on January 25, 2007
Terry Pratchett's first novel, "The Carpet People", appeared in 1971. "Going Postal" is the twenty-ninth novel in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series and was first published in 2004. He won the 2001 Carnegie Medal for "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" and was awarded the OBE in 1998.
Moist von Lipwig, a very gifted con-artist, is in trouble as "Going Postal" opens - he's on his way to the gallows for a crime he didn't commit. (Unfortunately, he's on his way to the gallows for a crime Albert Spangler - one of his aliases - committed). Luckily, his hangman (Daniel "One Drop" Trooper) proves is be something of an expert at his job; Moist is only hung to within an inch of his life and comes round in Lord Vetinari's office. Vetinari is Ankh-Morpork's Patrician, described by some as a tyrant while others simply question his parentage. He is also incredibly resourceful, fantastically well-informed and a graduate of the Guild of Assassins. He knows Moist's real name, his profession and has identified Moist as a fraudster by vocation, a habitual liar and totally untrustworthy. As such, Vetinari has realised that Moist is ideally suited for a job in government and offers him the position of Postmaster General. Moist could turn the job down; the decision would only cost him his life. However, largely because he doesn't fully realise what he's letting himself in for, he accepts the job offer...
Although Moist would rather disappear under another false name, Vetinari has wisely appointed a parole officer to him - a very determined golem called Mr Pump. Neither Moist nor Mr Pump are going to have an easy time in their new positions : for a start, the Post Office itself is a mess. There hasn't been a letter delivered in twenty years - all of them are still in the building, leaving very little room for people and golems inside. Moist only has two members of staff - a geriatric Junior Postman called Groat and Apprentice Postman Stanley (a little odd, though an expert on pins). Mr Pump indirectly leads Moist to Adora Bell Dearheart, a tall dark-haired woman who works for the Golem's Trust. She dresses severely, smokes and, by her own admission, is utterly lacking in a sense of humour. (In fact, she sounds a bit like Frasier Crane's ex-wife). For some reason, however, Moist falls for her and she becomes the closest thing to a friend he has.
Moist's biggest problem is going to be the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and its new Board of Directors. The Grand Trunk provide a high-speed communication service, better known as the clacks - something like the Discworld's version of email. It's pretty clear the new board have cheated, embezzled and stolen their way to the company, are mistreating the workforce and are generally running things into the ground. Although represented by Mr Slant (not only a zombie, but also a lawyer), the most dislikeable and dangerous member of the board is Reacher Gilt. Like Moist, he's obviously a very gifted con-artist. However, it's his willingness to use buzzwords that really send shivers down the spine. (Anyone who has been at a meeting and heard phrases like "core competencies", "synergistically" and "striving for excellence" will know exactly what I mean).
This is the first of the Discworld series to feature Moist, with only very brief appearances from some `established' stars. As a result, it's a pretty good starting point if you've never read any of the other Discworld books and want to see what you're missing. Pratchett's books are always very funny - this one takes a particular swipe at big business. Definitely recommended.
on October 8, 2005
Lord Vetinari is not a crude man, and would never offer anything as crude as "the offer you can't refuse." You can always refuse. All you need to do is adjust expectations about your lifespan downwards by a good bit if you do.
It was an adjustment that Mr. Moist von Lipwig was unwilling to make, given that his recent execution was very fresh in his mind. What was this fate marginally preferable to another death? Civil service. And that doesn't just mean being polite. Moist became the new Postmaster, reviving the moribund band of letter carriers, and finding some way to enhance his undocumented retirement fund in the process. The extra challenge here was competition from the "clacks", a sort of mechanical internet (staffed by recognizable networking geeks), that could send a message across thousands of miles in just a few hours.
Moist, of course, succeeds, despite the rapacious financial lords of the competition, despite his geologically implacable parole officer, and despite his own chronic failure at anything resembling honesty. Come to think of it, that whole honesty thing seems over-rated by a fair margin, especially when there's a lot more work to do than time in which it can possibly be done.
Pratchett succeeds in keeping his Discworld franchise alive and healthy, infusing old characters and story lines with new life. He manages to connect to all the dozens of previous Discworld books and also to connect to the first-time reader. And, after so many books in the series, he keeps the new ideas coming - like the dreaded Woodpecker, the internet virus that would bring the network of gears and pulleys crashing down around their ears. (If you've ever seen data-dependent networking failures, this one will have a gut-sinking reality about it.)
If this new document of Discworld events lacks the frenzy of earlier volumes, it lacks nothing in cleverness and good fun. Enjoy!