Thud! (Discworld, #34; City Watch #7)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

I think I was definitely too hard on this book originally. Having re-read it for the first time in over a decade and a half, I laughed out loud a lot more than I did first time round. Maybe it’s just the events of the last decade, but I no longer feel that the themes are heavy-handed, and the plot whizzed along.

I was sort of unsure about the Sally/Angua plot, and jealousy is really not a good look on Angua. I’d actually have liked to be in Sally’s head a bit, to see what it’s like trying to fit in in a Watch where everybody knows that the Commander hates your kind.

But other than the aversion to vampires, Vimes in on top form here, trying to solve a crime in order to prevent a war in his city. One thing I did notice though is that although the book makes a lot of Vimes being incorruptible, he’s not averse to using his power to get home in order to read to his child. Admittedly, it’s not Vimes himself that does this, but he certainly doesn’t discipline Carrot for misusing authority on his behalf.

Few grumbles aside, this is a very enjoyable mid-period Pratchett with Vimes doing what Vimes does best, and some great character work (A. E. Pessimal is a work of genius).

—- Original Review (2008) —-
I enjoyed this book but it felt very much like “New Pratchett”. There were bits that made me smile, but few that made me laugh out loud. It also felt like it was hitting you on the head a bit with the themes of the book, namely politics and Getting On With Each Other. Also, it does feel a bit like a summary of lots of other Guards books. Like I say, I still enjoyed it though, it just wouldn’t be first on my list to Pratchett books to lend to someone.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552152679
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2006

Journey Beyond Tomorrow

By Robert Sheckley

Rating: 2 stars

I gave up on this book after about 70 pages, which is disappointing as I’ve got a lot of time for Sheckley and generally enjoy his work (although I do find that he tends to be better at the shorter form than the long). This very much feels like it’s talking about its own time, that being the early 1960s, although obviously the satire on the failures of the justice system depressingly apply as much today as they did half a century ago. But although the satire was on-point, I just wasn’t particularly enjoying the book, and didn’t think it would get better. I did jump forward to the last couple of chapters, and that pretty much confirmed my decision to give up on it was the right one.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575041226
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1987

The Kaiju Preservation Society

By John Scalzi

Rating: 5 stars

For a Covid book, this was an immense amount of fun! Written in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when attempts to write a serious novel failed, Scalzi turned his mind to giant, radioactive creatures instead, and an organisation that goes out of its way to preserve from the real monsters (spoiler: it’s us. It’s always us).

Jamie Gray gets fired from his job at a tech startup just as the pandemic hits. Delivering take-out, he runs into an acquaintance from the past who offers him a job with the mysterious “KPS” that involves long tours away from home. Jamie jumps at it and is eventually inducted into the Kaiju Preservation Society (that’s not a spoiler, it’s literally the name of the book!).

As Scalzi says in the afterword, this is a pop song, it’s light and catchy and you can tell just how much fun the author had in writing this book, because I had exactly the same reaction in reading it. In the first handful of chapters alone, I was laughing out loud with delight (in public, I might add). I love the nerds he ends up hanging out with (even if making the Irish one the angriest is a bit stereotypical. I mean, it’s not necessarily wrong…).

The one thing that nagged me all the way through was the kaijus’ “parasites”. The way that they were described, the relationship between them and the giant beasties themselves is more symbiotic than parasitic, since both parties benefit, and you could say that they co-evolved together. But that’s a minor nerd issue.

This is a riot of a book that’s a pure joy to read. Recommended to anyone who loves quippy, clever people, sciencing around giant monsters (that’s all of us, right?).

Book details

ISBN: 9781509835317

Nothing Serious

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 4 stars

I generally feel confident when picking up a PG Wodehouse book that I’m going to enjoy it, and this was no exception. This collection was from after the War and most of the stories are set in the US (although a US full of the sorts of rich, independently wealthy sorts that populate the rest of Wodehouse’s output). There’s an awful lot of golf-related stories in the book, and while I’m not a great fan of the sport, it is a great setting to take the mickey out of the sorts of people who do enjoy it. There’s a handful of favourites here, with Bingo Little having to deal with a heavy-handed nanny; Lord Emsworth turning his hand to door-to-door salesmanship; and Ukridge trying to get his hands on enough money to buy a second hand suit.

