Archive for October 28th, 2009
Book Review: Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett
The wizards of Unseen University, a portly and elderly group used to five meals a day (not counting the Cheese Cart), have discovered that one of the grants that supports UU requires them to participate in a football game, on pain of loss of funds. Faced with the alternative of a vegetarian diet, even UU’s Wizards understand they must assemble and mount a team. Which gives Terry Pratchett an excuse to do for team sports what he has already done for banking (Making Money, the postal service (Going Postal), newspapers (The Truth), overheated patriotism (Jingo) and religion (Small Gods), along with an impressive list of other subjects. Sports get the Pratchett Treatment: it’s held up the fun house mirror that is the Discworld, giving us views and glimpses of ourselves that we would otherwise never see. And another chance to laugh ourselves silly.
Delightful (and less delightful) new characters are introduced, including Nutt, a young … person of mysterious origins; Glenda Sugarbean, the night cook at UU who has other talents; Trevor Likely, who can kick a tin can in amazing ways; and Juliet Stollop, the beautiful, if dim, UU serving girl. And there are appearances by the usual UU faculty – except the Dean; don’t ask about the Dean. When you add Veterinari, Lady Margolotta from Uberwald, and even Rhys, the Low King of the Dwarves; well, you have a feast for connoisseurs of of the Discworld and a fine introduction to those who are new.
Unhappily, other reviewers seem to insist on reviewing this novel through the prism of Sir Terry’s illness. Famously, and I am happy to say, very publicly, Sir Terry has a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It has affected his ability to type but not, patently, his ability to write. This is an excellent Pratchett. It’s easily good enough that his fans will argue about whether or not it is one of his best.
And in that regard, consider the title of my review, a phrase uttered by Veterinari near the end of the novel. The Patrician is disappointed that he cannot hire Glenda Sugarbean as his cook but, he notes, “What is a pie to a happy ending?” Each new Discworld novel is a delight, a surprise and a blessing. A new Discworld story is a Happy Ending in itself. In the case of Unseen Academicals, it also happens to be a wonderful story, exceptionally well told. I am inexpressibly pleased to report the Master is still in the House.
Very highly recommended.