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There are probably few people who are not aware of the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times". In the hands of Terry Pratchett, though, this needs to be amended to "May you live in interesting and amusing times."
Everyone's favourite incompetent wizard Rincewind is back and he's off on his travels again. This time he is sent to HungHung, capital of the Agatean Empire, who are demanding the presence of the "Great Wizzard". Needless to say, once there Rincewind inadvertently causes all sorts of problems, like accidentally fomenting a revolution.
It's good to see Rincewind return. His unintentional ability of somehow being right in the middle of events, despite his best intentions has always been an excellent source of comedy, whilst His personal brand of cowardice and knack for survival has always been good for a laugh. His relations with the rebel Red Army are particularly amusing, since they view him as some sort of hero to be worshipped. As long time Discworld fans will know, the idea of Rincewind being held in any kind of awe is laughable and Pratchett has great fun exploring this idea.
Whilst Rincewind might nominally be the lead character, it's another group that steal the show. Cohen - the ancient and arthritic Barbarian and his merry band of fellow warriors. Realising he's not as young as he was, Cohen has enlisted the help of other, equally ancient barbarians to help him in his latest quest. Their straightforward approach to life (if you come across a problem, hit it with a sword until it is dead and/or goes away) is brilliantly funny. In particular, the culture clash element (which pits HungHungese against both Ankh Morpork culture and barbarian culture) is brilliantly handled. And, of course, as you might expect from a group of old men, there is banter and bickering aplenty and it's this which in many ways provides much of the book's humour.
As if this wasn't enough, Pratchett introduces an even more bonkers idea - a would-be barbarian, ex-teacher who is trying to teach the Horde to be civilised! The wonderfully named Ronald Saveloy has the thankless task of trying to get characters such as Truckle the Uncivil and others to use "civilised" swear words ("Dang") or engage in social intercourse (hur! hur! hur!) such as buying an apple. Such moments might only make up a very small part of Interesting Time's overall plot, but they are easily amongst its highlights. Whenever I read Interesting Times, I always thinks it's a shame that Pratchett hasn't revisited The Horde since.
It's a shame that the Unseen University Wizards don't feature quite as much. Their bumbling, bickering and blunderbuss approach to life is always great fun, but their appearance here is pretty much limited to book-ending the action. Still, they get their chance in plenty of other books and their absence is more than made up for by Cohen and his Silver Horde.
In the wrong hands, Interesting Times could have been a slightly awkward book. HungHung is quite clearly inspired by China and it would have been all too easy to slip into "let's all laugh at Johnny Foreigner" mode and score cheap chuckles from ideas and customs which (to us) seem odd. Of course, Pratchett is far too skilled to fall into that trap. Whilst there are occasional swipes at Chinese customs, Pratchett mostly points out that to an outside, all customs and beliefs tend to be rather odd and bewildering. This is the bedrock of some pretty fertile comedy as just about everyone fails to understand just about everyone else!
Pratchett's use of language is simply superb. He has long demonstrated that he has a knack for using exactly the right word or phrase at exactly the right time in order to transform a fairly mundane situation or comment into something laugh out loud funny. It's a skill he has honed over several Discworld novels and it stands him in good stead here. Thanks to his quirky outlook on life and his skill in expressing things in a skewed, but amusing way, there are very few pages in the book that will not make you laugh. Even the very end (when most comedy novels have run out of steam) has plenty to make you laugh and some of the descriptions and conversations in the conclusion (set back at good old Unseen University) are priceless.
If you've never read a Discworld novel, you could do a lot worse than pick this one up because it is one of the more accessible entries. Yes, you are entering the series in a slightly odd place (since RIncewind has already appeared in several adventures) but despite the odd reference to earlier books, this is perfectly readable as a standalone book in its own right.