The book is full of people getting engaged and disengaged at the drop of a hat, formidable aunts and stuffy uncles and plenty of happy endings. Exactly what I want from a Wodehouse story. Maybe not classic (and a bit to sporty for my tastes) but still a warm cup of tea on a cold day.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841591575
Publisher: Everyman
Year of publication: 2008

Mulliner Nights

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 5 stars

With this book, The Angler’s Rest joins The White Hart and Callahan’s as pubs that I wish were real and where I’d love to hang out and listen in on the regulars’ conversations. In the Angler’s Rest, Mr Mulliner holds court and regales the patrons with unlikely stories of his extended family, giving us the funny (sometimes laugh out loud funny), warm and gentle humour that Wodehouse was famed for.

I’ve not encountered the Mulliner stories before but on the strength of this, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for the others! These are Wodehouse at his finest, whether it’s a private detective with a disconcerting smile, quests for strawberries in winter, love found over murder mysteries or fear of headmasters, you’re drawn into the stories almost with a sensation of glee. You know what you get with Wodehouse and each story is short enough that it can’t get too convoluted and silly. If you’re at all fond of his bumbling heroes and improbable situations, this comes highly recommended.

Book details

Publisher: Barrie & Jenkins London
Year of publication: 1980

The World of Poo (Discworld, #39.5)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 3 stars

A pleasant little book that’s much more interesting (and less scatological) than I feared it might be, given its subject. It’s got lots of small nods to other Discworld books, and its humour is gentle. An adult can read it in probably not more than an hour or so.

I kept expecting there to be some of Pratchett’s trademark sharpness and thoughtfulness, but it’s really not that kind of book. It really is just about a boy who’s visiting Ankh-Morpork and wants to collect all sorts of poo for his collection and the gentle adventures that he has, with help from his (very understanding!) grand-mama. En route, you learn about the history of toilets and the people who collected waste and what sorts of things get done with it.

The illustrations are lovely and fit the style very well. It’s a great book to give to a child (probably a boy) of just the right age, who can be entertained and learn a thing or two without realising it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857521217
Publisher: Doubleday
Year of publication: 2012

Drive: Act 3

By Dave Kellett

Rating: 4 stars

Act three of the very fun Drive webcomic is right back into the thick of it. The Second Spanish Empire is now at war with two alien species: the Continuum of Makers and the Vinn. And it’s losing both. The scout ship Machito is tasked with finding more of of Skeeter’s alien species – he’s able to navigate a spaceship like nobody else – but they’re running out of clues, and Humanity is running out of time.

I actually had to go back and read the whole previous volume to bring me back up to speed before I started into this one. The characters are still as immensely fun as before – Nosh, in particular, is so loveable. The plot is pretty twisty, as different factions have different agendas, most of which aren’t compatible with each other. The Fillipods are a brilliant species – very intelligent, but more concerned with turning that intelligence to poetry slams than weapons or technology. And the Astronomer Royal in particular is brilliant, in his inability to sensibly compliment the emperor.

It’s not a long volume, the main story is only about 160 pages long, but it is very pretty. The comic pages are well-produced with lots of detail. There are also a number of short stories set in the universe at the end, although given that these aren’t written by Kellett, it’s not clear how canonical they are. But notwithstanding that, the story Motherbear by Beth Reidmiller is marvellous, and quite heart-breaking.

I don’t know how many acts the story as a whole is envisaged to cover, but it feels like we must be past the mid-point now. We’ve had many revelations about the universe, and we’ve finally found out who Skitter’s people are. It sort of feels like it should start to wind up a bit fairly soon. Although mind you, at the pace that the webcomic is released, that could still take several years to come to completion.

Book details

ISBN: 9781733126632
Publisher: Small Fish Studios
Year of publication: 2021

Doctor Sally

By P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 3 stars

After reading the synopsis, I almost didn’t buy this slim volume, as I thought it could be awful, but my love of Wodehouse won over. The plot, what there is of it, is your usual Wodehousian shenanigans, with Bill Bannister falling in love with a beautiful lady doctor, Dr Sally Smith, with the complication that he’s already involved with another woman.

My worry about the tone of the book wasn’t eased when it opened with Sir Hugo Drake, a nerve specialist and archetypical “gammon” if ever I saw one, observing a beautiful golf hit (can you tell I don’t do sports?). I worried when he found out that this perfect shot wasn’t played by an “old chap” but by a woman. But Wodehouse played with my expectations, and Sir Hugo is much more interested in the golf than the person, and compliments her on her abilities and is happy to even take instruction from her.

The nominal “hero” of the book, Bill Bannister, made a much less favourable impression on me, especially towards the end, when he physically threatens Sally, in a scene that really felt out of place for a Wodehouse comedy. The moment quickly passes and isn’t really remarked upon again, but it felt unpleasant.

