*Pratchett’s 39th Discworld novel (after 2010’s I Shall Wear Midnight) brings back fan favorite Sam Vimes, the cynical yet extraordinarily honorable Ankh-Morpork City Watch commander also known (if unenthusiastically) as His Grace Sir Samuel, the Duke of Ankh. Vimes faces an onerous task: two weeks off in the country at his wife’s family estate. It’s not the thought of spending time with his beloved Sybil or precocious six-year-old Young Sam that bothers him; it’s just that a copper can’t stop being a copper. Fortunately, even in this conservative hamlet, there’s plenty of skullduggery to investigate, beginning with the brutal murder of a goblin girl. With the help of untried local constable Feeney Upshot and gentleman’s gentleman Willikins, Vimes takes on a fiendish murderer as well as the case for (in)human rights and social justice in this lively outing, complete with sly shout-outs to Jane Austen and gritty police procedurals. Publishers Weekly
Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch and reluctant Duke of Ankh, has faced down trolls, vampires, and the implacable politics of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari. But in Pratchett’s newest Discworld (Unseen Academicals) novel, Sam is forced to do something he swore he would never do: take a vacation. At the insistence of his wife, Lady Sibyl, Sam is dragged to her family’s country estate, far from the familiar crime and pollution of his beloved Ankh-Morpork. But the country is far from idyllic. Sam’s instincts quickly send him on the trail of something rotten among the posh and elite. The Duke of Ankh may have been sent to the county for rest and relaxation, but perhaps the Commander of the City Watch was sent for justice. VERDICT Series followers will delight in this latest entry as it offers them a chance to catch up with Pratchett’s recurring protagonist while enjoying a tight, fast-paced take on the traditional police procedural novel. As often happens, Pratchett’s fun, irreverent-seeming story line masks a larger discussion of social inequalities and the courage it takes to stand up for the voiceless. Jennifer Beach, Cumberland Cty. P.L., VA in Library Journal
Imagine a universe much like this one—there is a world, there are turtles, and even a sprinkling of elephants. Now imagine four of those elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle balancing a flat disc atop their backs. Welcome to Discworld, a cosmos that is undoubtedly familiar, yet so distinct as to tickle the very edges of the imagination; a cosmos that is the fantastically elaborate and massively successful brainchild of English author Sir Terry Pratchett.
Those familiar with the Discworld series have a penchant for comic fantasy, sparkling wit, and a desire to lock many of the greatest authors in the world in the same room just to see what will happen (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, and H.P. Lovecraft to name a few). Because of the format of the novels, most of the books are accessible at any point in the somewhat chronological history of Discworld’s biggest city, Ankh-Morpork.
That said, there is all the more reason to anticipate the 39th installment of Pratchett’s Discworld. Snuff will center on Sam Vimes: a (generally) straight-laced Commander of Ankh-Morpork’s Watch, an equivalent of the police force. Finally able to go on holiday with his wife, Vimes soon learns that crime never takes a day off. Bodies seem to always follow a man of the Watch (and not necessarily live ones) so the dutiful Vimes sets out to crack the case… and find more bacon sandwiches.
Get ready for the (39th) adventure of your lifetime this October 11th by packing lightly—pack so lightly that don’t even bother bringing a map. After all, as Pratchett states, “you can’t map a sense of humor.”
Jennifer Obloy, in San Francisco Examiner
Pratchett’s incomparable sense of humor, his love for humanity – and on Discworld, I’m using that word loosely – in spite of its flaws, and his brilliant use of language are just a few of the reasons that Pratchett, his novels, and his unforgettable characters are the objects of great devotion by his many fans. In Snuff, Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, takes a vacation in the country, far outside his comfort zone, with his wife Sybil and Young Sam. Anywhere Vimes goes, mayhem is sure to follow. Vimes discovers something deeply wrong in the countryside surrounding Ramkin Hall, and when someone tries to frame him for murder, he knows he’s on the right track to catching those responsible. I loved Snuff! Carol Schneck, in www.goodreads.com
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m not quite sure why I consider it a guilty one, by the way, other than the fact that occasionally I feel self-conscious about reading books dealing with life on a world riding across the cosmos as it rests upon on the back of the great space turtle A’Tuin. Oh, and I’m doing it while no longer in my 20s or 30s.
Having said that, my infatuation with this series has gone hot and cold numerous times. From the beginning Pratchett was smart and dead perfect in taking the piss out of the fantasy genre while still being incredibly true to the very best said genre has to offer. Somewhere after a dozen books, though, the stories seemed to go flat for me and I lost interest in the denizens of Pratchett’s imagination.
Luckily for me, Pratchett must have realized this as he’s managed to not only right ship and make the last 10 books in the series fun but also some of the best written fantasy slash humor novels being put out anywhere.
Snuff, the upcoming Discworld novel (his 38th) not only keeps up the revival but might just be my favorite book of Pratchett’s in quite some time. It’s certainly my favorite within the last 25 in the series.
Snuff focuses on Commander Sam Vines of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch as he takes a vacation at the ::cough:: insistence of his wife. As this is a Pratchett book, after all, the vacation goes nothing like what was planned and we are faced with mayhem, murder, mystery and amazingly musical goblins (don’t ask).
While I may just be singing the praises of this book due to the fact that I love Pratchett’s writing so and I want to share it with the world of Blogcritics, let me assure you that I am not lying about how masterful the writing is in this book. Judging by the work alone you would never know that this was written by someone dealing a personal battle against early Alzheimer’s.
