Discworld marathon blog...

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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 3:51 am

Okay, first, my review of Unseen Academicals...

REVIEW: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett


I am, amongst other things, a Discworld fan. I enjoy Terry Pratchett's comical fantasy series, and now I have been buying the novels as they are released, starting from Making Money. But after ordering Unseen Academicals, I didn't get around to finishing it until now, possibly because the story wasn't as engaging as usual. This was something of a mistake. While not as good as recent Discworld books, once it gets going, Unseen Academicals is very good...

The wizards of Unseen University have a problem: if they do not play a game of football very soon, they will lose a bequest that funds their large and extremely vital meal budget. And no sensible wizard will stand for only three meals a day. While the wizards and Ankh-Morpork's ruler Lord Vetinari plan on civilising football (a tough task given the mob who don't want football to be civilised), Unseen University's staff are having dramas of their own. Trevor Likely, the son of a famous footballer, and Juliet, the good-natured, beautiful, but airheaded supporter of another team, find themselves, despite all odds, falling for each other, much to the chagrin of Juliet's friend and supporter, as well as extremely good cook, Glenda. And these three must work to unravel the mystery of Mr Nutt, a very erudite and good-natured goblin (or is he something worse?) whose past is about to come back to haunt him in a very big way.

Unseen Academicals takes quite a lot of time to gather momentum, especially when compared to my favourite Discworld novels, Going Postal and Making Money. Which is a pity, because once it gets going, it is like a bloody train, with very little way of stopping it. Seeing below-stairs life in Unseen University is, admittedly, interesting, given how little we know about who actually keeps the university going, although we have seen how the wizards interact. We even have some change, with some characters having moved on, albeit elsewhere in the Discworld.

The character of Juliet is irritating, although the fact that she is still good natured and sweet compared to similar 'dumb blonde' characters in previous Discworld novels redeems her somewhat. Glenda is more interesting, although at first too abrasive for my liking. Trevor Likely is funny in a cheeky Cockney lad kind of way, but it is Mr Nutt who is most interesting, especially given the revelations about his true heritage. Let us just say that it will turn most preconceptions about a certain fantastic race on its head. Characters from previous books like Lord Vetinari (who actually gets drunk, believe it or not, and the results, while what you'd expect from Vetinari, have to be seen to be believed), Archchancellor Ridcully, and Ponder Stibbons are on fine form. So is Rincewind, although he is mostly in the background.

I have to say, though, that the two main supernatural (or at least the two new main supernatural) elements of the story fall down flat. It will be hard to speak of them without uttering spoilers, but I think Pratchett could have cut them out, and the story might have been no worse, maybe even better for it. The same could be said about the fashion show subplot, but it is not so much superficial as much as irritating, although there is a very satisfying resolution.

While slow to begin and having a few hiccups along the way, Unseen Academicals is still a good example of Terry Pratchett's work. This book goes to show that his troubles in real life have not affected his gift for telling a good story.


8.5/10

First words: It was midnight in Ankh-Morpork's Royal Art Museum.

Last words: It is now!
Last edited by Quatermass on Sun Mar 27, 2011 3:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 3:54 am

And now, I Shall Wear Midnight...

REVIEW: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

While I enjoy the Discworld novels, I do have particular favourites in terms of the various story arcs. I like the stories that involve Death and his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit, the Wizards of Unseen University, Rincewind, and the con artist Moist Von Lipwig. But my least favourite were the Witches stories. The first set focus on the 'coven' in Lancre, with Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick, later to be replaced (though not forgotten) by Agnes Nitt. The second, most recent set, is about young witch Tiffany Aching, which, while enjoyable, are still not as enjoyable as other Discworld novels. But then, the fourth, and possibly final Tiffany Aching story, I Shall Wear Midnight, came along. And not only is it the best Aching story of all, but one of the best of the series, and that is saying something.

Tiffany Aching is the local witch of the Chalk, a small country area on the Sto Plains, and having finished her schooling in witchcraft, she is now responsible for looking after the people of the Chalk. But for a fifteen-year old witch, who is supposed to use more common sense and know-how than magic, it is becoming tiring. And it is about to become a whole lot worse, for an evil entity is turning the people of the Discworld against witches, making them think that witches are not to be trusted, that they should be exterminated. With friends turning into enemies, and her allies, the rowdy Nac Mac Feegle, not helping matters, Tiffany has to find out how she is going to beat the might of the Cunning Man, before he wreaks havoc on the Discworld.

