His writing is very erratic. He tosses you into a situation you know nothing about, shows you characters you’ve never seen before without describing them (often without even naming them, “you again!”), and fails to give any backstory. Then, half a page later, he does it again!
This seems to continue on and on, often with several vague storylines happening at once, interspersing with each other at obscene intervals (usually under two pages, sometimes as little as a paragraph), until the end of the book when you think it’s all going to cohere and make sense, but it doesn’t. There’s no witty end, no punchline, no “a-ha!” moment where everything makes sense*. The book just ends.
Oh well, I’m off to read another Discworld novel (“Feet of Clay”).
[sub]*of course this moment wouldn’t be needed if the books made sense or filled you in on what the hell was going on from start to finish. Also, note the irony of me using this asterisk and subtext in a post bashing Terry Pratchett.[/sub]
What book was it? If there’s one thing I’m pretty sure of about Terry Pratchett is that he does not go into the “You again!”-and-not-giving-info routine. You won’t find a detailed biography of the characters in every book but usually they are clearly identified.
The first book of his I read was mildly amusing, in a twee, Douglas Adams-ish, English middle-class kind of way. The second book of his I read was mildly amusing, in a twee, Douglas Adams-ish, English middle-class kind of way. The third book of his…I got half-way through and then hurled across the room. There’s only so much twee, Douglas Adams-ish, English middle-class humour one can take, and Douglas Adams pretty much used up most of it in his first two books. I’m looking at you, authors of the Red Dwarf novelisations.
Cisco, are you reading them in anything approximating chronological order? It probably helps if you do, though I haven’t really noticed that it should matter too much if you don’t. Unless, perhaps, you leapt into Discworld with Thief of Time or Jingo or something relying a little bit on familiarity with his universe.
I have been reading them since 1987, so I’m not a great example, but I certainly don’t recognise Pratchett in any part of your description.
I agree with the OP. In the early books PTerry had problems writting a real ending to a book. The action just sort of petered out. This was a criticism I had of his early books – I’ve been reading since 87 or 88. It was only when Moving Pictures came out that I saw that there was a !bang! ending. He has been able to make endings, but not dramatic ones. But IMHO the read is worth it.
Feet of Clay is one of my personal favorites. A spiritual read and a condemnation of slavery a la Huck Finn.
It didn’t matter in the earlier days, up to about book 15, but there are 30 books now, and though they don’t reference past events in any significant way, they do rely on familiarity with the characters and their relationships to each other. The story will still make sense and be fun, but the characterisation will perhaps suffer.
Agreed, you need to start at the beginning, pretty much.
For a major example, he doesn’t really explain Discworld any more, he did that at the beginning of the first five or ten books. And characters do grow and develop. And there are lots of them.
He does tend to set up a confusing situation and then reveal the explanation later, that’s one of his stylistic methods.
And I don’t disagree, he tends to write the same voice. Comparing it to Douglas Adams is backwards, it seems to me. Terry Pratchett’s writing is head and shoulders above Adams’. Fielding may have invented the form, but Dickens is the better writer. So with Adams to Pratchett.
However, one problem with that format – like with any comedy format – is that it’s tough to binge read. I find I can only handle so much comedy in a day. I’ve noticed that with DVDs of TV a series, or when a TV station does a marathon, that there’s a difference between comedies and (say) action shows. I laugh for the first couople, then I just chuckle, then it seems repetitive.
The way to handle Pratchett is NOT to binge, but to read them slowly, savoring, and taking breaks in between.
Well, inspired (or cowed?) by the constant flow of Cafe Society threads about Mr P, I recently took the plunge with Small Gods. I liked it; prose, humour, characterisation and plot. Just bought a 3-for-2 at a local bookshop (Guards! Guards!, Mort & one other that slips my mind) so I’m gratified to see from Algernon’s list that they’re the right ones to read first.
Oh, and I’ll take the advice not to binge; moderation in all things is usually a good idea anyway.