Strong, clear and deftly economical in approach (doubtless few others would be as clear-eyed in knowing the grammatical moment for appropriate placement of a fart joke during a raging battle on the water where wind and rain threaten to tear everything apart), I can only hope that the next 38 Discworld books are even half as entertaining as this one.
Snuff is a very solid entry into the Discworld oeuvre and if you are a fan at all (or not at all, really) it should not be missed. Michael Jones, in www.blogcritics.org
The countryside may hold bucolic charms for some, but not for Sam Vines, who is much more at home in the fetid crowds of Ankh-Morpork. But although he may have risen to eminence as chief of the Ankh-Morpork police force and a reluctant member of the nobility, His Grace the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vines is, as ever, powerless to combat the will of his wife, and Lady Sibyl has ordered him to accompany her to her family estate far from his home turf.
Tormented by the countryside’s peace and quiet and baffled by the servants at Ramkin Hall, Sam soon finds a welcome distraction when he stumbles upon a murder to solve. With the help of his assassin manservant Willikins and Feeney Upshot, the local constable, plus a friendly demonic presence, Sam soon has a suspect in his sights.
But that’s just the start of his problems because this is not a straightforward murder case – the victim was a young girl goblin, and in these here parts, as Sam discovers, goblins are regarded as vermin. The persecution of the goblins is one factor, prosecution of the law another, for technically Sam is outside his jurisdiction and the local magistrates seem to have taken the law into their own hands.
Can Sam unmask the killer? Can he save the ailing Sergeant Colon, who has inadvertently acquired a tiny goblin pot which will kill him unless it can be given to a goblin maiden? Will his son, Young Sam, ever tire of his hobby and obsession, collecting and dissecting poo?
And so to the key question: is there any sign of a falling-off in Sir Terry’s extraordinary abilities? No. Not one.
This is another brilliant, bravura command performance of comic fantasy. Terry Pratchett with Alzheimer’s is still up there with PG Wodehouse. Amazing. Wonderful. Fantastic. Harry Ritchie in The Daily Mail
Pratchett’s Snuff: a rural/nautical tale of drawing-room gentility, racism, and justice
Snuff, Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel is an absolute treat, as per usual. It’s a Sam Vimes book (there are many recurring characters in the Discworld series, whose life stories intermingle, braid and diverge – Sam Vimes is an ex-alcoholic police chief who has married into nobility) and that means that it’s going to be a story about class, about law, and about justice, and the fact that Pratchett can make a serious discourse on these subjects both funny and gripping and never trivial is as neat a summary of why we love him as much as we do.
In Snuff, Sam Vimes finds himself dragged off to the countryside for a first-in-his-life holiday, and of course, the holiday only lasts about ten seconds before Vimes is embroiled in local politics, which means local crime. The genteel countryside may be sleepy and backwards, but it is also seething with secrets, with privilege for the gentry, with class resentments, and with racism.
Goblins, you see, are universally reviled, thought incapable of rationality, and loathed for their weird religious habit of retaining all their snot, hair clippings, pus, fingernails and other castoffs (except urine, crap and teeth, strangely) in beautiful handmade pots that are buried with them. Also, they’ve been known to eat their young. Is it any wonder that they’re classed as vermin in law?
Well, yes, because as Sam Vimes discovers, there’s more to the story than the stuff ‘everyone knows’ about goblins, and before you know it, he’s deep underground in a story that includes all the aforementioned, plus a small boy obsessed with learning everything there is to know about poo; a novelist who writes wildly popular icky novels for kids; a clan of corrupt magistrates who make up the law as it suits them; and a clutch of sweet maidens who need to be convinced to leave the drawing room and make their way in the wider world.
And we’re off – fights, chases, riverboats, sea-ships, kidnapping, murder, revenge, and the world below-stairs and above all come to life in a Pratchett novel that has all the things you want from Discworld: compassion, humor, smarts, and action. Thank you, Terry, for another good literary friend to join the rest on my shelf.
Cory Doctorow at 6:23 am Monday, Oct 10 in boingboing
Fantasy off the Straight and Narrow
Snuff is a Commander Vimes story, like Thud! (2005). Vimes was the disregarded chief of a useless police force until Carrot arrived, but the Night Watch has since pioneered equal opportunities by recruiting dwarfs, trolls, vampires, zombies and Sergeant Angua the werewolf, not forgetting Wee Mad Arthur, once thought to be a gnome. Vimes has grown in stature accordingly and also become something of a political spokesman.
Though an ardent small-republican, he is now married to a Lady and has been sent on an unwelcome holiday to her vast country estate. Fortunately, he soon discovers still one more intelligent species that is being discriminated against and shipped off to slavery by his fellow aristocrats. Not golems (that was Feet of Clay, 1996) and not orcs (that was Unseen Academicals, 2009) but goblins. Vimes is on the trail.
The great thing about such a long sequence is that characters evolve and their relationships thicken, like an old-fashioned stockpot. You can keep adding new ingredients and give the whole lot a stir. In the history of comic fantasy, Mr. Pratchett has no equals for invention or for range. Those who know him will buy this for the set, and those who don’t can do no better than to buy installment No. 1, The Color of Magic (1983) and read right the way through.
Tom Shippey, in Wall Street Journal Bookself
Terry Pratchett published his first Discworld romp, The Color of Magic, in 1983, and his newest satirical fantasy, Snuff is his 39th. Bounding between a wealth of settings and scenarios, Pratchett has forged a wicked roster of heroines and heroes, including several members of ‘the occult community’ and Sam Vimes, a policeman who has risen from the slums of Ankh-Morpork to a dukedom without ditching his street smarts.