Although this is a Discworld book meant for teenagers, it should be noted that very early on, we are made to understand that this is a dark book. How dark? Well, the first few chapters involves a 13-year old girl miscarrying after being beaten by her father, who is later in danger of being lynched, and tries to hang himself. And then, Tiffany is subject to paranoia and suspicion for being a witch, all of which culminates in the horrific appearance of the Cunning Man, who is one of the Discworld's most frightening supernatural villains.

And yet, such is Pratchett's skill as a writer, even in what could very well be the end of his career given his Alzheimer's, that it is never questioned as to its value in the story. It is to show that Tiffany's life as a witch is not always a happy one, and life is not always as simple and clean as some would believe.

Fans of the Discworld series in general will be glad to note a few cameos from much-loved characters, but two in particular stand out. Wee Mad Arthur, supposed gnome member of the City Watch, is, of course, revealed to be a rather unconventional Nac Mac Feegle (think Pictish warriors a couple of inches tall and able to fight off a grown human), as some fans suspected, but an interesting cameo is that of Eskarina 'Esk' Smith, the female wizard unseen since the events of Equal Rites. And yes, she plays a vital role in the story.

Tiffany Aching also seems to have come into her own. While the events of this novel are, to a degree, her fault, unlike the last couple of books, it isn't due to any naivete or lack of knowledge. The only reason why the events are her fault is hinted to be an unforeseen result of the events of the previous Tiffany Aching novel, Wintersmith. Tiffany has always been a mature and thoughtful girl, occasional stuff-ups notwithstanding, but here, with few exceptions, she truly acts like an adult.

I'll be honest. I cannot find anything truly at fault with I Shall Wear Midnight, except, perhaps, the glossing over of the later fate of Mr Petty and his daughter, Amber, the aforementioned father and daughter, although this might have been due to my style of reading. While not as complex a story as your average Discworld novel, it is still an engaging one, and as I said, I cannot find any fault in it at all.

So, if you're a Discworld fan, or new to the series, get a copy. Read it. And bask in the light of damn good reading.


10/10

First words: Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much?

Last words: And Tiffany said, 'Listen'
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Postby poohcarrot » Sun Mar 27, 2011 6:09 am

Wee Free Men 9
I Shall Wear Midnight 8
Hatful of Sky 8
Wintersmith 7
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Postby Tonyblack » Sun Mar 27, 2011 7:25 am

Q, would you really recommend I Shall Wear Midnight to a complete newcomer to Discworld? :? I've read them in order so I find it hard to imagine starting at the end of what is and actual series. The Tiffany books are much more of a progression than just about any of the others.

Still, it was interesting to read your comments. :) Have you read these two books more than once? You might want to consider rereading them in the course of your marathon and redoing the reviews for these two in light of the sequential reading.

Just a thought. :D
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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:08 am

Tonyblack wrote:Q, would you really recommend I Shall Wear Midnight to a complete newcomer to Discworld? :? I've read them in order so I find it hard to imagine starting at the end of what is and actual series. The Tiffany books are much more of a progression than just about any of the others.

Still, it was interesting to read your comments. :) Have you read these two books more than once? You might want to consider rereading them in the course of your marathon and redoing the reviews for these two in light of the sequential reading.

Just a thought. :D


Maybe, because many of the books, continuity aside, can be picked up and read out of sequence. I'd certainly recommend a newcomer to the series to read Reaper Man...

I'll consider re-reading them (no, I have only read these two books once), but for the moment, they are disqualified.

The weekly time limit only qualifies once I start and finish The Colour of Magic. Sooo....yeah.
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Postby LilMaibe » Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:09 am

Tonyblack wrote:Still, it was interesting to read your comments. :) Have you read these two books more than once? You might want to consider rereading them in the course of your marathon and redoing the reviews for these two in light of the sequential reading.


I agree with Tony here.

