Tag Archives: terry pratchett

The Great Robert Rankin Re-read-athon

Readers[1] with functioning memories might recall that  three years ago I embarked on my Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon, which involved reading all of the Discworld books in sequence. Well, the time has come for another marathon. Taking what little remains of my sanity in hand, I’m embarking on another re-read-athon: the works of the brilliant, bonkers, and barking (well, more Brentford, really) Robert Rankin.

I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the onslaught of insanity by listening to the audiobooks over the last mumble months, but now the time has come to actually read them. In original published order. I’ll be posting individual review posts and updating the Robert Rankin page with links as I go. Unless it all proves too much and I get carried off somewhere…

First post coming soon.

[1] AKA unicorns, or mythical beasts of your choice

I, Robert – The Far-Fetched Autobiography of Robert Rankin

I have mentioned Robert Rankin many times before. I am what you might call a fan of his unique works of what he calls far-fetched fiction. While they generally get filed under sf and fantasy in bookshops, and do indeed have fantastical elements, the main thing about them is that they’re funny. Generally laugh out loud and get funny looks on the bus funny. And they’re quite delightfully filled with asides about how nobody’s going to believe some plot development or other and similar bits of self-referentital silliness. There are running gags that don’t just work through a single book or trilogy (such as the classic Brentford trilogy, now up to a healthy seven books), but through most of his quite considerable output. It’s a tradition, or an old charter, or something. Which is one of them that I’ve shamelessly borrowed stolen once or twice.

Now I had wondered why his most recent novel, which I seem to have neglected to mutter about, was a self-published ebook rather than being available in DTV form from actual booksellers. Come to think of it, I had wondered why his last few books hadn’t been as widely publicised as used to be the case. For instance, why did I only learn that one of them existed when I read a post-release review? Well, the answers to all those questions are now at hand. Well, they’re at my hand. To get them near your hand, you’ll need to click the nice picture at the top of this post, which will take you to Robert’s site, where you’ll be able to order your own copy of this frankly quite lovely book. It’s a signed and numbered limited edition (mine’s 2,511 of 5,000, as I was a bit slow in getting round to ordering it, which was very naughty of me), so you’d better hurry. Go on, get it ordered now, I’ll wait…

Right, I’ll assume you’ve done the decent thing and ordered the book, so now I can tell you what to expect (delivery was pretty damn quick for me, so you shouldn’t have long to wait).

It’s a book of two halves. Well, approximate halves. Perhaps it’s more of a book of a third and two thirds. Umm, well, anyway, there are two sections.

The first section is Robert talking about his life. It’s a nicely disordered collection of anecdotes and incidents than a properly arranged story, which makes it (a) much more like real life and (ii) pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve been doing the required reading. Lots of fun. Ups, downs, bad jobs, good friends, and more asides than a thong[3] with a lot of asides.

The second section is sort of based on the books. There’s a section for each novel, giving some indication of its background, where the story and characters came from, what was going on in his life at the time (more ups, more downs, more general oddness), and yet more diversions and distractions. It was interesting to learn who Hugo Rune was really based on (in addition to the obvious Aleister Crowley bits) and which of our popular friendly characters is Robert’s alter-ego.

And it’s frustrating to learn how his dealings with mainstream publishing came to an end. In a story which absolutely didn’t happen, he tells us of the sad results of his long-term editor leaving the publisher in question, and the horrors of what her successor seemed to think was a reasonable thing to expect from Robert. Pretty much along the lines of “we’ll tell you what to write”, which seems a bit silly to me[1].

Robert describes himself as retired now, but he’s still writing, and thanks to another publisher not managing to grab the ebook rights to his first 23 or so books, managing to make some money from those. I’ve already got then in DTVs of course, but my Kindle could probably do with some of them for ease of rereading..

Oh, and if you use Audible, I strongly recommend the audiobooks of Robert’s books. They managed to get a quite wonderful reader for them – a chap called Rankin. He’s done a lovely job of these – updating some gags that relate to almost forgotten events and people, or sometimes explaining the references, making comments about things that don’t work in audio, and yet more asides.

And you don’t have to take my word for it – Sir Terry Pratchett, quite apart from being Robert’s friend, was quoted as saying of Robert

One of the rare guys who can always make me laugh

Which should be enough recommendation for anyone. And I, Robert closes with a joke that Terry told Robert which I won’t repeat here, as I think you should buy the book if you want to see it. It’s almost worth the price for the joke alone!