As they do their best to extricate themselves (and sometimes the entire multiverse) from disaster, Pratchett’s players offer up droll takes on matters both serious and absurd. In Snuff, for example, Vimes can acknowledge the bravery of a braying ‘fierce old warhorse’ while remaining aware that ‘this would have been absolutely tickety-boo were it not for the suicides of those poor fools who followed him into battle.’
Vimes has long been Pratchett’s chief voice of reason (and rage), and Ankh-Morpork’s second in command has his hands full. How could he not when this melting pot’s minorities include combustible dwarfs and trolls as well as ‘the differently alive’ — zombies, say, or the odd golem? Then there are the complications of assimilating female werewolves, dwarfs and vampires into a crime-fighting unit that’s ‘egotesticle’ by nature.
As the number of Discworld novels reached the mid-30s, readers could see no end of such moments, and Making Money, published in 2007, found Pratchett in fine, rude form. It may not have featured enough Vimes for some, but it offered scads of whip-cracking observations, clever wordplay and irresistible banter. No one, then, could have expected the announcement Pratchett made three months later: that at 60, he was suffering from a rare variant of Alzheimer’s. Since then, the author has been open about his condition and fierce about his desire to die ‘before the endgame looms.’ He also has continued to surpass readers’ expectations.
A full-on Vimes vehicle, Snuff begins with a shock as our hero is chucked out of his office. Happily, this is only a matter of a two-week stay at his wife Sybil’s stately home. Unhappily, he loathes the countryside.
If only some crime would crop up amid all the ‘allegedly glorious fresh air.’ There’s certainly enough suspicious behavior around, and yokels and aristos alike get noticeably shifty every time the conversation swings around to goblins. Foul-looking and worse-smelling, these creatures have an off-putting religion ‘founded on the sanctity of bodily secretions’ and are resigned, their only champion laments, ‘to undeserved and casual death.’
One such murder leads Vimes to uncover a vast, twisty conspiracy. As he tries to bring the villains to justice, Snuff daringly links the demonization of goblins to two of the worst crimes in human history: slavery and the Holocaust. Some might be offended, but Pratchett doesn’t make such connections lightly. His first Discworld book may have been a frolic, but his magic has long since been set in strong moral mortar. Kerry Fried, in The Washington Post
No Country for Old Vimes
If you’ve read Terry Pratchett’s books before, then all you need to know about Snuff, the thirty-ninth Discworld book, is that it’s the next Sam Vimes novel, it is about as good as the last Vimes book, Thud (2005), and if you liked Thud, you’ll like Snuff.
If you haven’t read any books in the long running fantasy/satire series before, then you should know that Snuff is an entertaining parody of Agatha Christie-esque mysteries, set in a world where the oppressed underclass are in fact goblins. Series mainstay Samuel Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has been forced to take a vacation in the country and stumbles on a conspiracy of smugglers, slavers, and murderers.
The humor is sharp and the characters are charming, and the plight of the goblins creates moments of genuine pathos that are the highlight of the book. However, the central mystery lacks tension, and the book relies too much on audience’s previous familiarity with Vimes, which means that while I enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t recommend it as anyone’s first trip to Discworld.
That’s actually unusual for a Discworld book. Despite the long publication history and large cast of characters, almost every other Discworld book can be read as a standalone. In fact, 2009’s Unseen Academicals, a retelling of the invention of collegiate sports, and also there is an orc, featured an almost entirely new cast and could easily be read on its own, and Unseen Academicals is one of my favorite books in the whole series.
Snuff, on the other hand, is entirely about Vimes, who has risen over the course of previous books from lowly guard to Duke of the City, and must now adjust to being a noble. To understand Vimes discomfort with nobility and the countryside, one would have to have read the books that show how much Vimes identifies with the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Furthermore, Vimes picked up a demonic presence in the climactic chapters of Thud which returns, unexplained, so if nothing else you’d have to read Thud to understand what’s happening here.
That said, if you’ve read the previous Vimes books, you will enjoy Snuff. Discworld is an absurd world full of dwarfs, trolls, and wizards that act like merchants, punks, and academics, and where six inch tall men are the most feared fighters in the world. Vimes’s bafflement with country living, full of animals, and animal poop, is hilarious, as are his encounters with the local population of nobles (Jane, the budding author, who would be the family scandal if her sister Hermione wasn’t a lumberjack), peasants (Chief Constable Feeney, the only law in the shire, as long as his old mum lets him out of the house) and, um, other, (Stinky, the rebellious goblin who may be the smartest person around, or may just be crazy). Vimes’s discomfort with being suddenly respected is a source of constant humor, and may also reflect Pratchett’s own feelings of being knighted in 2009, though Pratchett celebrated that by forging a sword out of meteorites, because Terry Pratchett is a BAMF.
Beyond the trademark absurdity of the Discworld books, Snuff also contains some heartwrenching moments as it explores the world of an oppressed minority through the goblins. Treated as vermin by most of Discworld, the goblins have internalized their oppressed state through their culture and religion. Therefore, the scene where the goblins ask, not demand or beg, but simply ask, for justice for the murder of a girl becomes an act of incredible courage, and the final scene of a goblin playing a harp and changing the world is genuinely moving.
