02 August 2012

Time travel with Duke Vimes

Fantasy | Terry Pratchett | Night Watch

What I forgot to mention in the last post was that Jingo featured one of the most immediately recognisable gadgets in all the Discworld books--the Disorganiser, which desperately and futilely attempts to remind Insert Name Here of his appointments throughout the book. In a twist that only the Discworld could come up with, Vimes tells the device in exasperation that it's no use reminding him of appointments he already knows about. How about telling him of appointments he doesn't know about. And that's what happens. Except that, at one point, Vimes in this world makes a decision he doesn't make in the parallel world (if this kind of stuff makes your head hurt, you should avoid science fiction and fantasy entirely), and picks up the wrong Disorganiser, with the result that as the two time paths diverge, he gets to know how narrowly he avoided disaster all around. Bingelly-bingelly-beep!

Now, here's the thing, Night Watch, too, has time travel. This time of the physical pick-up-the-person-and-dump-him-in-the-past type. Vimes, by now Duke, still hasn't learned to delegate chasing villains to his underlings. And the High Energy Magic building's roof is not the place to tempt fate, anyway. So Vimes and the villain end up back in Vimes' past, where he has to protect everyone he loves from the machinations of the 'who, me?' baby-faced and black-hearted villain.

In Night Watch, we meet the monks who manage time and have these large rotating cylinders that warp time. (Somehow, ever since Larry Niven's short story Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation {in turn, swiping the title from a physics paper which describes real-Universe physics, mind-boggling as it may be}, I've had the impression that the large cylinders should be planet-sized or larger LARGE, but on the Discworld, faux-Tibetan cylinders manage well enough.) I suspect that Pratchett realised these monks would mess up any other book of the Discworld, so we don't quite meet them again.

Instead, we also meet, and this is a delight, Vetinari as a student assassin. And the early Sam Vimes, the early Fred Colon, and Nobby Nobbs as an urchin. We also meet the surprise of the citizens and watchmen at the idea of trolls or dwarves in the Watch, which is Pratchett's way of pointing out how the world changes in just half a lifetime. Things which were normal then are unacceptable today, and vice versa. Hey, just look around.

Pratchett has invented many villains, most of whom are plain bigots or ignoramuses with power, but this book has his first frisson-up-the-spine pure psychopath, the type James Patterson or Jeffery Deaver would scare us with, or Stephen King would use to mess with our heads. And, yet, you don't quite think he's the very worst villain in this book.

This is one of Pratchett's best Discworld books. Thud!, which came later, is not as good. But I'm not going to get to Thud! again for a nice long time. You can, instead, consider how singing the national anthem proves that you are a rebel in need of putting down. Go on, read it and realise how many assumptions you live with.

Let me close here, and move on to David Baldacci's Hell's Corner.

[Oh, in closing, the book cover doesn't have the hourglass or weird ring on it. That's just me trying to be artistic, rather unsuccessfully.]

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