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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mort by Terry Pratchett

terry pratchett mort discworld book review
I know just a while ago I had said that I would not presume to write reviews of PG Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett's books, but, this recent one was too good to not record my thoughts on. The Discworld series is hard to fit in a genre - it is fantasy, it is humor, and it is simply brilliant all-round.

Fortunately since D also reads and enjoys them, he tolerates my strange affliction to giggle, chuckle, gurgle, and keel over laughing, with the book in my hands, and then, make him pay full attention to me when I read passages from the book aloud. Annoying? OK, I admit it.

Mort, short for Mortimer, is all-knees and gangly teen, whose father claims "He couldn't find his arse with both hands". Mort is not particularly bright, but does have a thinking-streak: "Mort was interested in lots of things...there was the puzzle of why the sun came out during the day, instead of at night when the light would come in useful. He knew the standard explanation, which somehow didn't seem satisfying".

When his dad decides to take him to town to possibly pass him off as someone's apprentice (and thereby someone else's problem), things don't go well initially as Mort spends the whole day getting by-passed and ignored, until the stroke of midnight, when all hope seems lost, he hears a clip-clop (only clip-clop suggested a cute pony wearing a straw hat with holes cut out for ears, whereas this horse had steam curling off its huge damp white flanks and sparks striking up from the cobblestones beneath it) when Death rides in seeking an apprentice.

This book is my first full-length encounter with Death (ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION), a complexly-designed character whose idiosyncrasies trickle out through the expected morbid views about his job, as well as through the hilarious (from readers' perspective) exchanges, his love of cats, not to mention the brilliant touches Pratchett adds like, Death's horse's name is Binky, and Death has a daughter (adopted) named Ysabell who has been 16 for 35 years (it was bad enough the first year)... plus the grand entrance of Death:
Death strode toward Mort, black cloak billowing and feet making little clicking sounds on the cobbles, and uttered in a sinister voice that arrived in Mort's head without bothering to pass through his ears: OH, BUGGER. when his rather impressive entrance was spoilt by a patch of ice.

Having been lonely for long, and growing increasingly listless, Death decides to pursue an alternate career as short-order cook and leaves the business of death to Mort, who promptly goofs up by trying to save Princess Keli, scheduled to die young, with whom he unfortunately develops a certain fatal fondness.

Events begin to unfold gradually and unpredictably, where Mort grows into a complex young man through a series of misadventures that enlightens him about Life, about History, about Reality, and, certainly about Death in the Discworld, that eventually, inevitably, morph him into Death declaring, "DEATH IS WHOEVER DOES DEATH'S JOB".

Several sentences were too perfectly constructed (or just keel-over-laughing funny) that I had to read them over and over in a naïvely futile attempt to see if it could have been improved upon:
"To Mort it was rather like going for a walk after a really bad thunderstorm: everything was quite fresh, nothing was particularly unpleasant, but there was the sense of vast energies just expended."

... a bit of wisdom from the Ching Aling: "Without vertically, wisely the cochineal emperor goes forth at teatime; at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom." (Says the fortune teller after a brief pause, "I think perhaps it lost something in translation.")

Now, what really makes this book brilliant for me is Pratchett's clever and consistent description of the Discworld's Time, Light and such concepts that as a former Physicist I tend to pay close attention to - and get quite annoyed when they are twisted incongruously in an attempt to create a fantasy world. Pratchett has got it right, for me at least.
Mort thought that history was thrashing around like a steel hawser with the tension off, twanging backwards and forwards across reality in great destructive sweeps.
History isn't like that. History unravels gently, like an old sweater.

The misplaced stroke of Mort's scythe had cut history into two separate realities.

...The point is both realities were true.

...the sort of historical event horizon was currently about twenty miles away from the city, and wasn't yet very noticeable. That's because the— well, call it the difference in historical pressures— wasn't yet very great.

People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it.

Light travels quite slowly on the Disc, due to the braking effect of the huge magical field...

...TIME IS ADJUSTABLE.. IT'S NOT REALLY IMPORTANT.
...PEOPLE THINK IT'S IMPORTANT ONLY BECAUSE THEY INVENTED IT.

I do not want to give away the ending, even though it is quite predictable, or at least not all that unexpected, but, suffice it to say that All's Right With The Disc, in the end. For now.

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