Continuing my occasional column as I read my way through Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one novel at a time.
This week is the 17th book, Interesting Times.
First appearances: Hex, the Silver Horde
Introduced to Discworld: the hazards of teleporting a lit canon
Plot: Rincewind, the Disc’s least magical wizard, has finally gotten a break, living on a deserted tropical island with only the Luggage for company (and, as it turns out, necessary protection). Just as he’s about to get an offer to help a tribe of gorgeous Amazons keep their line going, he’s is ignominiously teleported back to Ankh-Morpork by the wizards of Unseen University. It seems the Patrician got a message from the far-off Agatean Empire on the Counterweight Continent demanding the “Great Wizzard” come over immediately. Since the extra Z is exactly how Rincewind spelled it on his own hat, he’s summoned against his will and then zapped off to the Agatean to see what’s going on over there.
Once there, he immediately does his best not to get caught up in the courtroom intrigues of the Grand Vizier Lord Hong (Grand Viziers are never benevolent on the Disc, and most people seem to know that), the latest adventure of elderly Cohen the Barbarian, and a rebel group that’s mostly given to shouting mostly polite slogans and hanging posters.
That’s the problem with the people of this empire: they’re just unable to say no to authority figures.
Meanwhile, the Luggage abandons Rincewind because the Empire is crawling with suitcases like itself, and it falls in love.
Can Rincewind keep from dying again while trying hard not to get involved and save the day?
Commentary: In many ways, this book is a throwback to the first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic. That book and this one opened with the idea that the gods play games with mortals, and the same two players get involved. One is Fate, who always wins. The other is the Lady, who may not be a god since trying to worship or adore her always leads to disaster, and who may not win but certainly never loses. The Lady (implied to be Lady Luck) has always favored Rincewind. He doesn’t like that very much.
The other thing is this novel shows the direct consequences of the first two, as Rincewind’s old traveling companion, Twoflower, the first tourist on the Disc, wrote a book about his adventures when he returned home. Twoflower doesn’t understand sarcasm, and always believed Rincewind actually was a great wizard with a lot of power, and the two had fun adventures. Rincewind remembers these without any sort of rose-colored glasses and uses them as examples of why he doesn’t want to adventure at all, but how he keeps getting dragged into things no matter how much he tries to avoid things.
We also see the return of Cohen the Barbarian, this time bringing with him the Silver Horde: a group of six equally old men, one confined to a wheelchair, who were also barbarian heroes. They’re old, they’re slow, and they are remarkably good at Not Dying. The newest member, a former teacher named Mr. Saveloy, is trying to teach them to be civilized for their latest caper. It isn’t working out too well. One sad bit has Cohen rattle off as many of his contemporaries as he can think of only to learn most of them are dead, save Hrun, who was half his age and who appeared in The Color of Magic. Hrun just got a regular job as a captain of the guard somewhere. Cohen finds this disheartening.
Now, all that said, this novel didn’t work out for me as well as some others have. While I think I enjoyed Men at Arms more this time around, I think I enjoyed Interesting Times less. Part of the problem is the setting. The Agatean Empire is a weird mix of Chinese and Japanese stereotypes, but doesn’t seem to amount to much. Lord Hong is a villain who is supposedly just good at everything, but doesn’t bring much interest to me even as a villain I want to see fail like Vorbis in Small Gods. The Unseen University faculty is along for some laughs, but don’t seem to do much. The introduction of Ponder Stibbon’s magic computer (powered by an ant farm and a few mice), named Hex, adds to the setting, but the wizards, especially the Librarian, are given so little to do they amount to little better than cameos.
The novel ends with Rincewind again in some unknown (to him) place, setting things up for what will be his final adventure as the main protagonist. I hope I enjoy that one a bit more than I did this one.
NEXT BOOK: There’s trouble at the Ankh-Morpork opera. Oh, and someone was going there anyway that is more than capable of dealing with all manner of things. Oh, it’s the least worldly protagonists on the Disc, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, looking for Magrat’s replacement in the coven. I am sure that will go nothing but smoothly. Be back here soon for Maskerade.