As someone who has read the previous Vimes novels, my complaint is that, while plot has never been the draw of a Discworld novel, the mystery here is particularly lacking. It’s obvious from the beginning to both Vimes and reader who (the nobles) did what (enslaved the local goblins) and why (as part of a drug smuggling ring). Even when a relentless murderer comes after Vimes and his family, it never feels like anyone’s in real danger. The most tension comes from whether Vimes will give in to the demon in his brain that allows him to see crimes in the dark but demands bloody vengeance, but in the end Vimes does what he always does, follow the law and allow other people to deliver the necessary retribution, leaving the issue of the demon unresolved.
Other than that, Snuff is a fun addition to the Discworld series that introduces interesting new characters and concepts to the already rich world. While not a stand out work, Discworld fans will be happy to have another adventure with Sam Vimes. Non-Discworld fans will have, well, something to look forward to when they start with a different book in the series. I’d suggest Guards, Guards. Steven Padnick in tor.com
Over the course of Terry Pratchett’s long career in humorous fantasy, the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork has gone through its own changes, rarely as slapstick as the titles of books like Thud! and now the equally-monosyllabic Snuff might suggest. The traditional hatreds between dwarves and trolls, werewolves and vampires, etc., don’t immediately die down when they come together in the supposed melting-pot of urban life, any more than English and Irish, or rich and poor, come to view enmity as old-hat in Victorian London. And only the most starry-eyed idealist would expect things to be better in the countryside.
Samuel Vimes, still head of the Watch despite the marriage to Lady Sybil that brought him wealth and social status as well as true love, grew up a street kid with very little patience for ideals of any kind. While his wife has lovely memories of fun outdoors, ‘‘climbing trees and swimming and fishing in the river, and picking flowers… and similarly jolly rural enterprises,’’ in his recollection, ‘‘You could fish in the River Ankh, provided that you took care not to catch anything. In fact it was amazing what you could catch by just letting one drop of the Ankh pass your lips.’’ In Snuff he is supposed to be enjoying the idleness of a family holiday on her estate, though he mistrusts leisure. But how can he put his instincts as a city cop to use amid all this unfamiliar greenery, herds of tame animals, and mysterious bursts of birdsong?
Thanks to the more adaptive nature and flaming passions of youth, his son Young Sam takes to the fields and woods almost immediately, developing a fascination with their many varieties of ‘‘poo’’ with help from a guidebook by a local lady author who keeps showing up in unexpected places, most notably a goblin cave. Unlike the urban terrorists in the Brennan novel, the goblins here are generally shy and retiring, though still loathed by humans – not just for stealing the occasional chicken but also for their reeking bodies.
Only the rare scholarly, unprejudiced human like the local authoress knows about goblins’ peculiar obsession with many of their bodily excretions and secretions, basis of a religion which requires the making of various (exquisite) containers to preserve these relics. Nonetheless, one container makes its way to Ankh-Morpork and into the life of a member of the Watch, for a subplot that will eventually tie into Vimes’s discoveries about good and evil as practiced in the Sticks. (As for the book’s title, it isn’t slang for a killing, though one plot thread does include something like mass murder.)
While not officially YA, Snuff revels in jokes about snot, poo, and pee to an extent that should delight most boys, exasperate the more finicky sort of girls, and dismay some grannies (if their last name’s not Weatherwax). But it’s all in good fun, and – along with the increasingly fast-paced, perilous adventures that sweep up Vimes once he catches the attention of a true villain – it helps keep the novel’s elements of tragedy from diverting Entertainment to the solemn service of Message. Faren Miller in Locus
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the publication of a new Terry Pratchett novel is a time for rejoicing [certainly in my universe it is, so there!]. So it is fair to say that I have been eagerly anticipating the publication of his fiftieth novel [and thirty-ninth book in his seminal Discworld series], Snuff, for a long time now. And it was well worth the wait.
I am undoubtedly biased when it comes to Terry Pratchett and his Discworld oeuvre [having first become addicted to them when I was barely into my teenage years, and now read well over forty of his novels]. But, conversely, this also makes me hyper critical, because I expect – and demand – so much from reading Pratchett’s work. And Snuff more than held up under my scrutiny, and is filled with all of the elements that have become the hallmarks of his Discworld novels – clever wordplay, ingenious worldplay, razor-sharp banter and a brilliantly realised, sprawling cast of characters.
But one character stands out [although not in terms of height!]. For this is a full-on Sam Vimes novel [in recent books in the series he has made only the occasional brief cameo – so it is a relief to see him again]. The book begins as he is ousted from his office – and from being Commander of Ankh-Morpork’s Watch. Luckily it is just for two weeks, as he has been ‘cajoled’ into taking a holiday by his inimitable wife, Lady Sybil.
There then follow some hilariously funny scenes as Vimes – an eternal city boy – struggles with the bucolic pursuits of the countryside. He visits the local pub and has a half of beetroot juice [he’s a former alcoholic]. Then he spends time exploring the country pile that belongs to Sybil’s family [which has the brilliant name of Crundell’s!]. He even accompanies Sybil to take high tea and talk about bonnets with Sybil’s friend and her five daughters – a hilarious scene in which Pratchett subverts the conventions of an Austen novel as Vimes doles out advice to the women on how to find husbands and get jobs [whilst one of the sisters, Jane, who aspires to be an author, quietly takes notes!!].