A new copy will set you back about £5, although it can be picked up second hand for about half that - well worth it for a book you will read time and again.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013
Interesting Times brings back Rincewind to the Discworld, after his adventures in Eric. When the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork gets a letter from the CounterWeight Continent (the Disc equivalent of Asia), from the Agatean Empire, asking him to "send the great Wizzard", he tells the staff of the Unseen University, who deduce this can only refer to Rincewind (who had that spelling written on his hat)
They manage to summon him, and convince him to fo the Agatean Empire, to speak to the person who sent the message and with his Luggage, he is sent there. When he gets there, he is reunited with an old companion of his (from the Light Fantastic) - Cohen the Barbarian who has brought his horde with him and plan to usurp the Emperor and take the country which won't be hard considering the state of turmoil the country is in, thanks to a "revoluationary" document entitled What I Did on my Holidays, written by no other than Twoflower who has, thanks to his travels in the first two Discworld books, caused great chaos. With the Empire's capital city under seige from the five powerful feudal lords
The Empire's capital city of Hunghung is under "siege" from the Empire's five most powerful feudal lords - Hong, Tang, Fang, Sung, and McSweeney, and a revolutionary group called the Red Army is also independently plotting to overthrow the Emperor. Can Rincewind stop the madness before it gets both Twoflower and, more importantly, himself killed?
Set on the magical, bizarre and overly quirky Discworld, Interesting Times (the seventeenth book in the series) is a fun filled adventure, bringing back everybody's favourite wizard.
It was nice to take a break from him for a while and focus on the Watch and the Witches, but there's always a bit of a longing for the character. After all, he's the first character we really got to know well and even though he's simply a coward who runs away from things (Pratchett himself often stating that it's getting harder to write Rincewind stories as there's simply nothing driving them forward), he has that same appeal that Shaggy from Scooby Doo had, but maybe even more so. While all he does is run away, he isn't just a one-recipe kind of person - when he wants to he can summon great courage and has often stopped the Disc from near destruction.
Interesting Times brings back a few characters from older books, namely the first two. We get to see more of Twoflower, who's had a bit of a personality change and is less gormless. We also get to see Cohen again, which is pretty cool and there's a bit of development in his character.
It's well written, with nice parallels to the modern world, most obviously Communist China but also has a lot of references and ideas brought from older stories of Imperial China and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
It's good to get a story set on this Counterweight Continent we've been hearing about since the Colour of Magic and, with Pratchett typical wit and style, it's sure to make for a fantastic read
Get yourself to China! Or at least The Discworld equivalent known as The Aurient because gold (chemical symbol AU, Oh look a Chemistry related joke!) is incredibly common there.
Someone has written a very revolutionary book called "What I did on my holidays" and its inspiring some of the citizens of The Counterweight Continent who are of a mind that their leaders need to be replaced and its time for a revolution.
Sadly this revolution has been started by Rincewinds former associate (it'd be unfair to call him anything else) Twoflower but being the simple minded person he is he's not even aware he started a revolution.
Throw in Cohen The Barbarian & his Golden Horde (most of whom are so old they should be dead) and a teacher trying to teach them manners & etiquette to no avail.
With some magical travelling, barking dogs and extremely funny pictograms (urinating dog!) we get a Pratchett styled twist on the Land Of The Rising Sun.
" They have a curse
May you live in INTERESTING TIMES "
Take one hopeless Wizard with an advanced sense of preservation. Call him Rincewind. Have him somehow save the world several times without ever getting the credit for it. Have him in innumerable tight spots with no way out but have him stay alive throughout everything. Place him on a remote island where nothing can possibly happen to him, and where he can enjoy his favourite state of being - boredom (because nothing is trying to kill him / eat him / rip his limbs off).
Take a university full of Wizards. Inhabit this university with several pompous and dangerous characters, and some absolute lunatics. Head of the pile is a wizard who thrives more on pragmatism that creativity of pure magic, Arch-Chancellor Ridcully. Assisting or hindering him are the Dean, the Bursar, and various lecturers in ancient runes or other obscure subjects. Take one wizard who has created a machine that can work things out, and needs a lot of sand to run, and wont work at all without the mouse thats made its home there.
Take an empire where they have something worse than whips to control the people. Consider an ancient story of a wizard who helps the Red Army raise an impossibly strong set of terracotta warriors to defeat the tyrannical regime thats been in place for centuries, or perhaps millennia. Think of an army full of determined zealots whose respect for authority is such that their best slogans are something like Deserved but unfortunate judgement on the oppressors! Add one unbelievably accomplished but bored powermonger thirsting for a new challenge, and an Emperor who thinks its funny to torture people just because he can.
Take a group of aging barbarians who have mastered the art of staying alive. Leading them is Cohen, who has a master-plan, and aiding him is a teacher, who is trying to make them become civilised.
Mix the above ingredients together and stir thoroughly. Add a good measure of butterflies, satirical images of the Grecian and Roman gods playing games with the lives of mortals, and simmer on a low heat for a while. Add salt to taste, sprinkle on some pepper, give it one final stir and serve hot.
