Tag Archives: Discworld series

Five SFF books that Made Me Laugh – Part 1

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I saw this list on the Top Ten Tuesday meme and couldn’t resist, but am a tad pressed for time, so I’ve rounded up five – with the intention of trawling through my reading lists and finding the rest when there are more hours in the day. So in no particular order, here are five science fiction and fantasy books that put a grin on my face.

Hogfather – Book 20 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

hogfatherIf I’d been feeling a bit lazier, I think I could have more or less filled this list with Terry Pratchett offerings – or at least padded it out a lot more. The likes of Moving Pictures, The Colour of Magic, Mort and Equal Rites all had me howling with laughter at times.

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions…

I had to choose Hogfather, because the scene where Death is handing out presents in the department store grotto never fails to make me giggle every single time I read it.

 

civilcampaignA Civil Campaign – Book 12 of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan has a problem: unrequited love for the beautiful widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson, violently allergic to marriage after her first exposure. If a frontal assault won’t do, Miles thinks, try subterfuge. He has a cunning plan… Lord Mark Vorkosigan, Miles’ brother, also has a problem: his love has just become unrequited again. But he has a cunning plan… Lord Ivan Vorpatril, Mile’s cousin, has a problem: unrequited love in general. But he too has a cunning plan…

I’ve mentioned before that Bujold covers a wide spread of sub-genres within in this science fiction adventure series and this one is definitely a comedy of manners. And in places, it is hilarious – especially during a particular formal banquet…

 

Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. datenightFoner

This quirky series of novellas set on a space station by indie author E.M. Foner was recommended to me by Himself after I was a tad wrung out after a rather gruelling apocalyptic sci fi novel. I wanted something lighter and amusing – see my review here. This is definitely it.

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

It’s no surprise that once he published this on Amazon, he was flooded with requests for a follow-up – which he duly wrote. The setting is intriguing, the cast of characters suitably eccentric and Foner’s offbeat style really works. I loved it and will be getting hold another of these little gems.

 

mars evacueesMars Evacuees – Book 1 of the Mars Evacuees series by Sophia McDougall

The adventures of Alice Dare entranced me from the moment I picked up this appealing offering and has gone on doing so. I have reread this one to the grandchildren and it made them snigger with laughter, too – see my review here.

When I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

As well as being funny, it is also a cracking adventure story featuring one of the most memorable and appealing heroines I have ever read. If you like splashes of humour in amongst the mayhem, then give this one a go – it really is too good to leave to the children.

 

Vampire State of Mind by Jane Loveringvampirestate

Urban fantasy often has a chirpy thread of humour running through it, which I always enjoy – but Lovering has provided a heroine that memorably bounces off the page and has me recalling the book with affection – see my review here.

Jessica Grant knows vampires only too well. She runs the York Council tracker programme making sure that Otherworlders are all where they should be, keeps the filing in order and drinks far too much coffee. To Jess, vampires are annoying and arrogant and far too sexy for their own good, particularly her ex-colleague Sil, who’s now in charge of Otherworld York.

But when a demon turns up and threatens not just Jess but the whole world order, she and Sil are forced to work together, and when Jess turns out to be the key to saving the world it puts a very different slant on their relationship. The stakes are high. They are also very, very pointy and Jess isn’t afraid to use them, even on the vampire that she’s rather afraid she’s falling in love with.

This is urban fantasy at its smart, snappy best – I particularly liked the Brit take on this sub-genre, with the reflection that there’s nothing so dire that a Hobnob can’t make better…

Have you read any of the above and found them amusing? What SFF books have made you grin or laugh?

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Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 1

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These are not in any particular order, or definitive – I reserve the right to add another world to this list at any time. But the reason why these fantasy worlds have made it onto the list, is that they feature as an extra character, or are simply an outstanding backdrop to the action.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett
smallgodsOkay, then there might just be an order – because the moment I thought of this idea for a series of book blogs, this world is the one that immediately jumped into my head. For starters, they don’t get much madder, namely a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, which in turn are standing on the back of the giant turtle, the Great A’Tuin. And yet so much is cosily familiar about the goings on in the large city of Ankh-Morpork, which is the busy city where a whole cast of extraordinary characters have a series of adventures. If you have never sampled any of the Pratchett magic, then start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. I envy you your journey, where you will find yourself laughing out loud and, at times, weeping. My favourite book is Small Gods, yes, it is funny but also profound with all sorts of important things to say about religion, without being remotely moralistic.