But the country life is all a bit too sedate for him, even if the locals – yokels and aristocracy alike – all seem a bit shifty every time someone mentions goblins [which happens quite a lot – the local pub is called The Goblin’s head and there’s…well, a goblin’s head nailed to the wall above the bar]. Until, that is, a body turns up – giving Vimes the chance to return to the role that he feels most comfortable with, being a copper. It leads Vimes to a vast and far-reaching conspiracy, one that allows Pratchett to link the demonization of goblins to the crime of human slavery.
When written down so bluntly I am sure that some people will wonder how a comic fantasy novel could try to deal with such an evocative topic. But that would be to miss the point of many of Pratchett’s novels. For, beneath the entertainment and the humour there has always been a moralistic slant to the Discworld series – so Feet of Clay dealt with the issue of cheap human labour through the form of the golems. And Vimes himself has always been an advocate for equality and integration [he does, after all, employ an Igor and a werewolf in the Watch!].
And in Snuff the links between the goblins and slavery are not made lightly and are treated with the gravity that you would expect from Pratchett. In doing so, he adds another layer of meaning to the text. And it is this that makes Pratchett’s Discworld novels so special. You can read them purely for entertainment and laughs, but they are also nuanced and often scathing moral and satirical attacks on the evils and problems of the contemporary world – and Snuff is another perfect example of this.
I must admit that, it being a Vimes novel, I had hoped to see more of his Watch colleagues – Angua, Carrot, Cheery Littlebottom, Nobby Nobbs and Detritus – but that is more of a personal gripe than any kind of complaint against the book [I have grown up reading about them and watching them evolve, so I suppose it’s just that I miss them!]. Nevertheless, Snuff was another engrossing and funny novel from a brilliant author. Highly recommended.
Thomas, in www.CrimeandPublishing.com
TERRY Pratchett has a way with words. Like the children’s entertainer with the balloons he can take a familiar phrase and with a few deft twists create a new plaything better than all the contents of your party bag.
To perform that trick once or twice is good. To sustain it throughout a whole book is remarkable. To keep it fresh into the 39th volume of a series deserves a knighthood.
Snuff is Pratchett’s 50th novel. It is also his most recent foray into the Discworld series, a literary phenomenon that has been going strong for 28 years now.
The story follows one of Discworld’s best established characters, policeman Sam Vimes, into fresh territory. With wife and son on hand, Vimes experiences his first holiday in the countryside. The Ankh-Morpork police force supply most of the characters for this tale from a well-stocked inventory of favourites. Ankh-Morpork ruler Lord Vetinari makes a welcome appearance at the open and close of the book and, with his hidden hand setting events in motion, it can safely be assumed that Commander Vimes will not be idle in his country idyll.
Along with a murder mystery, we are presented with various angles on the topic of poo, an interesting introduction to the goblin race and their peculiarities and some wide-ranging social critique. It is not unusual for Pratchett to hold the Discworld up as a mirror in which he can satirise everything from the iniquitous to the innocuous in our own world.
In Snuff, the critique is perhaps more heavy-handed. We learn that oppressing minorities (goblins) is bad and that the class system, along with the uneven distribution of wealth, are neither big nor clever.
The main weakness in Snuff is that its hero is so familiar to us that the story lacks tension. We know Commander Vimes will come through.
However, Snuff is entertaining, with all Pratchett’s genius on display. He still makes you care about his creations and, amid all the funnies, he can turn on the pathos. Mark Lawrence in Sunday Express
Terry Pratchett’s Abundant Life
In a way, impossibility has never been a problem for Terry Pratchett. He started the Discworld books with impossibility and went on from there. Nobody knew till he did it that you could take an affectionate satire of the conventions of fantasy novels and expand it, and expand it, until it worked as a warm, silly, compulsively readable, fantastically inventive, surprisingly serious exploration in story form of just about any aspect of our world that fell beneath his greedy eye.
It was an incremental process. One idea led to another. He’d begin with a Tolkien-related in-joke about the dwarves in the Discworld baking rock-hard bread. Then the bread would become a weapon for hand-to-hand combat. Then there’d be a murder mystery set in a museum of warrior patisserie. Then it would turn out that dwarf kings were crowned on a scone of stone. He kept opportunistically adding the joke next door, wherever there seemed to be a bit more comic life to be had, and since he was doing this simultaneously with about a million strands of invention, it produced a kind of Darwinian explosion of story.
He was the warm nutrient-rich sea, and he was the natural selector, too. Or rather the tireless logic of his storytelling was. Some early inventions turned out not to be viable. Others faded as the environment of the Discworld changed. Others again flourished mightily and filled their whole niche in the story-ecology but were too limited to grow beyond it. And some just grew, and grew, and grew.
This was true of places, it was true of preoccupations, and most of all it was true of people. Watching Pratchett grow his characters, over 39 novels, has been like seeing recombinant narrative genetics running with almost magical efficiency at almost magical speed. Where other writers are delighted if they come up with just a handful of comic figures with self-sustaining life in them – Don Quixote and Sancho, the three men in the boat, Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore – Pratchett breeds them by the score. All those who live, he adds to the permanent cast. There’s never been anything quite like it. Even Dickens didn’t keep carrying forward his successes till Edwin Drood was rubbing shoulders with Oliver Twist and Mr Pickwick. Terry Pratchett does.
By now he has a whole population of people his readers are glad to see whenever they recur, inexhaustibly being themselves. Most are ensemble players but a few have proved to have so much expandable life in them that they demand their own sub-series of novels to be the heroes of: Death with four books to his name, Granny Weatherwax with 10, Sam Vimes with eight.
