Sunday, September 29, 2019

Interesting Times


The fifth Rincewind novel of the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series opens with the statement “May you live in interesting times” considered a curse. The opening text focuses on gods throwing dice, Fate playing chess, and always winning. On the Counterweight Continent, five families feud, including the Hongs, the Sungs, the Tangs, the McSweeneys, and the Fangs, with the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle noting that chaos is most abundant where order is sought. Moreover, the Quantum Weather Butterfly is responsible for storms across the world, and it is said that Ephebe, Tsort, Omnia, Klatch, and the city-state of Ankh-Morpork surround the Circle Sea.

A few opening chapters focus on a shark yearning for food in the form of wiggling legs and toes, with the wizards of Unseen University debating how to respond to a message demanding a Great Wizard in the Counterweight Continent, Rincewind ultimately chosen to be said sorcerer, and is transported there. A metal statue of a dog replaces Rincewind whence he is teleported, and there the wizard sees Cohen the Barbarian and his Horde, aged significantly since the last time they met. In the Counterweight Continent, sword ownership is subject to regulation, and the current Emperor is dying, the aforementioned families fighting on who will replace him.

Long Hong is the most ambitious among the feuding families, and the capital city of Hunghung is under siege, threatened by the revolutionary Red Army. A Great Wall completely surrounds the Agatean Empire, with its inhabitants having colorful names, Rincewind in particular meeting a girl named Pretty Butterfly. Cohen and his Silver Horde talk of entering the Forbidden City within Hunghung, and gradually make their way through the town, learning of the art of acting civilized along the way. Rincewind finds himself revered by the country’s rebels, although he received incarceration for attempting to create a hole in the wall around the Forbidden City.

While the Red Army wants the Emperor dead, the Silver Horde simply wishes to kidnap him, and there are many humorous character interactions and allusions to Japan, such as ninjas, samurais, sumo wrestlers, and the like. The book also somewhat more humorous than its precursors, with references to urinating dogs, the Lord High Chief Tax Gatherer considering taxation on fresh air, and the like. Rincewind finds himself again an accidental hero, with Death playing a minor role, and the novel ending on a humorous, if abrupt, note. All in all, this is another enjoyable Discworld novel, somewhat longer than the average entry of the series, although chapter breaks, as usual, would have been welcome.

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