The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
This is the world in which a number of her series were set, those being The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders dragonkeeperTrilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles and the latest series, the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. As you might imagine, there are a whole number of settings in this world. Hobb is a superb writer and while there are a number of authors who do dragons just as well – nobody does it better. My favourite book is Dragon Keeper – see my review here. I also highly recommend The Soldier’s Son series, which is simply remarkable and set in quite a different world.

The Midnight Mayor and Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
These two series are linked and share a rich London backdrop where the city itself is personified by straysoulsa range of deities, some reasonably benign – others less so. And the super-natural guardian of the paranormal side of London is Matthew Swift, the troubled and very powerful Midnight Mayor. She is a remarkable writer with an impressive range – since 2014, she has reinvented herself as Claire North writing a number of literary speculative fiction books. While I really enjoyed the Midnight Mayor books – see my review of the first one, A Madness of Angels, here – I absolutely loved the Magicals Anonymous books featuring Sharon Li, who runs a self-help group for a bunch of disparate magic-users, who tend to get caught up in some of the paranormal high jinks that happen around London. There is the same extraordinary setting, but with dollops of laugh-aloud humour as well – see my review of the first book, Stray Souls, here.

The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huffenchantment emporium
This is a delightful series about the Gale family, a highly magical matriarchy run by the aunts, a formidable cadre of powerful, sexy ladies who oversee all family details… Younger family members, understandably, would like an opportunity to break free and flex their own magical muscles, which lead to all sorts of adventures. If you open yet another fantasy book with a sigh, wishing you could read something different, then hunt down this series, starting with the first book, The Enchantment Emporium – see my review here.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott
The worldbuilding in this world is extraordinary. To use Elliott’s own words: An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk coldmagicRegency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage. However, intriguingly, the full extent of the world isn’t explored during this trilogy, though I don’t have a particular problem with that. If an author of Elliott’s imaginative scope wants to create a deeply textured world that her narrative doesn’t fully explore, that’s great. The result is a memorable, vibrant setting that works very well as an intriguing backdrop to the adventure series – read my review of the first book, Cold Magic, here. However, she is used to working on an epic scale – her seven volume epic fantasy The Crown of Stars series, is also worth reading – see my review here.

My Top Ten Literary Heroes

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In the interests of gender equality, I felt that I should write an article featuring my top ten literary heroes, after publishing the blog ‘My Top Ten Literary Heroines’ here. In no particular order, here they are…

1. Rincewind from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchettthelightfantastic
The timid wizard who finds himself in the middle of adventures despite himself. I love his aversion to any form of risk – a confirmed coward myself, I’ve always found the lantern-jawed sort of hero rather offputting. I also hugely envy Rincewind his Luggage, a chest made of sapient pearwood that will swallow any amount of clothing – along with particularly aggressive characters Rincewood regularly encounters on his travels.

thegobetween2. Leo Colston from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
I first read this book as a teenager, cried at the end – and it somehow wormed its way under my skin and never really left me. Leo’s bitter-sweet recollection of a particular summer holiday that altered his life when he was thirteen leaps off the page and deserves to be far better known for more than its marvellous opening sentence.

peterpan

3. Peter Pan from the play by J.M. Barrie

I fell hook, line and sinker for the beautiful, cocky little boy when I read the story of the play aged eight. And at intervals in my life, there have been other adorable, cocky little boys full of vinegar and spirit, who light up my existence…

4. Miles Vorkosigan from the series by Lois McMaster Bujoldmemory
Miles is a remarkable creation – chockful of testosterone and driven with a desire to prove himself in a series of wonderful science fiction, space opera adventures. He would be unbearable if he wasn’t also battling the congenital defects that he has to deal with due to an attack on him before he was born. As it is, his foolhardy bravery is awesome and admirable.

5. Lord Peter Wimsey from the series by Dorothy L. Sayersbusman'shoneymoon
Forget about Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot – the detective I’ve always loved is the shell-shocked, younger son of a noble family. He often affects the idiot, while being in possession of a keen intellect and a drive to see justice done. Dorothy Sayers confessed that she was in love with Wimsey – and I can see why.

6. Claudius from I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves
IClaudiusAgain, a series I read as a teenager and fell in love with this complicated, damaged man who manages to survive by sheltering behind his physical disabilities most of his life. Derek Jacobi managed to bring a marvellous incarnation of the character to life in the acclaimed TV series.

7. Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfussthenameofthewind
Rothfuss took the Fantasy genre by the scruff of the neck and gave it a very good shake in The Name of the Wind. I love the character in all his driven complexity and secrecy – and am very much looking forward to reading The Doors of Stone when it comes out.

farfromthemaddingcrowd8. Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
He has always been my ideal male – brave, physically strong, with an inbuilt instinct for doing the right thing and loyal right down his marrow… Bathsheba Everdeen is an idiot for refusing to marry him the first time around and I just hope she pulls herself together and is the wife he deserves.

wolfhall9. Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Henry VIII’s bullying fixer is so much more in this remarkable portrayal. I love the way Mantel’s writing manages to get right inside the character – a man of extreme contradictions, but fascinating, driven, formidably intelligent and physically energetic… Yep. I’m smitten.

themartian10. Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir
Did I mention that I was an inveterate coward? The one exception is that I’ve always longed to go into Space – indeed, as a little girl I was firmly convinced that I’d end up there. I picked up this book, hoping it would be a story of brave derring-do survival and I wasn’t disappointed. And yes… as a girl I read Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson and spent hours playing versions of being castaway on a desert island…

Those are my offerings. The near misses include Hagrid from the Harry Potter series – I’ve always loved Hagrid’s sheer stubborn good-heartedness and his bluff inability to keep secrets. If only perfidious Dumbledore had half of Hagrid’s intrinsic integrity… Shakespeare’s Macbeth – yes, I know he turns into a murdering monster. But at the start of the play he’s a brave warrior in love with his wife who wants to do the right thing. For me, he has always epitomised the doomed anti-hero who could have been someone even more extraordinary, if only events and the people closest to him hadn’t stacked up against him. Hiccup from the How To Train Your Dragon series. No, not the magnolia hero of the animated film series – but the skinny, unsure and permanently anxious version Cressida Cowell brings to life in her outstanding humorous adventure series. Cade Silversun from Melanie Rawn’s intriguing and original Glass Thorns series about a magical theatre troupe. In addition to writing their plays, Cade is afflicted with prescient visions – and is one of the most interesting, layered characters in modern fantasy. Matthew Shardlake from C.J. Sansom’s Tudor crime series. A spinal abnormality has prevented Matthew inheriting the family farm, so he travels to London to seek his fortune practising the law and gets embroiled in a number of murder mysteries.

So that’s a roundup of my top literary heroes to date. Who are yours? I’d love to hear who are your favourites and why…

Review of Unseen Academicals – a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

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This post appeared on my blog back in the early days when only those lost or truly intrepid ventured for a visit, so has only been viewed by a wandering spider and my doting mother. I thought perhaps it could stand a second outing…

Unseen Academicals is the thirty-seventh Discworld novel, which, for those who don’t know, is set in a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, standing on the back of the Great A’Tuin – a giant turtle – that swims through space. 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 gloing 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.

unseen academicalsThe prospect of the Big Match draws together a likely lad 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. (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.

This is vintage Discworld fare. Old favourites such as Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully and Lord Vetinari, tyrant of Anhk-Morpork, head up the cast of colourful and varied characters, who also include newcomers Dave Likely, Glena and Mr Nutt. As ever, Pratchett uses his fantastic backdrop to make sharply acute observations about contemporary life. There are the usual suspects – the rights of the individual versus the state; responsibility of power – and in this book, football is gently prodded for the more ridiculous aspects of the sport and the fashion industry also gets the Pratchett treatment.

However, the darker tone apparent in some of the more recent Discworld novels, such as Making Money, Monstrous Regiment and Thud! is less obvious in Unseen Academicals, which contains more gags and one-liners. For ardent Discworld fans, this book ticks all the boxes. However, if by some fluky chance you’ve managed to miss the joys of Discworld, I wouldn’t advise that you start with Book 37 in the series. While they don’t exactly run in strict chronological order, there is a definite progression with characters. So, in order to get the best out of Discworld, start with the exuberant fun of The Colour of Magic and work forward. You’ll find – when you get there – although lacking the inspired brilliance of Small Gods (my personal favourite), Unseen Academicals is a worthy addition to the canon.
8/10

Review of Raising Steam – Book 40 of The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett

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I need to declare an interest. Having heard Equal Rites on Women’s Hour as a serialised book in 1986 and howled aloud with laughter at this different, madcap story, I was hooked on Pratchett’s Discworld and have been ever since.  Catch my review of Unseen Academicals here.

Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work. As master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital… but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse.

raisingSteam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mr Simnel, the man wi’t’flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all going off the rails…

We have met Moist before – a conman and chancer, who has been forced to become respectable and productive for Ankh-Morpork by the Patrician, Vetinari, and the love of Adora Belle Dearheart, clackswoman extraordinaire. In Raising Steam, Moist is once more pitchforked into the middle of yet another leap forward in Discworld’s headlong plunge into industrialisation, by being the main fixer of Sir Harry King’s new railway company.

For Discworld fans, there is much in this book that is as cosily familiar as your favourite pair of slippers – the footnoted info-jokes; the frequent viewpoint changes, interspersed by long passages in omniscient viewpoint; the cast of characters – apart from Dick Simnel, grease-covered, engineering genius – the cast list is also familiar, as we have come across them all before. Including the major villain of the piece…

The pace of this story is initially leisurely – if you are looking for a tension-filled story that packs a wallop and doesn’t let up from the moment you open the first page, this isn’t it. What you do get during the first third of the book, is a thorough immersion into Discworld politics, philosophy and a good slice of the backstory leading up to how and why trains are so widely and delightedly embraced by Discworld inhabitants. As a result, this, the fortieth in the series, would also be a reasonably good starting point for someone not yet conversant with Pratchett’s universe.

However, when the story does pick up momentum and we find that a number of dwarfs are seriously unhappy with the advent of steam trains – and prepared to do more than just complain about it – there are the usual thrills and spills. Is there any sudden and fresh new angle/treatment/theme running through Raising Steam that Discworld fans haven’t already seen in the other novels? Nope. Just more of the same. And that’s fine with me – I’ll take that. No one else has constructed a world quite like this, where the self-deprecating, Woodhouse-type humour belies a breadth and richness of observation and commentary on our current world and its obsessions. Is this Pratchett at his best? No – but that still makes it an enjoyable, entertaining novel. And sometime soon, I will be rereading the whole forty books. Not because I ought to – but because I know that revisiting the Discworld again will provide me with a lot of laughs, food for thought and some genuinely moving moments. And I get to read Small Gods again, this time in the correct sequence… which is my personal favourite. Raising Steam is a worthy addition to this groundbreaking, outstanding series – and one of the very, very few that I know I will one day pick up and read again.
8/10

Review of EBOOK Snuff – Book 39 of the Discworld series

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse. And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe, but many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.
He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, occasionally snookered and occasionally out of his mind, but not out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment. They say that in the end all sins are forgiven. But not quite all…

snuffFor those of you who may have only recently landed on the planet and therefore haven’t yet picked up a Discworld novel, my strong piece of advice is not to continue reading Snuff, but do yourselves a huge favour and – no, you don’t have to go right back to the very start of this hilarious and wonderfully inventive world, although I would recommend it – but do at least read Guards, Guards!, Night Watch and Thud! before tucking into Snuff. I don’t suggest for one moment that you’ll spend the novel floundering around in a morass of incomprehension if you do skip these books – Pratchett is far too accomplished to lock any of his books so tightly into the overarching world – but you certainly will gain more if you understand and know more about this complicated protagonist.
As for the rest of us, the question has to be – does this book tick the boxes? Do we find ourselves sucked into Pratchett’s imaginative invention, and seared by Vimes’s simmering anger against injustice?

Well, one of the major characters that normally features in Discworld novels is missing. Vimes has been frog-marched off to the country estate with his family to get a much-needed break and introduce Young Sam to the countryside. So Ankh-Morpok isn’t the vivid backdrop to this book and we have Vimes’s rather bemused and amusing reaction to country life as the setting to all the action. Pratchett makes up for this hole by giving us slices of humour in Vimes’s jaundiced reactions.  However, the humour turns into something more sombre when Vimes finds himself confronted with a goblin settlement on his land and begins to discover just how downtrodden and persecuted they are. The tale is delivered with Pratchett’s customary slick handling of narrative tension and I found myself – despite my best intention to really savour the book – zipping through it to find what happens next.

What Snuff doesn’t do, is give us any further major insights into Vimes as a character. We learn a bit more about Young Sam, as a boy of six and Pratchett gives us more details about yet another species in the Discworld genus – goblins. As ever, those details are both poignant and hilarious – vintage Pratchett, in fact. However, by the end of the book I got the sense that we were witnessing the beginning of Vimes learning to like himself just a little bit more.  Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline which was both enjoyably familiar and yet different enough to hold my interest.  The frantic journey along a storm-swollen river in an oxen powered cargo boat is one of the standout Discworld action scenes, in my opinion. And as a committed Pratchett fan, I found Snuff right up there as one of the stronger offerings in the Discworld series.
9/10