Book review in one tweet
Everyone is a con artist, unless you are a giant stone golem. Then you are an emotionless work machine. #ManyPunsIncluded
Just below the dome, staring down from their niches, were statues of the Virtues: Patience, Chastity, Silence, Charity, Hope, Tubso, Bissonomy, and Fortitude. (Many cultures practice neither of these in the hustle and bustle of the modern world, because no one can remember what they are.)
I've spent the better part of a year submitting stories to short-fiction magazines, most of them of the sci-fi-fantasy variety. Every single one of these magazines has a fairly specific set of guidelines for the formatting of submissions and the kinds of stories they are looking for. Here's a typical example (adapted from Clarkesworld Magazine, probably the best free fiction site online, except maybe Tor.com, magazines which have rejected me... I mean… have rejected my stories a total of seven times between them.)
Though no particular setting, theme, or plot is anathema to us, the following are likely hard sells:
- stories in which a milquetoast civilian government is depicted as the sole obstacle to either catching some depraved criminal or to an uncomplicated military victory
- stories in which the words "thou" or "thine" appear
- sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
- "funny" stories that depend on, or even include, puns
I am pretty confident that Terry Pratchett is the reason for that last one, just like I'm pretty confident that the editor of this list used the word "milquetoast" to confuse people. (It means timid). Pratchett is an insanely successful author, and his books are really fun and easy reads, and yes, full of puns. I suspect that legions of Pratchett fans have been flooding the editorial inboxes of magazine editors everywhere since he hit the height of his popularity in the early-to-mid 90s.
But writing humor is hard work, especially in the fantasy realm. This is mostly because fantasy is already so ridiculous that it has to take itself incredibly seriously to get the reader to buy in. So a fantasy story that doesn't take itself seriously will often smash itself to pieces pretty quickly.
So I was a little nervous picking up Going Postal, this being my first introduction to Pratchett and his Discworld series. But from the very first couple Prologs (there's two), I felt confident that I was in good hands. Pratchett has a gift for writing humor that makes you laugh and advances the storyline at the same time, like Shakespeare, only not as long-winded or as good. He has a real gift for crafting horrible character names, Moist von Lipwig being the worst, and the name of the main character. This is a good rule of thumb for all humor writing, I think: any time you can give one of your characters an adjective for a name, you should do it.
The story follows Moist as he goes from a convicted con man to the head of the Ankh-Morpork city post office. I won't give away any more of the plot, except to say that there's a pretty funny scene between a nineteen-thousand-year-old golem and Death.
Thematically, Pratchett spreads the humor around, taking shots at the usual comedic targets: religion, government, big business, and even academia, although the academics he makes fun of are mostly wizards. This is fair, I suppose, although it also leaves me a little underwhelmed at the end. I know this is pre-modern, but I like stories that have a point beyond "Everybody is a fool." I could probably find a point like that in Going Postal if I really tried hard, but I don't think I should have to try hard. I'm out of school.
7 wizard staffs (out of 10)
If you want a new series to get into, Pratchett currently has 40 Discworld books out, most of which can be read independently of each other. I liked this one enough that I'll probably check out a few more, and that's about the best recommendation you can give for a series.
9 cold, frosty beers (out of 10)
This is just about the easiest fantasy you'll ever read, with the exception of Harry Potter. It's ideal for airplanes, beaches, bus stations, and other places that normal people read books. Give it a shot, unless you are like my wife, and you have an intense hatred for the word "moist."
These reviews and more can be found on my Goodreads page, for those of you who are a part of that particular electronic social club.