Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not the Universe We Know and Love

In my last post reviewing a Terry Pratchett novel, I said that, although I really like his books, there's not much to choose between them.  He's a master of comic sci-fi, satirizing our world with just the right amount of absurdity thrown in, poker-facedly masterminding creation of the utterly crazy and yet utterly realized Discworld.  That was up until his latest, Snuff.  I think every Pratchett reader (in fact, I think I'll go check now - well I couldn't find it offhand, but I'd be shocked if it isn't there - nope, checked GoodReads, always plenty of people who share my feelings :)) must be saying, what happened?! The truth is, I think I know what happened, and it's kind of (actually really) sad - Terry Pratchett has early-onset Alzheimers.  Now I knew this going into this book, was even kind of expecting it, so maybe that's the reason I felt this way? Maybe it's been too long since I read a TP and my expectations got too high, or my tastes changed? There were probably elements of that, but this was not all in my head.  Snuff was just not up to par, not in the writing, not in the humor, not in the plot, and not even in the characters.

Let's start with the plot.  Now that's the one I care about least, of course, but I was waiting from about 1/3 of the way in for this book to be over.  There was overdramatic foreshadowing all over the place, but the actual movement... well it just felt like something out of an amateur thriller's playbook.  There's always some action in the Discworld, but it's never enough to distract me from the humor and the fun bits.  But I guess in this case, there just weren't many of either not to be distracted from.  The predominance of scatological and that other inappropriate kind of humor was disappointing enough.  The lack of subtly in the writing and the clumsiness of the occasional bits of Pratchett wisdom seem to suggest that Pratchett is trying, but can't hit his stride - or even manage a steady jog.  I hope it's not his brain, it could be just a temporary slump, but this is not the Pratchett I know and love.

But it's not just the the pale imitation of TP's usual style - I don't think I have read a Discworld novel yet that is so completely unfun.  It's almost as if Pratchett wants to write, besides a more thriller-esque tale than usual, a philosophical tome of sorts.  The central theme - sentient, non-human species are people too - is one that Discworld readers are eminently familiar with.  I hadn't remembered that the last book featured a creature known as the orc, but was reminded of it by someone's GoodReads review. Then there's the dwarves, the vampires, the trolls, the golems even... yes, we are all worthy of respect and common decency.  So why do we need another book pounding - and I mean pounding - it into our heads? Add to that Sam Vimes always present anxieties about class and how unfair it all is... and don't forget his crisis of conscience about his darker side and whether he lets it take over... and what you get is one heavy hunk of reading material.  Sam himself alternates between internal monologues stressing about the above issues and being supposedly supercool and tough-as-nails - but even that, the classic Vimesian grace under fire and inimitable ability to carry the day, seems mostly forced.

So overall, it's what have you done with the real Discworld? When we can we have our absurd and crude, yet sprightly alive universe of awesome dudes (Vimes and Vetinari, go Vs! :) and over-the-top something-other-than-dudes (can you say Nobby Nobbs? :)) Let's hope it's with the next book, though I don't hold out much hope of that.  I guess I can just go back and read the ones I skipped, or just reread them all.

Verdict: 2/5

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