Here in all the abundantly recognisable human biology of the series is the reason we love them. But here, too, is where impossibility begins to bite after all, even for Pratchett, because the further he takes the principal characters, the more detailed and abundant the life he pours into them, the harder he makes his own task of keeping them viable. Which in the Discworld means keeping them unpredictable; keeping them from being exaggerated; keeping them adapted to the world’s precise degree of unreality; keeping them from being so omnipotently successful that the environment bends compliantly to accommodate them.
Snuff is a Vimes novel. Reviewerly protocol demands that I not give away any of its contents in detail, so I’ll just say that it features the countryside, Jane Austen, slavery, river boats, snot, tobacco and a lot of fisticuffs. It also features a Vimes who, for the first time, feels as if he has acquired more indestructibility, more elaborated superlative Vimes-ish-ness, than can be kept in harmoniously plausible balance with his setting.
The incidental pleasures are as magnificent as ever, and there is no sign at all of the threatened arrival of Mr Pratchett’s private version of the Chicxulub impactor. On the contrary, the species of his imagination continue to multiply. But it might be time to give Commander Vimes a genuine holiday. Francis Spufford, Evening Standard
Standing up for goblins’ rights
The Discworld novels have always been among the most serious of comedies, the most relevant and real of fantasies; they are a neatly formulaic structure which enables Terry Pratchett to make editorial comments on moral, social and political issues from a more or less liberal standpoint. If they have a fault, it is that they are a little too self-consciously a Good Thing.
What they are not is smug; one of the real strengths of this new book, with its dissection of the casual prejudices which enable atrocity, is that it starts at home. Before Sam Vimes, honest cop turned reluctant aristocrat and diplomat, can dash around punishing hate crime and freeing the enslaved, he has to acknowledge his own lazy thinking about goblins. If the utterly-marginalised smell, and steal chickens, and have a cultural response to the sadness of a mother who has to eat her newborn child, this says more about what has been done to them, than about what they are. Before Vimes can become a liberator, he has to acknowledge that he has been a bigot.
Pratchett has been rightly praised for comic invention and whimsy; he does not always get enough credit for the psychological comedy of embarrassment which makes us blush with self-recognition at the same moment in which we laugh. The difference between him and his many imitators is that, at his best, there is nothing comfortable about his comedy.
Like the film Hot Fuzz, Snuff takes a tough urban cop and dumps him in the middle of the rural landscape of the cosy crime novel. Vimes takes a holiday at his wife Sybil’s country mansion and finding himself among wily peasants and a gentry whose conversation is all about their own entitlement to rule and casual contempt for the poor and other species. Vimes is one of Pratchett’s finest creations because his entire life is a constant simmer of indignation carefully controlled; he is the noir detective who tells the truth because his own self-analysis is equally merciless.
If there are weaknesses here, it is partly that the scruffy, scrawny goblins end up somewhat sentimentalised. Vimes learns to respect them by meeting a girl harpist whose work speaks across cultural barriers. In some ways, the best scene of bigotry-busting is one in which a couple of his subordinates are bamboozled by a goblin shamaness who compels respect by utter obnoxiousness. Still, there is something refreshing about a book in which fighting for someone else’s rights has to be followed by getting them inscribed in the books of law. Pratchett’s comedy is at once hilariously cynical and idealistically practical. Roz Kaveney, in The Independent
Snuff has pleasant and innocent connotations – as an old-fashioned stimulant to be kept in elegant boxes and snorted gracefully in society. It also means arbitrary and unpleasant deaths, as in snuff movies. Terry Pratchett’s new novel turns on the connection between the two. Commander Vimes, the Duke of Ankh, is persuaded, or forced, to go on a holiday to the immense country mansion of his wife, Lady Sybil. Here he uncovers a smuggling ring run by the local aristocrats, who are indeed the law itself, as they are also the local magistrates. They are sending hard drugs – slab and slide, which destroy the lives of young urban trolls – to the cities by barge and boat. They also trade in living beings: goblins, who are not classified as people. There are easy parallels to be drawn with venal aspects of our own society: abuses of privilege, fiddling of expenses, blind eyes turned. Vimes is his usual streetwise and dogged self, rapidly learning how to make best use of the habits of country pubs and improve the standards of village policing. Things move along nicely, culminating in a breathtaking chase on a string of barges being flung about on a river in spate called Old Treachery.
Pratchett has written several stories set on the Discworld in which ill-treated, unconsidered species are described and explained and admitted to society. In Feet of Clay, and Making Money, Miss Adora Belle Dearheart runs the Golem Trust, and golems develop from being clay automatons to beings with thoughts and language. In Unseen Academicals Mr Nutt is an orc, a creature capable of great violence, who has become an erudite and resourceful hero. In the early books, Captain Vimes was capable of easy ‘speciesism’ at the expense of the dwarves and trolls, gargoyles and zombies who make up the Watch. Pratchett himself for several books appeared to be hostile to vampires – but then he has a natural tendency to imagine creatures intricately and charitably, so he gives us Mr Otto von Chriek, a photographer who has taken the ‘black ribbon’ vow of teetotalism and has to be reconstituted with drops of blood every time he explodes himself with his camera flash.
Elsewhere Vimes is persecuted by a green imp inside a ‘dis-organiser’, a gift from his wife, and by a meticulous accountant called AE Pessimal, sent by the Patrician to order his papers. Both of these initially irritating beings are redeemed by the narrator: the imp turns out to be really helpful, and the accountant performs heroic actions in a battle.