[1] Of course, it didn’t happen like that[2], but if It had, I’d think that.
[2] This may be something to do with lawyers, so we can’t be too careful
[3] 2 May 2016 On re-reading this post, I noticed I’d typed the word “thong” there. I probably meant “thing”, but I think I’ll leave it there as it’s a moderately amusing typo, as such things go. Other typos may have been corrected

Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

There are some words I never wanted to type, but I’m going to have to do it, so here goes.

This is the final Discworld novel by the late, great, and generally wonderful Terry Pratchett. It’s not quite as finished as Terry would have wished, but it has, as the afterword by his assistant Rob Wilkins puts it, a beginning, a middle and an end, but there are clearly some bits not finished off quite as thoroughly as they might have been. But it’s all we have, and all we’ll have, and it’s a lovel;y thing.

Now it’s almost impossible to talk about this book without including spoilers, so for the benefit if anyone reading this who hasn’t yet read it, I’ll recycle my Doctor Who warning method:

Here be spoilers!

Continue reading

Charles Stross – The Annihilation Score

And it’s back to fun and games with the Laundry, the mostly secret government department that deals with extra-dimensional entities, paranormal wossnames and worst of all, the HR department. But this time, we’re not in the familiar hands of Bob Howard. If you’ve read The Rhesus Chart, you’ll recall that having coped with a little matter of don’t be silly, there’s no such thing as vampires, Bob ran into a little domestic difficulty when his wife Mo (aka professor Dominique O’Brien, Laundry agent and academic, current holder of a rather special violin) got back after a rather taxing mission of her own. That special violin (Mo calls it Lecter, which isn’t it’s real name) took a dislike to Bob, and since it’s known for sucking the souls of of people, this wasn’t altogether conducive to domestic harmony. It didn’t help that Bob’s former boss, the entity known as Angleton, was killed in an attack on the Laundry, which left Bob as the new, err, Eater of Souls (very handy for dealing with occult menaces, but the eyes glowing in the dark can be a wee bit disconcerting). So Bob’s moved out of home, leaving Mo to narrate the story.

So. As regular readers of the series will recall, things are getting close to the condition known as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, which is pretty much what HP Lovecraft was talking about (stars are right, things from the Dungeon Dimensions[1] return, Bad Things happen, etc). And as a result of this, some people are, well, getting, umm, superpowers. And people being people, this results in some people doing Very Bad Things. Worse still, some of them wear lycra while doing their particular Bad Things.

So, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to her, Mo is appointed to head up a new organisation to deal with the Superpower Menace. Working with Jim Grey, a police liaison officer, who has a power or two of his own, she has to set up a team to recruit suitably well-behaved, err, superheroes and combat supervillains.

Things are complicated by the presence of Bob’s ex Mhari (who we mustn’t call a vampire) and another old friend.

And much fun follows. Missions go Badly Wrong. There’s a mysterious supervillain  who seems to be running rings around Mo and her team, and her violin is getting more demanding (doing the best Feeeeeeeed Meeeeee routine since Audrey 2).

But never mind. Mo’s getting on well with Jim, who manages to get tickets for the Last Night of the Proms. Won’t that be nice? Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, well. No. In a unprecedented change to the programme, Mo finds herself compelled to play a rather unusual piece on Lecter…

And that’s all I’m telling you. Fun, frolics, and really nasty things are involved. And it’s the usual level of enormous fun. If you’re wondering about Bob, he does make a few guest appearances, but this one really is Mo’s story, and we get to know her a lot better. And her own superpower is developing nicely.

As with previous books in the series, the only significant problem is that there’s not enough of it, and it’ll probably be another year (or more!!) before the next one.

Good stuff, totally recommended. And if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, there’s a list on my Charlie Stross page.

[1] Yes, Charlie does use Terry Pratchett’s expression there

Sir Terry Pratchett

Today we lost Sir Terry Pratchett. Eight years after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Terry died at home, surrounded by his family.

The fact that I’ve been expecting, no, dreading, this day since he announced his “embuggerance” doesn’t make it any easier to bear.  Terry’s books were full of wit, warmth, and humanity, and added to the total amount of joy in my life, if not that of the world in general.

I’ll leave more detailed tributes to those who can marshall their thoughts. I’m finding it hard enough to type this because the damn screen keeps going blurry. Yeah, actual tears are flowing, and that’s all I can say right now.

Normal posts will resume later.

Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – Good Omens

I should have re-read and reviewed this book as part of my Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon last year. But having got through all the Discworld books, the virtual pile[1] of unread new books was giving me sad looks, and I was obliged to start catching up with those. And then there’s the little matter of new books appearing all the time, which distract my attention even further. But all the publicity attached to the BBC Radio adaptation of Good Omens reminded me that it’s been a while[2] since I read it, and the Christmas break seemed like a good opportunity to right that wrong. Rather than carry my first edition (I think) hardback (definitely) with me, I invested in a new Kindle edition, which comes with a new introduction and extra bits at the end, so it was worth having.

