The Book Project: Terry Prachett

Posted: 26 January 2008 in the book project, writing

“There was a sound on the edge of Rincewind’s hearing. 
It sounded like several skulls bouncing down the steps of some distant dungeon.”
The Colour of Magic. Terry Pratchett

I’ve been reluctantly reading this book and and that damn sentence is exactly the reason why it’s so reluctant. 

I wouldn’t even have picked up The Colour of Magic even though I like science fiction just about as much as I like any other genre.  I admit, I haven’t read everything on the shelf and my fluency tends to end with the reading I did early on; McCaffrey, Anthony, Feist, Lackey. 

Once my mother ran out of gift ideas (well-documented on this blog) she tried giving me science fiction.  And since her knowledge of me seemed to have stopped when I was 14, for a long time she gave me books that had complicated names like “Shananananranananana Elves” that were impossible to get through and required learning different languages.  Other folks recommended books.  Read Asimov, one friend insisted.  Others, and there were a lot, went fawning over Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett’s books seemed to have elements I’d like.  Magic.  Modern day elements.  A sharp sense of humor.  Good writing, I assumed, since so many people liked his work.  And, I decided I could probably work past any unsavory bits for exceptionally good writing.  So, as a teenager, when I first gave his book a try, I was enthusiastic and determined.  And I was disappointed.  I don’t remember which book I attacked, I assume The Colour of Magic.  I found it wordy.  There was a whole new language to learn.  It didn’t make sense.  I abandoned Pratchett. 

Over the summer, he released a new Discworld book to much fanfare.  In fact, nearly every major news outlet had some coverage of the book, commenting on his literary genius.  His prolific nature.  His biting social commentary.  How Discworld had persisted over the decades and so on.  The blather nearly sucked me back in again.  Over the summer in a Houston airport, I picked up Going Postal and browsed it, certain that my adult reading tastes would have unlocked Pratchett’s magic.  They hadn’t.  A quick skim revealed nothing exceptional, not even a particularly inviting first page, and I decided not to waste my time. Of course, a large number of folks in my Readers’ Advisory class read and raved Pratchett and I simply shook my head and decided that it was some science fiction gene I didn’t have.

I admit, I was still disappointed.  I want desperately to like his work.  He has written dozens of novels.  He is a landmark science fiction novelist.  Even if I don’t end up a public librarian, I still feel like I should at least understand him.  But Pratchett fans seem to be a certain type – have a certain arrogance, an insider’s language, a proud nerdiness that I can’t translate.  It baffles me.  It’s the puzzle I can’t beat.  So when Lorraine mentioned that Pratchett had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, I decided to renew my efforts.

I don’t have to tell you that Alzheimer’s is a terrible, mind-stripping disease.  And whether or not I like the man’s work, it seems horrific that he created this tremendously intricate world that will be slowly peeled out of his thoughts, sanded down, painted over, removed.  My grandfather lost his own thoughts, his memories, some of my grandmother’s memories, my mother’s memories and a fair portion of mine.  He left a giant grandpa shaped hole in my mind.  While it won’t help fill the gap, I am determined to finish at least one, if not more, of the Discworld novels.  And it’s painful as painful as I ever thought it would be. 

That sentence is exactly why I suspect all those Pratchett fans love him and exactly why I find this painful.  I am either too lazy or too crazy to read this man’s work. 
There was a sound – no problem.  listening.
on the edge of Rincewind’s hearing – who is this guy again?  and why is it on the edge?  how far away is it?  is it a distant sound?  a muffled sound?  a soft sound?  what exactly are we talking about here? why so vague?
It sounded like – well, why the hell didn’t you say so, you would have save me a lot of work wondering about sound and the edge and who this guy is and where were we again?
several skulls bouncing– more than one?  is that a clatter then?  a banging?  a racket?  a bouncing hollow noise?  I really don’t think several of anything bouncing would be on the edge of anyone’s (who?) hearing.  bouncing skulls seem like an upfront thing.  Now picture me picturing several iterations and formats of bouncing skulls.
down the steps of some distant dungeon– now hold up.  not only are these bony, hollow, round gourds (several) bouncing, they are on steps of a dungeon.  Stone, then – probably dank.  wet.  or metal.  and then echoy either way.  regardless, there’s probably dripping and echoing and there is no way in hell this is on the edge of anyone’s hearing.  I call bullshit. 

See?  I can’t read this book because I get stuck.  I get crazy and have to mark my place til I can relax and let it go.  For the record.  D. found the imagery “neat.”  I’ll tell you where she can put her “neat.”

  1. Laila says:

    It’s the sound of dice being rolled by the gods … so that’s why it’s vague. And why couldn’t it be on the edge of someone’s hearing? It’s like thinking you heard an echo of your name, even if you haven’t. And how can you not know who Rincewind is a quarter of the way through the book?

    Anyway, those kinds of metaphors are trademark Pratchett, at least in the earlier books. I actually find the later books more interesting, and more well written. But then you didn’t like Going Postal, either, so maybe you’re right about Terry Pratchett just not working for you. But if you’re willing to give it another go, I’d recommend Guards! Guards! Some people find that one a better entry point into the series.

  2. backlist says:

    Thanks for speaking out in support. I know Pratchett has an avid and loyal fan base, which is part of the reason I’d truly like to find something to enjoy in his writing. Since I wrote this post, I have actually found my pace, though it took much longer than I think it should have. I don’t mind vague ideas and I’m not so lazy that I can’t learn little things like rim, hub and circumfence but I do object to frenetic storytelling that demands too much from a reader without offering a payout. Want me to learn a new language? I’ll do that. Want me to remember 15 new characters, their home countires, their childhood predilections and the bar they are currently sitting in? I can do that. But allow me space to do it before whisking me off into different plot subsets. I’m a fairly sophisticated reader, but I like a cookie after doing a trick. That said, I’ve finished The Colour of Magic and I did enjoy it. I’m looking forward to trying Guards! Guards! for more understanding.

  3. bipolarlawyercook says:

    Eh, I can’t do Pratchett or Gaiman or Jordan. I just can never gt into them. Patricia McKillip is good, though sometimes I find it a little too airy-fairy. Robin McKinley rocks my world. Anne Bishop is fun, kind of dark and a little long winded, but creative. And Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion is my favorite book EVAR, OMG!

  4. bipolarlawyercook says:

    I’ve also been meaning to take some Charles de Lint out of the library and see if I can’t get into it.

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