In Snuff it is the goblins who are the centre of attention: they are a dim, feeble collection of creatures who smell very bad and live in a mess in dark holes, stealing chickens and other things. They are not classified as human, or sentient beings, and so can be bought, sold and enslaved. Predictably and agreeably, Vimes takes up the cudgel on their behalf, rescuing them from captivity. In this he is aided by a children’s book writer called Felicity Beedle, author of Melvin and the Enormous Boil, Daphne and the Nose Pickers and Gaston’s Enormous Problem. Miss Beedle is the Adora Belle Dearheart of Snuff; she teaches the goblins to read and discovers an immense musical talent among them.
There is a great deal of interest in bodily fluids, excretions and excrement in this book. Lady Sibyl explains to Vimes that Miss Beedle gets children to read by writing about what they are interested in. Vimes complains that they are ‘reading about poo and dead ducklings’, and Sibyl replies calmly that this is what children of a certain age care about. In fact young Sam, their son, is showing signs of precocious scientific skill by making a collection of various kinds of poo. The goblins follow the religion of ‘Unggue’, which exhorts them to collect various bodily excretions – snot, ear wax, toenail clippings – for which they make exquisitely designed containers, ‘unggue pots’ of various materials and shapes. One of Pratchett’s major gifts as a writer is the energy with which he always tells you more than you expect – his description of the pots is clear and complicated.
One advantage of a continuing world full of people and creatures is that they can develop in a leisurely way. The character who does that in Snuff is Willikins, the Vimes’s butler, who when he first appeared was stiff and very formal, trying to shave Vimes, who forbade him. In Jingo, one of the best of the series, he joins Lord Rust‘s army to fight the Klatchians in the desert, and bites off an enemy nose. In this book he turns out to have the same streetwise background as his employer, and a collection of hidden and unusual weapons. He can deal with the villain in ways his employer, inhibited by professional rules, cannot.
The villain in this book is a murderer of men and goblins called Stratford, a person whose lack of conscience is a form of stupidity, as with many other Pratchettian villains. (My favourite of these is the appalling Mr Pin in The Truth, who has an unerring eye for artistic masterpieces and snorts any substance – such as scouring powder – he can find.) The real villain in Snuff is Lord Rust’s son, the smuggler and slavemaker, who is arrogant and again stupid.
Pratchett is a master storyteller. He is endlessly inventive, even when telling a routine kind of tale. He gives you more information and more story than you need, just because he can, and this is completely satisfying. He is a master of complex jokes, good bad jokes, good dreadful jokes and a kind of insidious wisdom about human nature (and other forms of alien nature). I think his mad footnotes are there because he can’t stop his mind whirring, and our whirring minds go with him. I read his books at a gallop and then reread them every time I am ill or exhausted. A.S.Byatt, The Guardian
Snuff is the 39th Discworld novel, and Sir Terry Pratchett’s 50th novel overall, a staggering achievement. This half-century seems a good moment to reflect on how far the Discworld has come since The Colour of Magic was published in 1983. From being a straight send-up of fantasy tropes (dragons, wizards, barbarian warriors, and so on), it has gradually evolved in to a beautifully realised alternative world in which all the institutions, customs and cultures of our own planet come in for some gentle (or sometimes not-so-gentle) ribbing. Not only that, but in selecting different institutions to pick on, Pratchett has now instituted a real sense of social and economic progress to the Discworld – fans now wait to see where he will turn his attention next (not for us a milieu changed only by war and magic as in so many fantasy worlds, the Discworld now has a postal system, a free press, a telegram system and football, none of which it had at the beginning).
The fact that Snuff makes no mention of the nature of the Discworld (in case you’ve somehow missed this – a giant disc carried through space on the backs of four massive elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant space turtle) is telling – because it’s simply not really relevant to this tale. Nor do we get any cameos by Death (normally he gets at least a walk-on), because this is possibly one of the most grounded Discworld books ever. That is of course partially a reflection of the grounded nature of Sam Vimes, central protagonist of Snuff and favoured character of many since his debut in Guards! Guards! (1989). Vimes novels often feel the most unfantastical of the Discworld canon, a reflection of Vimes’ humble origins and practical, copper’s worldview.
In Snuff, Vimes is off to the country – for a holiday, against his will, at the country pile of his massively wealthy wife, Lady Sybil Ramkin. This gives ample opportunity for culture clash comedy between cityboy Vimes and the yokels of his country estate, as well as unleashing class-warrior Vimes on the socially stratified society of the countryside, with its above-and-below-stairs worlds and the wealthy neighbours who live around and about. Pratchett turns his attentions on Jane Austen (Vimes’ advice to the Bennett-alikes is a joy), and enmeshes Vimes in a plot which involves goblins (the latest in a long line of fantasy stereotypes to be rehabilitated by the Discworld), slavery, drug-dealing and poo (young Samuel Vimes Jr’s obsession with the subject of poo is probably the pure comedy highlight), and with a great supporting cast including Vimes’ batman Willikins and the local policeman.
For some Vimes’ may be assuming an air of invulnerability and infallibility that is at odds with his early problems – but readers who have followed him from the gutter to the lofty heights of a knighthood and high command may feel he deserves it and that his earthy morality and cynical nature make him one of the best Discworld characters of all. There’s a lot to be said for that. Simon Appleby, in www.bookgeeks.co.uk
Terry Pratchet is the fifth best-selling author in Britain. His new book and 39th Discworld novel, Snuff has become the third-biggest selling adult novel since records have been kept.
Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch goes, or rather is forced to go, on holiday. He’s off to his very wealthy wife’s country estate, Crundells, with its pub and a mile of trout stream, surrounded by green fields and fruitful pastures which squelch underfoot. Sam prefers the city, where it’s the right sort of squelch, and where there’s murder, theft, arson and all sorts of interesting things.
It doesn’t take long for the country to become interesting, with a mystery to be solved and villains to be brought to justice, all in the bucolic splendour. Sam has to learn a bit about piloting a river boat, and chasing down murderers through muddy fields, while trying to be civil to the landed gentry who surround him. And it’s here that the book becomes more than a merry adventure by Britain’s leading satirist. For it is also very much a book about freedom and prejudice.
Pratchett has spent a great deal of time in the Discworld series deconstructing the common tropes of fantasy. He’s told us the truth about witches, wizards, dwarfs, trolls, zombies, vampires, werewolves and the NacMacFeegles. In his last book, Unseen Academicals, he told us the truth about those much-maligned creatures, orcs. He showed us that under the skin of those monsters lay something that was, on reflection, all too human. He showed us that they were people, too. This time, it’s goblins.
Pratchett is a self-avowed humanist, and this may be part of an ongoing project to show that humanity exists in all creatures, even if their behaviour is seen to be repugnant to us. But how far can he go? In this book, the goblins do something that is so challenging that it would seem to condemn them from the very start. But Pratchett succeeds in making even this understandable, in the context of the world of the book. He shows us that the goblins have been made slaves, murdered and hunted as animals, but that they are not animals; they are talented, sensitive and intelligent creatures who do what is unthinkable when the hardship gets to be too much. They don’t deserve to be slaves. For Pratchett, no-one deserves to be a slave.
Sam has the problem of breaking up the slaving ring and solving the murders that have been committed. He’s helped by a colourful cast of characters, including his manure obsessed son and his homicidal butler, Willikins. He’s opposed by the gentry and their network of privilege. It’s class versus sheer bloody-mindedness, and when the dust has settled, Sam has brought the Law to Crundells.
I suspect there are going to be divided opinions on this book, but it is a vintage Pratchett confection, with a very hard nut at the centre. Ian Nichols in The West Australian
Some fantasy series drag on, but Terry Pratchett’s Discworld remains a joy. In Snuff, tough cop Sam Vimes takes an enforced country holiday and inevitably finds crime among the cowpats. Pokes at aristocratic households and Jane Austen are seriously funny; Vimes’s outrage that a racial underclass is reckoned too vile to merit fair treatment is, well, funnily serious. A highly readable, mature comedy, far from the rapid-fire quipping of early Discworld.
David Langford, in Sci-Fi Roundup, Sunday Telegraph, Seven
Pratchett’s new Discworld (Unseen Academicals, 2009, etc.) novel—the umpteenth, but who’s counting?—features the Duke of Ankh, otherwise known as Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, whose estimable wife, Lady Sybil, decrees that they shall take a vacation at her ancestral estate in the country.
Sam meets the local aristocracy and receives invitations to a lot of balls. He introduces six-year old Sam Junior to the author of young Sam’s favorite book, The World of Poo. He faces down the irascible, aristocracy-hating local blacksmith and dines on Bung Ming Suck Dog. And, canny copper that he is, Vines, though out of his jurisdiction and out of his depth in a most alarming environment, senses wrongdoing. Sure enough, he’s soon contemplating the slaughtered corpse of a goblin girl. Problem is, the law doesn’t recognize the killing of goblins as murder. Still, there’s smuggling going on, much of it involving substances far less innocent than tobacco. Crime or no crime, Sam determines to investigate, even to the rank, fetid caves where the last few goblins, starving, hunted and miserable, live. Sam doesn’t fear the underground, being the Blackboard Monitor of the Dwarves. And tattooed on his wrist is a dreadful yet illuminating demon called the Summoning Dark, an entity that’s as determined as Sam to bring justice to the poor goblins, despite the law and those who have decided to make their own rules. Funny, of course, but with plenty of hard edges; and, along with the excellent lessons in practical police work, genuine sympathy for the ordinary copper’s lot.
A treat no fan of Discworld—and there are boatloads of them—will want to miss. Kirkus’ Review
On the evidence of this novel, Terry Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s has not yet significantly eroded his creative capacities, for which we must be thankful. This exhibits all the humour and inventiveness of his previous 38 Discworld novels. However, I’m sorry to say that I’ve never been a fan, although I know he has plenty of admirers, AS Byatt among them. Snuff is the story of hardbitten but decent copper Sam Vines, who takes a holiday from Ankh-Morpork to play country squire, but finds himself involved in a case involving smuggling, murder and slave traffic in goblins. It’s full of comic periphrasis and facetiously archaic words (‘aforesaid’, ‘endeavour’); characters have an annoying tendency to speechify and the running gags don’t so much run as periodically wallop you over the head. The characters seem to be composites drawn from stock – Vimes’s butler Willikins has a distinct air of Campion’s butler Lugg in Margery Allingham’s detective stories, though at times his diction seems to owe something to Jeeves. There’s also a sharp-eyed lady writer who is a Discworld version of Jane Austen, and a cameo from Wee Mad Arthur Nac Mac Feegle, the violent drunken six-inch Scottish gnome. It’s not my cup of tea I’m afraid, but it’s well-plotted, eminently readable and Pratchett’s heart is clearly in the right place. Those who enjoy his work will most certainly enjoy this. Brandon Robshaw in The Independent
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Paul Kidby