Newest Review: ... ill, and from the curse which turned him into an ape some years back (from the Light Fantastic), it's now causing him to turn into random ... more
The Wizzard in Oz
The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett
Member Name: calypte
The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett
Advantages: Perfect silly Discworld fun!
Disadvantages: Nothing deep or desperately memorable here
For those who haven't been paying attention, Terry Pratchett - recently hailed by the BBC as the saviour and most important modern-day writer of fantasy fiction (although personally I think satire and humour are better genres to peg this in, if you must) - started writing about the Discworld, a flat earth-like place carried through space on the back of four elephants standing on top of a giant turtle (really), some 20 years ago and hasn't stopped yet. The Last Continent (TLC - aw!!) is volume 22, and although the series is not a single story as such, you will possibly be a tad confused if you start here.
TLC is a Wizard novel - I mean, it follows Rincewind and the faculty of Unseen University, in separate strands. While Rincewind tries to survive a place that is very definitely *not* Australia, all right?, the Archchancellor and his staff (not his *staff*, with the knob on the end, his... oh, you know what I mean!) find their way through a dimensional portal. That is, they climb through a bathroom window in the University, and find themselves on a most peculiar island. "I'm dying for a smoke", cries the Dean, and lo! Ten minutes later a cigarette bush has evolved!
The lack of seriousness here is rather what makes the book for me. Of course, I just said that about a book with passing references to theoretical physics, space-time, evolution, and the edibility of vegemite! But it spends far more time just galloping through a relatively thin plot: Rincewind's arrival on FourEcks, you see, has disrupted the delicate balance of... something... and unless he finds an answer the whole continent is going to dry up completely. Does it have anything to do with the ancient pictures of pointy-hatted men painted on the rocks? And how is Rincewind supposed to help, when he's locked up for sheep stealing (not that he's much help when he's not locked up!) - perhaps Scrappy the kangaroo can be of some help... Meanwhile, is it really safe to have the faculty of UU wandering about in the past, stomping on ants, and making suggestions to the god of evolution?!
Thanks to exams, my poor brain was feeling somewhat abused and my choice of reading matter needed to be untaxing and preferably a lot of fun - and this hit this spot *perfectly*! It's just such a joyous, silly, smile-inducing romp. Pratchett's lack of chapter structure, the flicking back and forth between the two story lines, and just a huge amount of enjoyment kept this whole thing flowing along nicely, and I devoured it over just two days.
The Discworld is a marvellous place to poke fun at the real world, but personally I find TLC a lot more gentle than usual. Perhaps because the fun being poked is at Australian stereotypes (although many notes are made at the start that this is not a book about Australia!) rather than, say, war or politics. I'm not sure how well any of this would go down with an Antipodean ('no worries, eh?') but for me it was just a bit of silliness: kangaroos, dangerous bugs and vegemite are all pretty safe issues to chortle at, I guess.
On the other thread, however, Pratchett does get to grips with creationism and evolution, as the University faculty meet the - I mean, *a* - god of evolution. I'm very big on evolution, and very not-happy with all the 'intelligent design' nonsense being taught in some schools, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a god finding mankind so... inadequate; the concept of 'the birds and the bees' (hah!) utterly baffling; and beetles the pinnacle of everything. Apart from cockroaches! Again, though, it's very very gentle prodding fun of, and (probably) unlikely to cause much offense.
Ah, but who cares about the message? This was just an excellent distraction from the woes of the world. Rincewind is so fabulously unlucky, cowardly and incompetent, and the rest of the wizards are just such a brilliant lampooning of upper management-types. Add my favourite characters - the Luggage, Death and Death of Rats, and the wonderful Librarian suffering from polymorphic 'flu - and the whole thing is just perfect when you want a bit of smiley escapism. This is definitely the most fun book I've read in a long time, and probably one of the fun-est books of the Discworld series. Certainly, the books about the wizards are my personal favourites, but there's also just a sense of out-and-out silly entertainment that is sometimes missing from the more serious underlying satire in other, particularly more recent, books. My advice: forget 'Making Money', and flip back a decade and a few thousand millennia, and just have some fun!
Paperback 416 pages (Corgi 1999)
First released in 1998
I'd recommend following the adventures of Rincewind from the beginning before picking this up. These are:
*The Colour of Magic / The Light Fantastic (recently filmed)
The first two are published as 'The First Discworld Novels', and the latter three are available in 'The Rincewind Trilogy' omnibus.
Summary: No worries, eh? :)