Anyway, enough digression, and on with the book. It’s all about Armageddon: the end of the world, the Final Battle between Heaven and Hell, and how that all gets a wee bit disrupted thanks to a slight error in the baby-swapping department. Instead of being brought up as the son of an American diplomat, the Antichrist ends up in an English village, which by no coincidence at all is also home to a descendant of the remarkable witch Agnes Nutter, noted for making entirely accurate prophecies which can only be recognised as such after the events in question.

Much silliness and fun follows, mostly centred around the Angel Aziraphale and the Demon Crowley, who rather in the manner of opposing secret agents, have found over the last few thousand years that they have more in common with each other than with their respective management structures. Crowley, having spent a lot of time with humans, and having realised that left alone, they’ll do much nastier things to each other than all the demons of Hell can think up, has moved on to more subtle work

But demons like Ligur and Hastur wouldn’t understand. They’d never have thought up Welsh-language television, for example. Or value-added tax. Or Manchester.

There’s fun with the remains of the Witchfinder Army (run by both Aziraphale and Crowley) and even more fun with aliens:

You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?

But the core of the book has to be the misplaced Antichrist Adam and his group of friends (known as the Them), who are quite blatantly inspired by Just William[3], and don’t act or speak like any real kids. Oh, and there’s a Hellhound, too.

But enough of my waffling – you need to read this, or maybe listen to the radio version, which is reportedly Rather Good, having been observed by Neil Gaiman.

The extra bits include an introduction about the unexpected popularity of the book, the definitive Facts about Good Omens, a bit by Terry about Neil and a bit by Neil about Terry[4].

One bit missing is the possibly apocryphal story that at some point not that long after the book was published, one or both of the authors came up with a title for the sequel that never happened: 664: The Neighbour of the Beast. I think somebody else may have used it by now…

And by a remarkable coincidence, I seem to have written 666 words, which is a good point to stop.

[1] I have a collection on my Kindle called “To read”. It’s got lots in it, rather like the piles of actual books I need to get around to.
[2]  Well, I certainly read it when it was published in 1990, and probably again a year or two later, so it’s probably been twenty years or more…
[3] Younger readers and furriners: a series of books about a group of kids who get into “adventures” and generally annoy all adults while having the best of intentions. Mostly.
[4] Those two might have been in the original edition, but I can’t check from here.

Terry Pratchett – A Slip of the Keyboard

This is the long-awaited[1] collection of  Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing, which might be considered to be a companion to A Blink of the Screen, which collected his short fiction.

The book contains a variety of work – newspaper articles, speeches, pieces written for conventions, and contains much that is funny, much that is serious and much that is angry. Yes, angry. I’ve noticed a fair degree of anger in Terry’s books before, and indeed two of his greatest characters, Granny Weatherwax and Sam Vimes have plenty of it between them. So I was interested by Neil Gaiman’s introduction which went into some detail about Terry’s anger…

But enough of me muttering, and on with the essential part of this post: the quotes. I’ll keep this relatively brief, otherwise I’d end up quoting more than half the book, which would (a) take a while and (b) probably get me into trouble on grounds of copyright or something.

In the introduction to the introduction[2] to the third Australian Discworld convention, Terry recalls the first Discworld convention, where he witnessed fans being amazed to find they were not alone

They’re a loveable lot who drink like the rugby club and fight like the chess club

And talking of Australia, there’s this place he visits that he likes

What we particularly like about it is the tennis court and golf course, because it doesn’t have them.

Sounds like my kind of place.

But it’s not all for laughs. There’s a lot about his Alzheimer’s disease, and his determination to meet his end in his own way in his own time. And there’s a lot of his justifiable anger there….

There’s also anger for the plight of the orangutans, being driven to extinction by human action.

But overall, there’s a lot of warmth, wit, wisdom and probably other things beginning with “w” that I can’t think of right now. Well worth reading even if you’re not a Discworld fan.[3]

[1] Seriously – it was announced last year and had its publication date shifted, mutter
[2] There are short introductions to the pieces in the book, putting them into perspective…
[3] Rumour has it that such people exist

Terry Pratchett – Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook

No, not a new Discworld novel, but a nicely silly companion piece to last year’s Raising Steam. In that book, you might recall that a lady called Mrs Bradshaw[1] was writing a useful guide for travellers on the new railway network. And here it is, more or less, give or take.

It’s a lovely book, from the distressed-looking cover[2] to the illustrations, sample notices and adverts to the descriptions of the numerous places where travellers can enjoy local cuisine and hospitality.

