Sybil, otherwise known as Lady Rankin.

It’s been a few years. Watchmen of all shapes and sizes, from Buggy Squires the gnome to Detritus the troll who uses a siege crossbow as a hand weapon, patrol the streets. Lord Vetinari, who could give Machiavelli a few helpful tips, rules by keeping all the city’s factions thisfar from one another’s throats. And Sybil Vimes is the Duchess of Ankh-Morpork; that goes with being married to the very reluctant Duke.

Vimes is still a cop, though – first, last, and all the time – and he’s not about to miss chasing a crazed mass murderer across the rooftops just because he’s got a pile of administrative paperwork. He almost has Carcer the monster in his grip when they both plummet through a skylight into the dangerously magical Library. And time skids.

Once upon a time, Sam Vimes was a wet-behind-the-ears rookie. Once upon a time, Vetinari was a dangerously devious teenager. Once upon a time, Mrs. Rosie Palm, the well-known employer of, er, seamstresses (hem, hem) was young and pretty. Once upon a time, everything was on the brink of going disastrously wrong. Can the grown-up version of Vimes cajole, bully, and inspire history into going the way it ought to turn out, and get back to his Sybil before their son is born? Does the lilac bloom in spring?

Who WILL guard the guards? (Terry Pratchett challenge)

Review: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

A keeper? Oh my yes

In a fantasy story, there are certain things you can depend on. If there’s a city, it will have a Town Watch. And if there’s a Town Watch, the guards who work for it will all be incompetent. It’s more than just a convention; it’s a trope.

And Terry Pratchett never met a trope he didn’t turn upside down and shake vigorously to see what falls out, and whether the things that fall out bounce, squirm away, or sizzle quietly while melting a hole in the floor.

Guards! Guards! is one of his many romps through the great and appalling city of Ankh-Morpork – one of his early books, while he was inventing the various sub-series that make up the Discworld stories. (For those who haven’t read Pratchett – and oh what a treat you have waiting for you – most of his books are set on the Discworld. This is a flat world (as in non-spherical; it has plenty of mountains) which rests on the backs of four elephants who all stand on the back of a giant turtle that swims slowly through space. All around the Disc, the encircling ocean pours over the edge in the universe’s biggest waterfall.)

In a place like that, it’s only reasonable for magic to work. But even the Discworld isn’t magical enough to make a Noble Dragon – or, as Captain Vimes of the Night Watch puts it, “a bloody flying alligator setting fire to my city!” – plausible. Unfortunately, the dragon doesn’t care if it’s unbelievable. It just wants power and gold and lots and lots of destruction. Before long, the Patrician – the absolute ruler of Ankh-Morpork – is locked away in the dungeons he designed himself (from inside, he can hold off the world). Worse, the city has a new king, the first one in centuries, as big as a barn equipped with wings, and scales, and fire ducts somewhere way back in its nostrils. Even worse, the Librarian from Unseen University – the college of wizards – is on a rampage because somebody stole a book and because people keep calling him a monkey. Which he isn’t – he’s a full grown orangutan, thankyouverymuch.

And there’s nobody to save the city except the Night Watchmen: Captain Vimes, who has spent years emptying liquor bottles (though once the dragon turns up, he stops drinking; he doesn’t have time). Sergeant Colon, a very big man very dedicated to keeping his life peaceful, no matter how hard it is to keep from noticing crimes. Corporal Nobby Nobbs – it’s not quite clear that Nobby qualifies as human, but no other species would take him. And the newest recruit, supernaturally naive Lance-constable Carrot the six-foot-tall dwarf. (Well, dwarf by adoption.) Even with the help of Lady Sybil Rankin, probably the richest woman in the city and utterly devoted to raising little swamp dragons until they explode, will the Watch be up to the job?

Of course it will, with a little help from cunning cynicism, fanatical honesty, and True Love.

A twofer for Third Sentence Thursday

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

p. 113: “It’d burn its own lips off!”

Captain Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch is a sensible man (even if he does tend to dive headfirst into the nearest bottle of liquor). He doesn’t believe in big threatening dragons, because they just wouldn’t work. So when he sees one with his own eyes, breathing a huge blast of fire in classic dragon style, his instinctive reaction is “it can’t do something like that! It’d burn its own lips off!”

Then Vimes realizes that whether the dragon is possible or not, it’s a threat to his city. And he gets mad.

You wouldn’t like Sam Vimes when he’s mad, but you’d enjoy reading about him.

A Forest of Kings by Linda Schele and David Freidel

p. 282: “Lady Eveningstar moved to take the position on Shield-Jaguar’s left, but before she could mount the bench, Lady Xoc entered and usurped that position for herself.”

Or, power politics among the ancient Maya, about 1300 years ago. (Think Game of Thrones with tropical climate, amazing ornate art, and religious bloodletting.)

A Forest of Kings tries, fairly successfully, to be several kinds of books at once: archaelogical study, art history, and history-history, with little scenes from time to time of how things could have happened (and, from the information we have now that Maya writing can be read again, how they probably did happen).

The sentence above comes from one of those vignettes – in other words, it’s historical fiction, almost; but very close to fact. We know definitely that Lady Eveningstar (a low-ranking wife of the previous king) was Shield-Jaguar’s mother. But Lady Xoc, his father’s main wife, tried hard to stop him from inheriting the throne – much like a classic fairy-tale evil stepmother. Only real.

One world. Four elephants. And a turtle.

You got a problem with that?

Time to sign up for the Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge. Because I don’t have any problem at all with the bit of cosmology in the post title.

This challenge doesn’t ask for a list of books, so for once I won’t give one. But I think I’ll start with the couple of books I haven’t read yet – I think they’re all Sam Vimes stories, for some reason. If I have time, I’ll indulge in some of the standalones that I haven’t re-read for a long time, like Moving Pictures and Pyramids.

Mmm, Pratchett.