Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Truth


        I never really had any kind of deep relationship with Terry Pratchett, but he left an amazing impact on my life. I'd tried to write this out as a brief tribute, but as there are certain undisclosable legal implications to me posting that piece (this, folks, is one of the drawbacks with going pro-- the first steps into the professional arena are rough and couched in weird legal implications), I decided instead that I would try to reflect on Sir Pterry's life in the way that I have so many other authors that have left an impact on me: I'd write a review of the book that got me into his work in the first place, the book that led me to Discworld and got me to start telling people about books I thought they should read. 

So without any further ado, I present The Truth. The book without which, along with Neverwhere, this blog would not exist. 

And Sir Terry? I knew it was coming. That doesn't make it hurt any less.

"The Truth has got its boots on. And it's about to start kicking."
- William de Worde

                       William de Worde is a common scribe in Ankh-Morpork. His family is rich, influential, and wants nothing to do with him. This suits William just fine, as he's been trying to do something more important with his time, taking the family's motto of "Le Mot Juste" (the right word in the right place) to heart. In his spare time, he writes newsletters to nobles in far-off parts of the Disc*, getting a little extra income for telling them of goings-on in and around the city. A run-in with a group of dwarves who have recently discovered moveable lead type and a few other occurrences give him the idea to start Ankh-Morpork's first newspaper, The Times. However, his attempt at this enterprise involves him getting involved with the complex and frightening thing that is Ankh-Morpork city politics. At the same time, a rival sets up the Disc's first tabloid and begins reporting on events made up out of whole cloth. A group of very powerful businessmen have decided that perhaps freedom of the press might not be in their best interest. And then there's the City Watch, who have decided perhaps that the press snooping around their crime scenes might not be in their best interest.

                     And then there's the matter of the plot against the Patrician, Lord Havelock Vetinari, a plot that involves a break-in at the Patrician's Palace and his favorite little dog Wuffles going missing. A plot that has unleashed two violent and eccentric assassins known as "The New Firm" on the city to do as they please and cover up the conspiracy's repeated attempts to remove the city's ruler from his long tenure as the thing keeping everything in order. All of this centers around Wuffles's disappearance, as the dog is the sole witness to the palace break-in. But as complications, including zombie lawyers, insane assassins, bureaucracy, a vampire photographer with an eerily prescient camera, the City Watch, and the Patrician himself, begin to mount, the only thing de Worde seems able to count on is the truth. Well, and funnily shaped vegetables, which everyone seems to want to get into his paper. But the truth can be just as dangerous, and William and his friends are prepared to show people just how

              The thing that first drew me to The Truth was how accessible the book is. Discworld can be frighteningly dense and odd at times, and more so as the books go on. The world relies on running gags, recurring characters, and repeating concepts throughout the many linked "arcs" (Death/Susan, City Watch, Wizards, Witches, Rincewind, Industrial Revolution, et. al), creating a brilliant world that changes and advances as things go on. The Truth, something of an exception and also a major turning point for the world of the Disc, keeps things fairly simple. While it still has its share of running gags and call-backs (Lord Vetinari's monologue about how progress tends to reset itself on the Disc references Soul Music, Moving Pictures, and a running gag about the Three Lucky Take-Away Fish Bar) it represents a turning point in Disc continuity, and so all my issues with Pratchett's other books (which did rely more on their continuities) are kind of rendered a little more moot. On top of which, it's easy to get lost in the world of Ankh Morpork. The city feels overfull with life, and locations are visited repeatedly, which generates a nice sense of familiarity. The city feels "lived-in".

                  Another aspect of Pratchett's writing I liked here was that the characters behave like real people, and through that are presented as kind of unique. In fact, a lot of Pratchett's humor occurs when the slightly cracked but mostly sane protagonists try to interact with a world that quite literally runs on impossible physical laws and narrative causality. Because narrative convenience and causality are built into the laws of physics, the characters develop a certain genre-saviness that makes them both intelligent and capable of amazing thoughts both inside and outside the box. It also creates the kind of plot-twist pileups not usually seen outside serials, with plots and counterplots so complex that the protagonist could have been running a scam all along and only reveal the full implications at the very last second, unraveling all the plots one-by-one-by-one. In this case, the characters are acting out a complex (almost as complex as the one in reality) conspiracy plot along the lines of All the President's Men, with the two main characters serving as an unwilling Woodward and a scandal-obsessed Bernstein. 

             All of this is, of course, held together with some brilliantly absurd comic touches. What it comes down to is this: Pratchett is very, very sincere. No matter how ridiculous the story gets, no matter how insane the touches, he plays it as comically straight as possible. It's never a matter of "this is how things are?" but "this is how things are." The comedy comes from-- well, no, honestly I should have probably refused to pick apart the comedy. Discworld books work because they run on the most absurd premises possible, play them as sincerely as they can, and invite you into further absurdities and linguistic jokes and all the rest. Also, because the Fool's Guild being the most humorless guild in Ankh-Morpork is, to my interpretation, a dig at people who analyze comedy so much that they're unable to enjoy it. What I will say is that it's the best high-fantasy Watergate parody ever committed to the page, and while that's overly narrow, it's still just broad enough that I mean it as praise instead of damning it with faint praise.

               However, if there's one thing I have to talk about, it's that (and this happens more often than it should) the book just...stops at certain points. What Pratchett produced is amazing, but the pacing...just doesn't always hang together like it should. While there are brilliant moments, and brilliant scenes, and brilliant points throughout, it seems like it was always in spite of the pacing, not that the pacing added to it. 

               But Pratchett's pacing issues in The Truth are much less than, well, most of the books in Discworld that I have read. In fact, a lot of the issues I kind of brought up here are lesser compared to most Discworld books that I've read. So please, if you're new to the series, if you gave it a chance and you're looking for a way to get into the series, or if you're an old hand, please read The Truth. It's well worth the time and effort. 

It also gets off a nice Neil Gaiman jab, but I won't tell you what. 

- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

- Nuklear Age by Brian Clevinger

*A round world on the back of four elephants on the back of a turtle. 
**And then there are the Wizards, who are both due to them being kind of beyond the normal spectrum. And incurably insane

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