29 July 2012

The last refuge of the scoundrel

Fantasy | Terry Pratchett | Jingo

Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors. I prefer his science fiction to his fantasy, but the Discworld is what he's best known for. As they said on one of his books' covers, there are 8 million books by Terry Pratchett in print. You don't have to read them all; just one of each.

I suspect Pratchett doesn't set out to write satire, just a good story. Which is just as well, as satire works better when it's subliminal and a critical reviewer has to dig to expose the fossilised remains and dance around pointing out the faint imprints of the tail feathers.

Jingo is Pratchett's objection to countries fighting over sad pieces of rock that seabirds sneer at when looking for a place to crap. I'm quickly giving you a couple of quotes to give you a flavour of the deep thought behind the slick and flip phrase:
And he felt happy. Thief-taker, Rust had called him. The man had meant it as an insult, but it'd do. Theft was the only crime, whether the loot was gold, innocence, land or life.
That is a line that changes paradigms, doesn't it? This is the kind of stuff that keeps me coming back for more. (One of these weeks I'll give you a matching one from Jack Vance).

Here's the second quote, which will make you laugh whether you are religious or irreligious:
Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.
Basically, in Jingo you see how jingoism is whipped up out of thin air, and how military nincompoops take over against all common sense. If thieves (in the sense above) can be caught and sentenced for all other crimes, why cannot they be caught and sentenced for taking countries to war and getting (mainly young) people killed for no really good reason?

If declaring war was treated as mass murder, and those who did it faced the same kind of trial as those who are sentenced as such, we would have fewer wars. In the real world, though, those who declare wars almost always win the next election. Good enough reason to never vote for them again, I say, not to vote them in.

This is a funny book, like all Discworld books, but, in this sense, one of the most depressing, when you come out of it and back to reality.

Read it. Read it. As the cover says, Yet Another Novel of the Discworld. You really don't need any other recommendation.

Strangely enough, whenever I read a Terry Pratchett Discworld book featuring one of the main characters, I pick my next Pratchett out of sequence, and go for another book featuring the same character. So, next up will be Night Watch which I finished reading last week, followed by David Baldacci's Hell's Corner. (Ha, you thought you'd get Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms or Thud!, didn't you?)

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