Newest Review: ... it's another group that steal the show. Cohen - the ancient and arthritic Barbarian and his merry band of fellow warriors. Realising he's n... more
Conquest and Culture Clash: Rincewind the Revolutionary
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett
Member Name: SWSt
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett
Advantages: Very, very funny. The Silver Horde ranks as one of Pratchett's best creations
Disadvantages: The focus on Rincewind and the Horde sidelines other fan favourites
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
Summary: An inspired culture-clash comedy