Oh, and dont forget the tourist guide. Thats very important.
( Put it together and what have you got? Interesting Times, of course!)
The above may give you an idea of the plot of this book and the rather manic energy that goes into it. One of the Discworld novels by fantasy humour maestro Terry Pratchett, INTERESTING TIMES is among those that are extremely readable and very funny, but lack that certain something that the very best ones have. The plot is certainly well up to scratch though perhaps a touch predictable in places then again, maybe Ive now read so many of Pratchetts books that I know how his mind works so can think ahead in the same way he does! Most of the main characters will already be familiar to Discworld fans, and theyre as well written and funny as ever. There are one or two notable new characters, in particular Lord Hong, the bad guy. His character is interesting and a worthy addition to the Discworld archives. Rincewind is a love-him or hate-him type of character, and if youve read any of the previous books with him in then youll have already made your mind up. I do have a soft spot for him though havent always liked his books as much as some of the others. We do see a bit of a different side of Rincewind in this novel a more humanist side, where hes trying to save people other than himself! (Though himself as well, of course.) Ive always liked Cohen the Barbarian, who if memory serves was first seen in Sourcery. He has a quality of simplicity with a code of honour, as well as of course being seemingly indestructible.
The satirical element of this novel is perhaps simpler than a lot of the later books, however unless you have at least a basic knowledge of Chinese history and culture, and chaos theory, much of it is likely to pass you by. Interesting Times is definitely a re-readable book, and youll probably pick up references you missed last time around with each subsequent read. I daresay youll enjoy the book at least as much on a re-read as the first time, perhaps more so. Despite this it doesnt really rank among the very best Discworld books, it just lacks a certain edge to make it really stand out.
Overall, Interesting Times is a light, enjoyable read that all fans of Discworld or humorous fantasy fiction will enjoy. The end of the story leads right into the beginning of the next Rincewind book, The Last Continent.
(Rincewind first appeared in The Colour of Magic and then The Light Fantastic.)
Amazon price: £5.59
May You Live in Interesting Times. This is the strongest curse that the people of the Counterweight Continent can muster. You see rules and tradition run their lives. This land of communism sets great store in examinations indeed, a 3000 word thesis and a verse of poetry is required to become a gardener in these parts.
However, the peasants long for freedom (or at least a longer piece of string for their water buffalo). This results in the Red Army uniting to succeed in Untimely Demise To The Forces of Oppression. How will they do this you may well ask? Well with the forces of good on their side and the power of The Great Wizzard how can they lose?
Interesting Times is Terry Pratchetts 17th novel in the phenomenally successful Discworld series. It is the third to feature Rincewind, Discworlds most inept Wizzard. This fact is pivotal as to whether you, the reader will want to read this particular outing or not. Rincewind is a character either loved or loathed. He is the cowardly, slapstick figure with a nose for danger and a turn of speed designed for running away. Rincewinds fight or flight response is most definitely stuck on flight.
However, Rincewind is forever the unwitting saviour of lives, nations and the Discworld itself. Pawn and plaything to the Gods, this ever so reluctant hero is constantly tossed into deadly situations. His knack of escaping Death amuses the Gods and is a constant irritant to the Grim Reaper himself. As a reader you will either root or rue this pathetic figure as he is thrown from one ridiculous situation to the next.
This novel is almost unique in the Discworld series in that you do not need prior knowledge to fully enjoy it. All characters are described in their full glory and places rendered vivid by Pratchetts apt descriptions. I become fully immersed in the characters be it the ancient barbarians on a unique quest or the complex mind of Hex the University computer.
Pratchetts focus throughout remains on a communist society reminiscent of traditional China yet he still manages to extract the urine out of the motives of revolutionaries; tax collectors and those interested in the greater good. Some will notice this novel is not as funny as previous outings nut there are still some great slapstick moments and comments with parodies of martial arts films and Demon Seed thrown in for good measure.
The plot is a complex one comprising Gods fate and the casualties of war but it is in the sub-plots were this novel truly excels. Peppered throughout are the stories of individual characters be it a teacher cum barbarian quest for a purpose or the ever-cheerful Twoflowers unexpected need for vengeance.
