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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thud!


Thud!
by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett's early books, the first couple at least, were just a bit different, a bit off-beat, but, nothing as spectacular as the later ones which blow me away.

Pratchett sets his stories - most of them, if not all - in Discworld, and that possibly qualifies them as fantasy. But, his ability to take the real issues of our world, set them in a parallel world which is just off a few degrees from ours, and tear them down with thought-provoking humor and masterly storytelling makes him nothing short of genius.

Thud! is a Commander Vimes story. And it deals with rage and deep-seated hatred fostered over centuries, kept alive for so long that no one really remembers the facts or the reason for this intolerable animosity, between dwarves and trolls. Commander Vimes is determined to stop a repeat of Koom Valley, where, thousands of years ago, dwarves and trolls fought so fiercely that it seemed like the end of the world.

Thud is also a board game - not much unlike Chess - a game in which one has to learn to play both sides to master the strategic intricacies characteristic of Dwarf and Troll. A symbolic indulgence to remember the Battle of Koom Valley.

The threads of the plot, woven beautifully, are eclipsed only by Pratchett's power to string words together that balances satire and wisdom, creating characters both comical and vile, but, none that we can bring ourselves to dismiss or hate.

The peek into Vimes' fatherhood, the polarized factions of dwarves, the enigmatic Mr.Shine and thick-as-a-brick Brick, not to mention the tension between werewolf Sergeant Angua and newly inducted vampire Constable Salacia Delorisista Amanita Trigestrata Zeldana Malifee von Humpeding, Sally for short, and the inexplicable rancor that festers and bubbles between trolls and dwarves, all add up to an intense and profound read.

Early on in Guards!Guards!, when I encountered Vimes and his assorted bunch of Watchmen, little did I suspect of this phenomenal growth potential in the Night Watch. Enter Lady Sybil and Young Sam, and it opens up Vimes' hitherto unseen facets. Vimes is a hero. Not in the traditional flawless way, but, in a very human way which makes it even more meritorious - to be able to recognize one's limitations, find a way to surmount them to do what is right, despite staggering odds.

The introduction of the Summoning Dark, an ancient entity that materialized itself from elemental ooze at the beginning of the Universe, is pure Pratchett. A conceptual presence that is helpless without a creature, a being, to work through.

The italicized passages in which Pratchett explores and advances this Summoning Dark is pure ecstasy to read.

When, at the start of all things, the primordial clouds of mind had collapsed into gods and demons and souls of all levels, it had been among those who had never drifted close to a major accretion. So it had entered the universe aimlessly, without task or affiliation, a scrap of being blowing free, fitting wherever it could, a sort of complicated thought looking for the right kind of mind. Currently - that is to say, for the past ten thousand years, it had found work as a superstition.

It finds Captain Vimes of the Watch who, distraught and enraged by the mindless chaos in the city, is desperate to reestablish order, at whatever cost.

For a moment, just then, it had sensed an open door, a spasm of rage it could use. But just as it leapt to take advantage, something invisible and strong had grabbed it and flung it away.

Strange.

With a flick of its tail, it disappeared into an alley.


The roiling wrath that rears itself in Vimes is counterbalanced by his commitment to read Where's My Cow? to Young Sam every evening at six o'clock sharp, no excuses. And he does it with full gusto, adding the necessary sound effects, determined to entertain his infant, shutting out the ugliness of the world outside his son's nursery.

As usual, nothing is exempt from Pratchett's prod, and thus we are introduced to the Dis-Organizer Mark-Five, the Gooseberry™ (think Blackberry): a device inhabited by an imp which turns out useful eventually when Vimes gets over his aversion and inertia and his tendency to shut it off in mid-sentence as it starts to interact with him. He can't even bring himself to set it, so the Gooseberry imp has to greet him with "Good Morning, Insert Name Here!". Accidentally losing it, threatening it with a hammer, and other such ruse he attempts on and off, is his subtle way of dealing with the fact that Sybil always gets him another one and insists he keeps it handy in his pocket.

Pratchett's astute understanding of human nature, his keen sense of fitting plots and subplots with bordering-on-the-outrageous situations, along with his brilliant wordplay and sense of humor makes his books more than just fictional fantasy. And Thud! is no exception.

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