Out of the Loop

The following text is more or less than the ranting of a confused square peg. Overly sensitive people and Terry Pratchett fans with an underdeveloped sense of humor (if such entities do exist) should not read it. You have been warned.

So let’s see…I believe it was a couple years ago that an online friend recommended the Discworld novels to me. At the time, I was dimly aware of a few adventure games that bore that same title. And many months later, upon discovering a couple of the games in the Top 50 Adventure Games list and having nothing better to do, I decided to give the first Discworld game a try. Discworld. So cold and definite-sounding. Such hard, simple words. It was hardly the name I would expect to be associated with such a friendly, colorful game.

All in all, it was a fun little diversion, with some pretty good lines and some beautiful graphics (the puzzles, however, probably put a few more gray hairs on my head. Not pleasant). Now I finally understand why the protagonist of The Longest Journey (a very, very good game) insisted on calling her toy monkey, Constable Guybrush, an ape (exact quote: “He hates to be called a monkey”). I couldn’t find a way to listen to the game’s voices, though (something I’ve been able to do with nearly all games with voice acting I’ve acquired). Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good idea to read a few of the novels, since I had already gotten a feel for the setting and a few of the characters.

And then…

Let’s see, where should I start now…

Well, I read through a few of the books, and I felt like I had…well, missed something. Maybe I wasn’t open enough, maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, maybe I picked a bad time to start…

However, one thing I’m certain of is that one of the reasons I took a liking to Rincewind (in both the game and the novels) is because I’ve encountered characters a lot like him before. Arthur Dent of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, of course, but also Roger Wilco of Sierra Online’s Space Quest series (saves the galaxy several times, yet never gets much higher than Janitor Second Class (and not a very good one)), Jack Flanders of the ZBS Foundation (producer of the best radio adventures on the planet, I have yet to find someone to challenge this claim), and even Rodant Kapoor of the Ruby series (Ro-DANT, not Rodent, also from the ZBS foundation). So in many ways, it was like being introduced to an old friend.

Unfortunately, DW and my other current passion, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, started competing for space. I didn’t know why the friction between these two was so great at first, since they seemed pretty different on the surface…the only similarity I could find was that both of the series’ authors were British, which was apparently incentive enough for the two of them to start butting heads.

In other words, after doing a bit of sniffing around online, the DW and TN series were not getting along very well. Every time I came across a vaguely amusing quote or dialogue snippet from DW, my mind would immediately push against it with a TN quote of an equal or greater caliber, humor-wise. Something roughly like this:

"'There's a door.'/ 'Where does it go?'/'It stays where it is, I think.' - "Before I knew it, Spike had fired his shotgun into the ceiling, where it destroyed a light fixture in a shower of bright sparks. 'Who shot at us?' asked Spike. 'Did you see?'/'I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t the light fixture.'”

"All dwarfs are by nature dutiful, serious, literate, obedient and thoughtful people whose only minor failing is a tendency, after one drink, to rush at enemies screaming "Arrrrrrgh!" and axing their legs off at the knee." - “'All the nuns, grannies and intelligent non-amorous males are taken. It’s technobore, lawyer, self-pitying drunk or copiously vomiting baby, I’m afraid.'”

"[Something about potatoes]" - "'Spank the mammoth and you're under arrest!'"

And if I ended up drawing a blank, I was always tempted to use a quote from the Ruby series (ZBS Foundation again, which would probably qualify as cheating, but there is a lot of Monty Python-esque humor in it) - “He escaped through his pants?! D@mn!” And of course thinking “ThursdayThursdayThursday” very loudly also had a strong effect.

While I was poking around, I came across a message that said that Jasper Fforde’s writing style was very similar to Pratchett’s, and implied that it was plausible that one of the main elements of the TN novels was borrowed from the DW novels. I don’t know why, but when I first read this message, I became angrier than I had been in months. I had to visit Jasper’s site afterwards, and was very, very relieved to find this quote in one of his interviews (c. 2002):

“…But I haven't read any Pratchett at all, although people tell me we have similar themes running though our books.”


So perhaps this is why DW isn’t sitting well with me. If it and the TN novels are really that similar, perhaps they have a tendency to try and cancel each other out, and if the two of them met, then bad things would happen. But still, they are different in many ways.