The book isn’t really long enough to get into the usual labyrinthine plots and counter-plots of a Wodehouse story, giving it a kind of perfunctory feel – it’s only 120 pages, and even taking into account the smaller font size of older books like this edition, it feels particularly slight.

My favourite character was probably Lord “Squiffy” Tidmouth, who feels much more like a traditional Wodehouse character. Rich, swanning around, currently between wives, not burdened with too much in the way of brains, but amiable and loyal. A chap I’d like to have in my corner.

So while most of the book concerns Bill’s attempts to get Sally to love him, the cringe I’d feared about the “lady doctor” and the expected sexism never really materialised, thankfully. This was enjoyable enough – it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared (damned by faint praise there), but it’s certainly not classic Wodehouse.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140013702

Baking Bad (Beaufort Scales Mystery #1)

By Kim M. Watt

Rating: 3 stars

This self-described “cosy” mystery was suggested to me by a friend who knows my low tolerance for grimdark as an antidote to that. And she wasn’t wrong! The vicar has been murdered (poisoned by a cupcake, no less), and signs point to the local WI ladies as being the prime suspects. They have to clear their own names, while also hiding the fact that they’ve made friends with a group of nearby dragons. Dragons who, it turns out, like tea and cake as much as the WI does.

There is definitely a strong element of farce to this, to a degree that would even make PG Wodehouse mutter “steady on”. I struggled with this to start with, and with the degree of all-round bumbling by just about all concerned. From the RAF Wing Commander (retired) who leads the WI, to the local hippie, and the investigating police office, DI Adams.

The police didn’t seem to be hugely competent, as they ran around, accepting cake and sandwiches from possible suspects, not securing crime scenes and general ditziness. The Folly these guys ain’t. Mind you, Nightingale (or Peter, or even Abigail) would have clocked the chief dragon, Beaufort (who’s just trying to help out his human pals) on the first encounter and had a stern word. But DI Adams is just a normal police officer trying to do a job in trying circumstances, albeit with the obligatory Mysterious Past.

The dragons are almost the least interesting things about the book. They’re mostly invisible to people who don’t know they’re there and are mostly interested in tea and cake. Beaufort, after whom the series is named, is the chief of the tribe and is supposedly this ancient dragon, who remembers a time when knights would hunt and kill dragons. But he mostly just feels like a jolly uncle who encourages kids to get into mischief. There’s an interesting section part-way through when there’s hints that not all dragons like the idea of interacting with humans, and some would rather they just went away, but this, or indeed any other aspect of dragon society, isn’t really explored (something to hold back for later books?).

It’s a fun enough book, and the characters are likeable but you’re not given enough hints to solve the mystery yourself. You’re basically following along as both the police and the WI work things out. There’s a free collection of short stories in the universe that I’ll pick up, but I don’t know if I’ll pay for any more in the series.

Book details

Year of publication: 2018

Snuff (Discworld, #39)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

At the insistence of his wife, Commander Vimes reluctantly agrees to take a holiday with his family to the country. Of course, as everyone knows, a policeman can’t get his suitcase unpacked before there’s a crime that demands to be solved. And the crimes here are so big that the law can’t keep up.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I’ve not been hugely fond of the later Discworld books, but this one was remarkably fun. Vimes might be getting on a bit, but he’s still practically vibrating with righteous anger. He’s very different from the Vimes we met way back in Guards! Guards!, and now struggles to find somewhere to point his class angst, given that he’s joined the very class that he once railed against. He has, to some degree, come to terms with the fact that he now moves in vaulted circles and his word causes tremors in the money markets as much as to the criminal classes.

It’s fun watching Vimes be Vimes, running around being cleverer than his enemies think he is, but his utter confidence, and, I suppose, that of the author, in the police and the law, is… well, a bit less self-evident than once it was. And he spends a lot of time bullying and steamrollering people around him, leveraging his position and his wealth to do so. And yet, when the crime is as awful as what goes on here, you’re cheering Vimes on all the way.

The goblins are interesting as well. Even in a city as diverse as Ankh-Morpork, they’re vilified, and as for the country, where They Do Things Differently, well, let’s just say that Vimes is justified in getting angry. In the city, when Angua and Carrot find a goblin to talk to, they find an eager second generation immigrant, wanting nothing more than to put his own heritage behind him in the name of fitting in and making his way in the world as it is. That’s sad, but also something that I can sympathise with, and relate to.

It’s nice to read a book where the police are the good guys, always standing up for justice, without being beholden to power or money. I guess that’s one of the points of fiction – to show us a better world. Maybe one day, our real-world police forces, whether that’s in London, Minneapolis or Glasgow will be equal to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552166751
Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 2012

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