Travellers will be happy to know that the Thieves’ Guild offers an enhanced luggage protection service. Pay them and no licensed thief will interfere with your property. And given the Guild’s robust attitude to unlicensed thieves, you really shouldn’t have a problem.

And you might want to pay a visit to the ancient Effing Forest, habitat of the endangered Effing Great Tit[4], not to mention some local lumberjacks who’ve formed a choir. I have a suspicion that they might sing something a wee bit familiar…

There is, of course, much more.

It’s all good silly fun, and highly recommended.

[1] More of that leakage between worlds thingy
[2] This is the sort of thing I have to have in DTV[3] rather than Kindle form
[3] Dead Tree Version
[4] Now there’s an expression I don’t use often

Terry Pratchett – Raising Steam

And here it is: the 40th in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld series, which I spent much of this year re-reading. In terms of the series, it’s a sequel to Going Postal and Making Money in that its main viewpoint character is reformed (mostly) conman Moist van Lipwig. Err, but it’s also a sequel to Thud! and Snuff, in that Sam Vimes plays a major role, and that it follows up on the events at Koom Valley and the matter of goblins. So it could be viewed as tying up loose ends, and it has been suggested that this might be the last in the series.

But enough of such speculation, and on with the book itself.

Over the years, the Discworld, or more particularly Ankh-Morpork has been morphing from a more or less off the shelf medieval fantasy society to something more like Victorian England, and in Raising Steam that transition would appear to be complete. Steam has arrived, and arrived in style. And trains are going to be even more disruptive than the Clacks, the ever-advancing telegraphy system. Now, not only will messages be transmitted faster than was ever dreamed of, but now people and goods can be moved faster than any non-magical means ever dreamed of.

And part of the book is a story of the development of the railway from a single engine doing demonstration laps to a long distance service, with the action spreading over many months. Things are made more interesting by the involvement of Moist van Lipwig, who’s almost a reformed character these days

There was a difference between a banker and a crook, there really was, and although it was very, very teeny Moist felt that he should point out that it did exist and besides, Lord Vetinari always had his eye on him.

And Lord Vetinari has his eye on the railway, too, which is why he puts Moist in charge of a very important and difficult plan to get a line all the way to Uberwald.

But there’s more. Not everyone is all that keen on progress, and the grags – the most err, deep-down of the deep-downer dwarfs really don’t like the railway. They move on from destroying clacks towers to attempting to disrupt rail travel, especially that line to Uberwald. Though their motivation for that may have more to do with not wanting their King to get back and stop the coup they’ve managed to start.

It wasn’t as if the grags were holding hard to yesterday; they hadn’t got as far as this century.

As the railway gets closer to Uberwald, the danger grows, and it’ll take the combined efforts of Sam Vimes and Moist to get the King back where he needs to be.

And there’s more. Goblins, having been declared to be just as much people as everyone else, are making themselves very useful everywhere. Not only do they make excellent clacks operators, but it turns out they’re really useful on the trains.

There’s the usual bunch of references and gags, including a fat controller, and a dwarf with the delightful name of Dopey Docson. Lots of laughs, loads of danger, an unexpected side to Lord Vetinari, and Sam Vimes changing his opinion on Moist. What more could you ask for?

If this is, as some people have suggested, the Last Discworld Book Ever, which given Terry’s state of health seems depressingly likely, then at least the series is going out on a high point.

For Who the Bell Tolls – David Marsh

David Marsh is an editor of some variety on the Guardian, edits the paper’s Mind Your Language blog, and is generally responsible for the @GuardianStyle Twitter feed, both of which are good fun for anyone who enjoys the use and abuse of language.

He’s now published a book (parts of which have previously appeared on the blog) about English grammar and style. It’s written in a light, humorous style and is a lot of fun, particularly when he quotes some of the more extreme examples of linguistic abuse. He also has the good taste to quote Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, which earns him several million bonus points.

He’s nicely opinionated and has little patience with some of the more pompous forms of communication:

You don’t need to know that ‘this is he’ is an example of the predicate nominative to be all to aware that someone who uses it to answer the phone is going to sound like a twerp.

And in a chapter on easily (or not so easily) confused words, he offers this useful definition:

fayre A fete worse than death

David has fun with political language and the bizarre form of communication used by train companies. Though he seems to have missed the odd one where the thing you’re sitting in[1] isn’t a train. Oh no, it’s a service.  And those places where you get on or off the, err, service aren’t stations, they’re station stops.

Anyway, this is good stuff, and well worth reading. Have a look at the blog and the Twitter feed to get a feel for his style if you’re not sure.

[1] Assuming you can get a seat, that is…