Saturday, November 12, 2011
Hector is possibly the paragon of ideal Western Man: father and husband, diplomat and warrior. He defends his home and his snotty brother Paris (who I would have cheerfully handed over to Menelaus, but I digress), even though this leads to a grim and glorious death. Not an easy example to live up to, but being a man isn't easy, and being perfect is impossible.
Which brings me to Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch of Ankh-Morpork and protagonist of Sir Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel Snuff. Sam is just a copper, through and through, a good man working in a world that is at best bloody complicated and at worst deadly and cruel. In Snuff, Sam's wife Sybil has insisted he take a holiday, and they head off into the countryside to Sybil's ancestral home Crundells. The holiday begins well enough, as Sam gets to know the countryside, taking Young Sam, his six year old son, out for fresh air and edifying nature activities, like studying animal poo (no, really). But something stinks in the country, beyond the poo, and soon enough, Sam has a murder on his hands. I'll leave the plot summary here. Suffice it to say, murder is only the start, and once again Sam finds himself attempting to obey that most demanding of mistresses, the Law (and also keep his wife happy).
I've you've never read a Discworld book, friend, you are in for a treat. Pratchett is one of the most gifted storytellers around. To some, stories of the Discworld are mere fantasy, fun genre fiction to read on a holiday and forget when you return. Those people are missing out. Yes, Discworld books are really fun, often side-splittingly funny -- Pratchett is an inveterate punster. They plots are quick and entertaining. But within the jokes and within the action, Pratchett's story often comment on some aspect of modern life, gently prodding readers to take a closer look at big issues like undocumented workers and exploitative business practices (Snuff), war (Jingo), pop culture (Moving Pictures, Soul Music and others), education (Equal Rites) soccer (Unseen Academicals) and commerce (Making Money). The stories aren't preachy -- Pratchett will always make a poo joke when the opportunity presents itself -- but they are complex, moving, funny and above all, they are fantastic.
My favorite characters are Commander Vimes and the City Watch, with young witch Tiffany Aching a close second (start with The Wee Free Men, which includes a hilarious send-up of Braveheart). There are currently 39 Discworld books, beginning with The Colour of Magic, but feel free to start anywhere. I started with Jingo, a meditation on war that is sadly pertinent today (although the book is really funny). Sick of Twilight and its ilk? Read Carpe Jugulum. But do yourself a favor, really, and read them all.
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