Terry Pratchett, SOURCERY.
Granting that this book was for the most part pure pleasure, like all the other Discworld books I’ve read, I have to admit that this was a weaker effort — like Mort, which I foolishly read only after its far superior do-over Reaper Man. Sourcery‘s various plots barely seem to hold together, the overall threat is rather diffuse (though in fairness, so’s the threat of nuclear war), and because Rincewind is much the weakest of Pratchett’s protagonists, there isn’t always a clear or (at any rate) interesting motivation carrying the band of heroes from one sequence to the next.
That said, Rincewind’s final moments with Coin in the Dungeon Dimensions are moving. And the book’s full of good jokes and rare kindness.
And then there’s a moment, at the height of the wizard war, when the magical army led by the Archchancellor’s hat is destroyed, along with an entire city, and the victorious Ankh-Morpork wizards burst into cheering — ‘though some of the older wizards forbore to cheer.’ Written as it is by an English fellow of a certain age, that line went through me like a knife. The entire book is full of throwaway lines like that, granting the cast of grotesques not just motivations and psychologies but entire life stories in a handful of words.
Reading so much Pratchett has given me new appreciation for the coldly logical ambivalence of Douglas Adams. Despite some similarities in style, the two writers wrote at completely different temperatures. Pratchett’s angry humanity and Wodehousian generosity of spirit perfectly suited his crowded, cosmopolitan Discworld setting, which is constantly surviving and wearily shrugging off calamity in (what I think of as) a characteristically English humour; meanwhile Adams’s Pythonian callousness and pitch-black bureaucratic ironies were well matched to the pitiless void of space. I wonder which of the two I’ll prefer, as I get older. Thank heavens I needn’t choose just one.