And as to justify my 'Boo' :

In comparsion to the other books, especially those featuring the wizards, UA falls flat and certainly doesn't deserve a rating above average.
Why?
First off:
The book is too stuffed. There are several plotthreads, some of which don't get fully resolved or are just there as, well, so not every solution in the story comes off as deus ex machina.
Take the whole micromail business for example. What at first glance appears to be a mocking of fashion-industries is in the end just there so the joke that worked better way back in Guard!Guards! can be brought up again.
Then there are the new characters. I would have never thought Pratchett would or could write a character as boring...no, not onlly boring, boring and obnoxious, as the orc.
The Problem is, or one problem, that the orcs don't have a backstory on the disc, so the reader has no sense of danger. And when it is finally revealed the whole -we don't mind you if you stay out of our business- mentality gets sorta ridiculous.
Why? Well, we are told in the book orcs are over evil killing machines. yet all it, basically keeps the orc in question from facing the angry mob is what...colourful candles. (I think this was the point where the book hit the corner the third or fourth time. Yes, UA is the FIRST discworld book i threw into the corner in frustration)
That Death spares him before dosn't help it.
The next thing is the, assumed, mainplot:
When I saw the cover and read the blurp I was actually excited. I think I'm not the only one who thought the book would be about football getting INTRODUCED as a fully fledged sport to AM instead of just something that is played occassionally.
Instead we got what we got. Okay, given, I'm german, I have a similar yet completely different look at the game than people from the Isle (I tihnk it's something genetically ...) but heck, it was so disappointing. (Not to metion the cover is deceiving. I've been looking forward seeing Vetinari as referee)
Aother thing are the various continuity errors that can't even be blamed on the history monks.
And then there were 'facts' thrown at the reader that came out of nowhere (trollcabs, i.e)
All in all I can say, IMHO, the book was too stuffed, had too many errors and was plain disappointing.

Only highlight?

The thing about Pex, as it does open a path for some neat plots.

Keep in mind this is all my personal opinion on the book.
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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:21 am

LilMaibe wrote:
Tonyblack wrote:Still, it was interesting to read your comments. :) Have you read these two books more than once? You might want to consider rereading them in the course of your marathon and redoing the reviews for these two in light of the sequential reading.


I agree with Tony here.

And as to justify my 'Boo' :

In comparsion to the other books, especially those featuring the wizards, UA falls flat and certainly doesn't deserve a rating above average.
Why?
First off:
The book is too stuffed. There are several plotthreads, some of which don't get fully resolved or are just there as, well, so not every solution in the story comes off as deus ex machina.
Take the whole micromail business for example. What at first glance appears to be a mocking of fashion-industries is in the end just there so the joke that worked better way back in Guard!Guards! can be brought up again.
Then there are the new characters. I would have never thought Pratchett would or could write a character as boring...no, not onlly boring, boring and obnoxious, as the orc.
The Problem is, or one problem, that the orcs don't have a backstory on the disc, so the reader has no sense of danger. And when it is finally revealed the whole -we don't mind you if you stay out of our business- mentality gets sorta ridiculous.
Why? Well, we are told in the book orcs are over evil killing machines. yet all it, basically keeps the orc in question from facing the angry mob is what...colourful candles. (I think this was the point where the book hit the corner the third or fourth time. Yes, UA is the FIRST discworld book i threw into the corner in frustration)
That Death spares him before dosn't help it.
The next thing is the, assumed, mainplot:
When I saw the cover and read the blurp I was actually excited. I think I'm not the only one who thought the book would be about football getting INTRODUCED as a fully fledged sport to AM instead of just something that is played occassionally.
Instead we got what we got. Okay, given, I'm german, I have a similar yet completely different look at the game than people from the Isle (I tihnk it's something genetically ...) but heck, it was so disappointing. (Not to metion the cover is deceiving. I've been looking forward seeing Vetinari as referee)
Aother thing are the various continuity errors that can't even be blamed on the history monks.
And then there were 'facts' thrown at the reader that came out of nowhere (trollcabs, i.e)
All in all I can say, IMHO, the book was too stuffed, had too many errors and was plain disappointing.

Only highlight?

The thing about Pex, as it does open a path for some neat plots.