Let’s just try to compare the two…DW is fantasy, that’s certain. TN is…hmm…Alternate realities, near-space-age technology, vampires, werewolves, time travel and manipulation, apocalypses, mysteries, humor, satire, parody, and an agency which works inside books in order to maintain their stability…where should all of this fit, I wonder? (And all this is just in the first two books.)

There were a lot of confusing, unexplained “things” in the DW novels (which is to be expected, this being fantasy), but they popped up so suddenly that they would leave me utterly confused and asking questions (“What? How did that happen? What was that? What just happened?”) before finally settling down after a few paragraphs, and so I would remain until the next unexplained thing. The TN novels had their fair share of “weird s**t” as well, but the author wove even the biggest oddity into the text so flipping well that I was welcoming the things with open arms. Like the motorway services incident in The Eyre Affair, Chapter 27…I didn’t care if he resolved it or not. Keep me mystified, leave it as it is, drive me insane…

But he resolved it anyway, the old rascal.

Now as for plot and characters…I found most of the DW characters mildly interesting at least, but in most cases, just as I was starting to mentally write down their names and nuances and really getting to know them…the book ends. And nearly all the supporting characters get wiped from the slate (if they haven’t been done so earlier, that is) by the Eraser of Circumstances– whoosh, just like that. No good-byes, no mention of them by main characters, no commemorative paragraphs, nothing. It’s like the poor buggers were boojummed.

Most of the DW plots seemed to start off well, then start striding boldly forward, building and building, and often I got the feeling that I was going to be thrown high into the air as the story reached its climax…then it was like I just got dropped on the ground. And the only way I can hope to make sense out of something like that is to go back and start trudging through the whole thing again, a prospect I don’t exactly leap with excitement about…at least I won’t be as disoriented the second time I get dropped, though. And the endings that didn’t leave me dazed and confused and wondering what happened were the ones that had my mind lapsing into an Art Fairbain “It’s not fair”episode*…I knew that I couldn’t expect a happy ending from some of these novels, but would a conclusive ending be too much to ask?

But the TN endings…where should I start? Even if the story drags a little for you, the endings are worth every page. The Eyre Affair’s ending made me smile, Lost in a Good Book’s ending made me cry, The Well of Lost Plots’ ending was a tad weak, but I was still confident that the world of fiction was in good hands, and Something Rotten’s ending…

Egad. So many emotions stirred up in such a short amount of time…I could feel them washing over me, even after my third read. Simply amazing.

Now, back to Terry Pratchett…

This might be just another manifestation of this strange of idiosyncrasy of mine which means that anything disliked, ignored, or unknown by the majority becomes an immediate favorite with me, whereas (with a few noble exceptions) anything that nearly everyone loves is something that I tend to dislike. I’m sure there’s a name for this condition, I just haven’t been able to find it.

And perhaps the DW novels would be easier for me to “get into” if they weren’t so…well, numerous. With that many novels, there’s a pretty big gap between fans and non-fans. A +33-novel gap, not counting the “supplemental” books. That’s quite a few pages to traverse to really “get into” a fandom, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to make the trip, since the ones I’ve read haven’t exactly sent me spinning into a newfound garden of unearthly delights.

And yet it seems that there are people out there who love both DW and TN equally. How can this be, I wonder? I’m pretty sure that these people did the sensible thing and read (at least some of) the DW novels first. Perhaps in addition to the “Author may have eaten nuts while writing this book” warning in TWOLP, there should’ve been a “Reading this novel or any of its predecessors prior to any earlier works by contemporaries of this author might result in a slight sense of dissatisfaction” notice as well.

I’ll be shoving off now. To anyone who still tells me to at least try the remaining two dozen or so novels, let’s even things up a bit: Give The Eyre Affair a go, and see if I get proven wrong as well. ;)

--Akril 1-20-05

*From Ruby 4. Fairbain’s character, And/Or misses out on the vacation of a lifetime (provided by Nikola Tesla), and upon realizing that Rodant Kapoor left in his place, he starts protesting in this plaintive, woeful voice that has to be heard to be believed. ^