Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

“Rincewind, all the shops have been smashed open. There were a whole bunch of people across the street helping themselves to musical instruments, can you believe that?”

“Yeah,” said Rincewind, picking up a knife and testing its blade thoughtfully, “Luters, I suspect.”

It’s always a challenge to write decent reviews of light literature. It's easy to think of something to write about Ulysses, Othello, or Malcolm X, but what can be said about fluff, the sort of books that aren’t guilty pleasures, exactly, but which occupy a place in between real literature (Hamlet) and trash (Twilight)? I tend to read Discworld or John Grisham as palette cleansers after something particularly challenging, but it’s not exactly fair to demote such books to being simply trifles. After all, reading is a pleasurable, as well as mentally stimulating activity, and these books offer their own pleasures. If you enjoy reading high literature at all times, by all means, do it; I’ll take to occasional potboiler or adventure to mix things up.

Of course, low literature has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, with authors like David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, and even Thomas Pynchon taking cues from less lofty genres, but, while these and many other authors have genuine affection for the material they homage and reference, it’s hard not to read a little postmodern irony into their genre exercises—after all, something like Pynchon’s Inherent Vice might nod toward Carl Hiassen and Donald Westlake, but could hardly be mistaken for one of their books.

So, that said, The Light Fantastic is a Discworld book, the second, and it’s worlds better than the first, The Colour of Magic, in that it actually a) has a plot, rather than feeling like a series of comical vignettes strung together and b) feels like a Discworld book tonally, in spite of still being embryonic in the bigger scheme of things. It’s fast-moving, short, and introduces many of the characters that populate the later books. Aside from that, I don’t have a lot to say about it. It’s not particularly satirical, except when satirizing fantasy literature itself, and it’s not as funny or as well-plotted as the later books, but I enjoyed reading it, as I always enjoy Pratchett’s novels. It may be pulp, but it’s my pulp.

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