Thursday, October 22, 2009

Unseen Academicals

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork - not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go going when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they're in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of the Big Match draws in a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dim but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt (and no one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too. As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever. Because the thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.

Here we go! Here we go! Here we go!

Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel Unseen Academicalsis out now, and I've just finished reading it.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet, as until three quarters of the way through it was my favorite Pratchett book to date, but it fell apart at the weak ending.

Still, before the ending there were a number of great and moving bits, some snippets of which I will share with you below.

Here the Patrician and the Archchancellor are talking about soccer:

'In my day we were all so... so relentlessly physical. But if I was to suggest so much as an egg and spoon race these days they'd use the spoon to eat the egg.'

'Alas, I did not know your day was over, Mustrum,' said Lord Vetinari, with a smile.

Here the mysterious Mr. Nutt talks to Trev (a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can) and Glenda (a maker of jolly good pies) about Trev's father, a soccer legend killed by the game:

'Your father loved you, did he not?'

'Wot?' Trev's face reddened.

'He loved you, took you to the football, shared a pie with you, taught you to cheer for the Dimmers? Did he hold you on his shoulders so that you could see more of the game?'

'Stop talkin' about my dad like that!'

Glenda took Trev's arm. 'It's okay, Trev, it's all right, it's not a nasty question, really it isn't!'

'But you hate him, because he became a mortal man, dying on the cobbles,' said Nutt, picking up another undribbled candle.

'That is nasty,' said Glenda. Nutt ignored her.

'He let you down, Mister Trev. He wasn't the small boy's god. It turned out that he was only a man. But he was not only a man. Everyone who has ever watched a game in this city has heard of Dave Likely. If he was a fool, then any man who has ever climbed a mountain or swum a torrent is a fool. If he was a fool then so was the man who first tried to tame fire. If he was a fool then so was the man who tried the first oyster, he was a fool, too–although I'm bound to remark that, given the division of labour in early hunter-gatherer cultures, he was probably a woman as well. Perhaps only a fool gets out of bed. But, after death, some fools shine like stars, and your father is such a one. After death, people forget the foolishness, but they do remember the shine. You could not have done anything. You could not have stopped him. If you could have stopped him he would not have been Dave Likely, a name that means football to thousands of people.'

Nutt negotiates with a dwarf:

'Her? The Dark Lady? She can kill people with a thought!'

'She is my friend,' said Nutt calmly, 'and I will help you.'

Nutt has a mantra about Being Worthy, leading to this discussion with Trev:

'It is a skill. It can be learned.'

'An' that makes you worthy?'


'An' who judges?'

'I do.'

    (Not entirely unrelatedly, I read this passage in The Little Prince today:
    "Then you shall judge yourself," the king answered. "that is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom."
Some characters have undergone little changes (not sure how I feel about those yet), such as the teetotaler Patrician drinking a beer while telling this story:

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. 'I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.'

Nutt tells Glenda an interesting thing about ships:

'The interesting thing about ships is that the captains of ships have to be very careful when two ships are close together at sea, particularly in calm conditions. They tend to collide.'

'Because of the wind blowing, and that?' said Glenda, thinking: In theory this is a romantic-novel situation and I am about to learn about ships. Iradne Comb-Buttworthy never puts a ship in her books. They probably don't have enough reticules.

'No,' said Nutt. 'In fact, to put it simply, each ship shields the other ship from lateral waves on one side, so by small increments outside forces bring them together without their realizing it.'

(this is a metaphor about relationships; it even puns 'ships)

Glenda cleared her throat again. 'This thing with the ships…Does it happen quite quickly?'

'It starts quite slowly, but it's quite quick towards the end,' said Nutt.

If I could put smart in water...

'Can't you wizards do something?'

'Yes,' said Ponder. 'We can do practically anything, but we can't change people's minds. We can't magic them sensible. Believe me, if it were possible to do that, we would have done it a long time ago. We can stop people fighting by magic and then what do we do? We have to go on using magic to stop them fighting. We have to go on using magic to stop them being stupid. And where does all that end? So we make certain that it doesn't begin. That's why the university is here. That's what we do.'

Ah, punnery:

'We shall have to change our tactics to suit, then,' said Nutt.

'Are you nu—insane?'

Another thing I found interesting was that Amazon paired it up with And Another Thing...(the 6th Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book) penned this time by Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer. Of course, no one could ever replace DNA.

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