Keep in mind this is all my personal opinion on the book.


Okay. That's good analysis, even if I disagree. :)

And I thought that you thought that I gave Unseen Academicals too low a rating. :shock:
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Postby Tonyblack » Sun Mar 27, 2011 8:46 am

UA is, I thought, a better book than it first appears. I was horrified by it on the first reading. Part of the problem, as LilMaibe points out, is there is too much going on. There are too many separate threads that don't quite come together. There are so many interesting ideas that it's kind of difficult to get your head around them all. I felt, on the first reading, almost as if Terry had got all the ideas he'd left out of other books and stuck them in this one with a bit of dialogue to hold them all together.

However - on the second reading, it all made much more sense and, for me at least, it worked much better. I still think it has too many ideas and too many separate character threads, but it works better as a story than I first thought (and it's heaps better than Making Money). :D
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Postby DaveC » Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:11 am

I don't understand the rating system, if I am rating a film, any film:

* is really bad
** is ok
*** is good/average
****is really good
***** is perfect

double that for marks out of ten.

Most DW books for me would be in the ****/***** but of the whole of literature, *** is the average or 5 if it's out of ten
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Postby poohcarrot » Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:25 am

That's because you are using a statistically approved Likert scale where there is a central figure denoting a neutral level, neither good nor bad. 8)

Q, on the other hand, is using his own scale and since he is using halves as well, this implies there are 21 different values he can assign to a book. :lol:
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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:49 am

poohcarrot wrote:That's because you are using a statistically approved Likert scale where there is a central figure denoting a neutral level, neither good nor bad. 8)

Q, on the other hand, is using his own scale and since he is using halves as well, this implies there are 21 different values he can assign to a book. :lol:


I'm not sure I've ever assigned a book any score lower than 4 to a book. But I've assigned it to Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Those were chores to get through. Alice in Wonderland gave me a headache. Oh, and Beowulf. The rating is based on entertainment value, with 7.5 being the meridian. Keep in mind that not all books that I have read have gotten this rating, only ones that I did for book-reading (and review) blogs elsewhere.

Atlas Shrugged would get a 3. Barely.

Screw the statistically approved method. I go with my gut. :twisted: You got problems? I got a meson disrupter. And it is for the best to keep your mesons undisrupted. :twisted:

BTW, out of the books that I have read for these book-reading blogs, only 6 got 10/10. They were:

I Shall Wear Midnight

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Doctor Who: The Ancestor Cell

Doctor Who: The Quantum Archangel

The Shining

Monster
: Volume 4
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Postby LilMaibe » Sun Mar 27, 2011 12:30 pm

Tonyblack wrote: (and it's heaps better than Making Money). :D


Tried rereading MM again...it's still not making sense (starting once the plotdevice paraphernalia is introduced)
Might go and give UA a second chance once my brother comes to visit (send him my copy, not willing to buy a new one)
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Postby Dotsie » Sun Mar 27, 2011 5:47 pm

Quatermass wrote:I'm not sure I've ever assigned a book any score lower than 4 to a book.


For an entirely new experience then, you should Victoria Hislop's The Island (you really shouldn't), or Masha Hamilton's The Camel Bookmobile. Both dross, but then they were reading group books, so someone thought they were good enough to suggest. They got almost universally slated though.
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Postby Quatermass » Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:05 pm

Dotsie wrote:
Quatermass wrote:I'm not sure I've ever assigned a book any score lower than 4 to a book.


For an entirely new experience then, you should Victoria Hislop's The Island (you really shouldn't), or Masha Hamilton's The Camel Bookmobile. Both dross, but then they were reading group books, so someone thought they were good enough to suggest. They got almost universally slated though.


Believe me, you haven't read sh**y books until you've read Atlas Shrugged. Even Twilight was more entertaining than it...
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Postby LilMaibe » Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:13 am

Oh, i know something worse then Atlas Shrugged: A 'novel' abou the god Loki from norse Mythology. It's so bad, it's horrible...downright horrible.
Another mindboggler is -tooth and claw- by (i think) jo walton. It's not bad per se, but once you realized that it actually is a pseudo-historical cheesy romance novel like you can get at every trainstation you feel your leg getting pulled
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