Now that National Novel Writing Month has officially kicked off, I thought it might be nice to take a look at a novel that started out as a NaNoWriMo project and later became an international bestseller. In 2011 Erin Morgenstern wrote in her NaNo pep talk:
The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: when in doubt, just add ninjas. I had this plodding, Edward Gorey-esque thing with mysterious figures in fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. I got tremendously bored with it because nothing was happening so I sent the otherwise boring characters to a circus. And it worked. I ended up tossing that beginning and focusing purely on the circus. An imaginary location I created out of desperation expanded and changed and became its own story over many non-November months of revisions and more revisions and now it is all grown-up and book-shaped and published and bestselling. And it all started with NaNoWriMo.
Brilliant. Bring on the metaphorical ninjas! Read more
Gone With The Wind poster.
As a relatively new Discworld fan, I am still getting to know Pratchett’s world and the way the series operates, but after nine books I can say that I have noticed a recurring theme: Pratchett loves to take an invention/development from our own world and introduce it to the Discworld, often with hilarious results that reflect our own response back to us. Sometimes these books tie in wonderfully with the overarching plot of its respective subseries (like Men At Arms – review coming soon!), but they can also be little more than amusing filler (like Soul Music – review here).
Moving Pictures falls in the second category: witty and quotable, but ultimately skippable.
Cover art by Marc Simonetti.
After Pyramids (review here), I decided to continue on the “Ancient Civilisations” path and picked up Small Gods as my next Discworld read. In this installment, we follow the formerly great god Om as he and his prophet Brutha as they battle zealotry, discuss the nature of belief, and try to restore Om to his former glory. As a classics nerd with an interest in philosophy and mythology, watching Pratchett throw around references to Archimides, Diogenes, and the Library of Alexandria is a ton of fun as well as a great challenge; every time I could whisper “I see what you did there Pratchett” to my book, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. See that Marcus Aurelius joke there? I caught that! Go me!
However, there is a lot more to this book than Horrible Histories-worthy slapstick. Like all Discworld books, Small Gods has a fundamental question at its core, only barely covered up by a layer of jokes.
Picture Credit: Desktop Nexus.
In Pyramids, the seventh book in the Discworld universe and the first in the gods/ancient civilizations subseries, Pratchett tackles ancient Egypt and the pseudoscientific “pyramid power” theory. It tells the story of a young prince-turned-assassin and the strange country of Djelibeybi (ha!), where pyramids dominate the landscape and the king is believed to be a god. Mummies come to life, deities wreak havoc, time and space are bent beyond all recognition, and Pratchett even manages to squeeze a few jabs at the ancient Greeks in there. While nothing earth-shattering, it is a solid entry in the Discworld series.
And yet, I am giving it five stars. You see, even though Pyramids is not a perfect novel, but it was the one I desperately needed to read and the reason I will be eternally grateful to Terry Pratchett.
(Warning: highly personal story ahead.)
Much like Fragile Things before it (review here), Gaiman’s third short-story collection, Trigger Warning, is a collection of bits and pieces, scraps of stories that he has collected over the years and has now thrown together into a single volume. In the introduction, Gaiman admits that this book does not play by the rules:
I firmly believe that short story collections should be the same sort of thing all the way through. They should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers. They should not, in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.
This collection fails that test.
The good news is that the quality of Trigger Warning‘s material does not vary quite as wildly as the entries in Fragile Things did. Some tales are still significantly better than others, but overall, the bar has undoubtedly been raised; it seems that Gaiman is still growing as a writer and getting better all the time, making world domination a likely prediction for, say, 2020. There are still some duds in here though, ranging from generally “meh” to deeply silly, which is why I decided this collection only three stars, like Fragile Things before it.
Still from the 2006 TV movie.
I still very much consider myself to be a newbie to Terry Pratchett’s work; I read my first Discworld book eight months ago (Mort – review here), have stuck to only one subseries (Death), and until very recently, I had never heard of Hogswatch. And yet, after only a few books, I find myself wondering how I’ve managed to do without the Discworld in my life for so long.
I finished reading Hogfather on christmas eve, fully intending to write down my thoughts on the spot and post a review on christmas day, but spent the next day or so pondering how on earth I was going to review it instead. Pointing out where a writer went wrong is one thing, but what do you say about a book that instantly feels like a classic and has managed to capture the holiday spirit in a way that is all too rare?
In Soul Music, rock ‘n roll comes to the Discworld (or, rather, Music With Rocks In) and brings absolute chaos with it. The Dean of the Unseen University paints his room black and makes his own leather jacket with “Born To Rune” on the back, music literally becomes Imp the bard’s life, and a mysterious shop suddenly appears in Ankh-Morpork (and the second it does it has always been there). Basically, all the quirky mayhem you would expect from a Discworld novel.
In the second installment of the Discworld‘s Death subseries, Terry Pratchett once again shows that he is a not-so-secret humanist and a philosopher. He lures you in with wizard slapstick, hits you over the head with an achingly beautiful fable, and then leaves you by the side of the road with all these overwhelming feelings about people and the cosmos. Sneaky bastard.
“Dead Like Me” still.
At last, my very first Discworld novel!
After years and years of tiptoeing around Terry Pratchett I have finally decided to take the plunge and unsurprisingly, he did not disappoint. My theory is that if you were to put Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams into a blender, the Discworld series would come pouring out (that sounded a lot better in my head, my apologies).