At 352 pages this is an all encompassing read that although often dismissed as funny fantasy surprises with the political commentary hidden within. Unsurprisingly I recommend this novel wholeheartedly for newcomers to the Discworld and fans coming back to the fold.
UK Price £5.99
I started reading Interesting Times with some trepidation, only really on the reccomendation of my brother who'd read it and said it was good. That trepidation left me after a few pages. We're back in classic Pratchett country. The Counterweight Continent meets Rincewind, the Great Wizzard, although what they say to him once they find out he's a lazy university dropout (a future for this reviewer, maybe?) who can do as much magic as Paul Daniels - that is to say, not much. In addition to Rincewind, we see an appearance from Twoflower, who apart from the early books we have seen little of. There is also Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde including the veritable Mad Hamish and the fantastically well-to-do Teach who attempts in a rather fool-hardy manner, to teach the Barbarian Horde to become civilised and learn some manners. I've always had a preference for the Discworlds that contain wizards rather than witches, as the wizard ones are just, in my opinion, funnier. Much funnier. And, thankfully, Interesting Times is one of them. It has the full cast of the Unseen University faculty, ranging from the drunk and down-and-out Dean and Bursar to an orang-utan that used to be the librarian but found a far more satisfying life swinging around the library as if it was full of trees and eating bananas. It also has the excellent HEX which anyone who has played the Discworld II game will know and love (although references to Skazz et al are, unfortunately, not present). A very good addition to the Discworld series and highly reccomended, especially considering that you can get paperbacks of it from Amazon Marketplace for £2.50ish.
Rincewind is always one step ahead of the game, at least one step because he spends most of his time running away. This is a book full of runing away, but no matter how fast he runs he always ends up in trouble. This is the most endearing tale about rebellion you'll ever read and a more mismatch bunch of characters you'll be hard pressed to find. A bunch of geriatric barbarians led by a school teacher,a bunch of rebels led by none other than the seemlessly harmless tourist twoflower and a whole army of inaminate objects seems like a strange mix but believe me this is one of those books you won't want to stop reading. And even Luggage falls in love....
This is a story about a little journal and how much trouble it causes on the counterweight continent. Somebody managed to leave the walled continent and travel to the lands of the blood-sucking ghosts and actually had quite a nice time. The problem is that the Emperor rules by discipline and fear and this little journal might get people to see a different world than the one handed to them or even worse might allow them to think. The hapless Rincewind doesn't die very often through this long book. The story was very enjoyable and the supporting characters were actually a bit more than two dimentional.
On the Counterweight Continent, gold is found in such abundance that it's as valuable to the people there as dirt is to the citizens of Ankh-Morpork. In Ankh-Morpork, a little gold would go a long long way. The Agatean Empire have nothing Ankh-Morpork can afford, and Ankh-Morpork has nothing they want. Therefore short and infrequent messages are exchanged between the two rulers by means of a Pointless Albatross. When the Emperor of the Agatean Empire sends a message to Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, asking for the "Great Wizzard", Havelock Vetinari asks Mustrum Ridcully (the Archchancellor of Unseen Unversity) who exactly they want. None of the senior wizards can guess, but the University Librarian (who by the way is an ape) knows. "The Great Wizzard" is Rincewind, a failed wizard who used to be the library assistant. He also used to hang around with a tourist from the Counterweight Continent and can speak the language, so he's the perfect candidate even if he's the wrong one. However there's one teensy problem. No one knows where he is. Eventually they transport Rincewind to UU, taking him away from beautiful Amazon warriors who want him to father their children. If that wasn't bad enough, now they want him to go to the Counterweight Continent where he'll probably get killed. It's either that or not call himself a wizard (or "wizzard" even) and that's the only occupation he likes. It turns out that Twoflower (the tourist that Rincewind befriended a while back) wrote a book called "What I did on My Holidays", talking of Rincewind as the "Great Wizzard". The rebels in the Agatean Empire mistook that to mean that Rincewind is the legendary "Great Wizard" who's supposed to lead them to victory. With Cohen the Barbarian and his "Silver Hoarde" involved in a plot to rule the Empire, things get confused. Will Rincewin
d save the rebels or run away? He's very good at running away, it's his most useful skill, and it's why he's not dead yet... Get the book, it's funny and it's a Pratchett!
The oldest empire on the Discworld is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise What I Did on My Holidays. Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their water buffaloes. Warlords are struggling for power. War (and Clancy) are spreading throughout the ancient cities.