Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

Yes, it’s time for another entry in the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon! This one features Death (tall guy, a bit on the thin side, Talks in echoing capitals).

Being an anthropomorphic personification[1] on the Discworld has had an effect on Death. Over time, he’s developed more and more of an actual personality, which makes him a lot more interesting, but has met with the disapproval of some personality-free things known as the Auditors of Reality. They really don’t approve of all that messy individuality business, and (subject to some of them disappearing when inadvertently showing signs of it themselves) they ask Azrael, the uber-Death, so to speak, to sort him out. Azrael agrees, and Death finds himself out of a job and with a finite time to live. A new Death will arise, formed from the impressions of living beings on the DIsc. And when the new Death arises, its first job will be to see Death off the premises.

Well, that’s the set-up, anyway. What follows is two stories (helpfully indicated by different typefaces in my hardback edition). One follows Death as he finds a place in the world, learns more about life and faces up to the new Death. While this thread has a healthy number of gags, there’s a lot of serious thought in there. For instance, there’s this interchange between Death and Miss Flitworth, who’s given him a job on her farm, and who becomes a real friend to him

“That’s not fair, you know. If we knew when we were going to die, people would lead better lives.”
If people knew when they were going to die, I think they probably wouldn’t live at all.

The other thread deals with the consequences of Death being missing. While he’s off the job, people still die, but not having anywhere to go, are drifting back to their bodies. Yup, zombies. Most of the action follows the Unseen University wizards, most notably the deceased Windle Poons, who finds himself living more than he’s managed in the last century or so. And there’s more – there’s a general excess of what might be called “life energy”, which leads to some very odd phenomena, such as mad insect thingies appearing every time Archchancellor Ridcully swears, which in the circumstances, is even more than normal. And there is, of course, a nice extra-dimensional threat thingy to enjoy, which I won’t describe, as it’s more fun if you read it for yourself.

There’s the first mention of someone we’ll meet in a future book, the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, and more fun with the Librarian:

“You? We can’t take you,” said the Dean, glaring at the Librarian. “You don’t know the first thing about guerrilla warfare.”
“Oook!” said the Librarian, and made a surprisingly comprehensive gesture to indicate that, on the other hand, what he didn’t know about orangutan warfare could be written on the very small pounded-up remains of, for example, the Dean.

Further reality leakage has the Dean shouting Bonsai! as a battle cry, which quite naturally ends up as Topiary! a little later.

Huge fun, lovely character development for Death, and as always, more laughs than a very funny thing. Which it is. Err, that bit probably went a bit wrong, probably because of Quantum.

[1] Lovely phrase that, really rolls of the tongue, or in this case, the fingers