Ah, that explains things a bit. From the OP I was wondering if you’d somehow confused Terry Pratchett with some other author, because it didn’t sound like him at all. But I wouldn’t consider Thief of Time to be his strongest book, and it’s especially bad because it deals with concepts (like the Auditors) and major characters (Susan) introduced in earlier books. In fact, it’s the third novel with Susan as the heroine, and the fifth dealing with her family. It should be possible to follow the story without reading any of those, but I can see how it wouldn’t be very enjoyable without having some prior understanding of Susan’s unusual backstory and what sort of woman she is.
I think GuanoLad is right in that with the earlier books in the series it’s possible to jump in just about anywhere, but with the later ones there’s a lot of history behind the characters that Pratchett doesn’t ignore. (And I don’t think he should.) Several of the most recent books deal primarily with new characters with only cameos by those familiar to long-term readers, but they tend to presuppose some familiarity with the basic Discworld setting/the city of Ankh-Morpork.
Personally, I start my students off with Wyrd Sisters, Mort, or Guards! Guards! That gets them hooked, and familiar with the Disc. Then we let them borrow the rest, spaced out to let them settle into their minds first. I always manage to hook at least a half-dozen every year.
The only worse choice for a starter Pratchett than ToT would be Night Watch! (Which by the way is his best book).
I’ll second (third? eighth?) the need to reead them in order. Many years ago, I’d heard good things about Discworld, so I picked up a copy of Soul Music at the bookstore. Got halfway through and gave up. Too confusing. Fast forward a few years. A friend persuaded me to try again, starting at Colour of Magic. That hooked me, and three months later, I’d finished the seres and become a fan for life.
I understand where the OP is coming from, since my first pTerry book was the Last Continent, and I was damned confused in the beginning. It wasn’t a problem since I was soon laughing my rear off, and when I started reading the rest in a somewhat reasonable order (constrained by what was in the library that day) I figured out what was going on. I’m just as glad he doesn’t waste pages with the boilerplate about what Discworld is myself.
I felt this way about the first few Discworld novels. They focused mostly just on the humor. But, as the series continued, the twee, Douglas Adams-ish, English middle-class kind of humor was interlayed with some really interesting themes and social commentary. I particularly like Small Gods for having a really interesting take on religion…
Just to toss my two cents into the ring, there are five types of discworld books: Rincewind, Guards, Witches, Death, and the ones that kind of just stand by themselves.
The ones that just stand by themselves can be the most tricky ones since the later ones (see The Truth and Thief of Time which has a bit of Death carry over but is reallmy more of a standalone book) aren’t good jumping on points. As mentioned there is a certain familiarity with the situation that helps and so they’re not a good place to start. On the other hand the earlier stand alone novels, Pyramids and Small Gods, are really good so going to one of those wouldn’t hurt.
Personally, the Rincewind books are my least favorite of Pratchett’s threads so I would advise avoiding them. They’re what started Pratchett on fantasy parody path but he got so much better later. The books start with The Color of Magic and go from there.
The Guards books were a lot of fun and then they dragged as things got too big and organized but then the most recent one was extremely good (probably because it went back to the roots of the series). They start with Guards, Guards and go through Men at Arms and Feet of Clay. It really helps with this thread to get the progression of the Watch by reading through the series.
The Witches books are fairly interesting, though the most recent one suffers from one of the main characters starting to go off the deep end of superpowerful characters. Technically it starts with Equal Rites but that book is completely different in tone and style than the later ones which start with Wyrd Sisters and that is the point I would recommend reading from.
And then there’s Death. The series with the least number of books, probably because coming up with interesting things for Death is trickier than ideas for guardsmen. Death starts with Mort which was the early book that demonstrated that Pratchett had bigger ideas than just parodying fantasy novels.
Dex’s comment on not binge reading due to how fast one can absorb “comedy” has me baffled. THGTTG books are dense with humor. Disc World books hardly have any at all. (And “Good Omens” barely registers any comedy whatsoever.)
His books are short stories or novelettes dragged out into a long form with pointless padding. That makes reading them fast easier (in fact too easy), not harder.