You wouldn't think about job security becoming a problem for Death, the Defeater of Empires, the Swallower of Oceans, etc., but of course the Discworld is itself a contradiction in terms. When your world is a flat plane of existence transported through space atop the four elephants astride the Great Turtle A'tuin's back, the impossible is surprisingly commonplace. In this bastion of animism and anthropomorphism, not only Death but the mysterious Auditors of Reality have been brought into existence via the mere consciousness running amuck throughout the world. These murkily-defined Auditors, who hate nothing so much as individualism, feel compelled to force Death into retirement for the simple reason that he had taken on something of a personality. If he actually has to die, Death is determined to at least live, and we soon find him working on Renata Flitworth's farm in the plains below the Ramtops under the assumed name of Bill Door. Whereas Death has been known to indulge his curiosity of living men and women from time to time, in this significant Discworld chronicle he slips into the ways of man without conscious effort, and to some extent Bill Door actually does live for a time on the Discworld.
Naturally, you don't just replace Death over night; it takes a while for the collective unconscious of all living things to formulate a New Death, and this period of temporary instability proves quite burdensome. One individual particularly unhappy about the current state of affairs is Windle Poons, the oldest of all the wizards in Unseen University. When Death doesn't show up to meet him at the appointed hour, Poons eventually has little choice but to go and reinhabit his old body once again. He's not the only undead person walking around in the days that follow. As if the walking dead weren't problematic enough, inanimate objects begin moving around of their own accord, little glass snow-globes begin turning up everywhere, shopping carts with minds of their own become a menace to society, and the wholly unnatural buildup of life force caused by the absence of a Grim Reaper opens a window on the Discworld for the insidious invasion of the most fearful of all creations.
Reaper Man, the eleventh book in the series, is truly one of the quintessential Discworld novels. We get to see plenty of Death and gain much more valuable insight into his outlook on life; his non-human humanity really shines through his skeletal essence on several occasions in these pages. The always-hilarious wizards of Unseen University are in the mix of things as they should be, and they are joined by a number of Pratchett's most singular characters. The remarkable Windle Poons, more alive than ever in his death, climbs out of the wheelchair of a very old, hard of hearing, mentally addled old wizard to become a very personable hero. For the first time we meet Mrs. Cake, the small medium seer who has a habit of answering questions just before they are asked, Mrs. Cake's daughter Ludmilla who happens to be a werewolf, the aforementioned Renata Flitworth, the Death of Rats, and the unforgettable members of the Fresh Start Club formed by zombie Reg Shoe. Those undead creatures who have decided to rally around Shoe's declaration that the dead aren't going to take discrimination lying down any longer include the reluctant vampire Arthur and his wife (Count and Countess Notfaroutoe), a banshee, an exceedingly shy bogeyman, and a wereman. Pratchett's wit and humor are in exceedingly good form throughout, making this one of the most enjoyable and inherently interesting of all Discworld novels.
on February 14, 2004
Death is one of the most interesting recurring characters in the Discworld stories. He's just a regular guy, dealing with a major mission. But now he seems to have acquired a personality and has therefore been sacked from his job. All the smaller deaths -- the Death of Tortoises, the Death of Daffodils, the Death of Rats, and so on -- which used to be subsumed in him are on their own. Death finds he now has a Life-Timer of his own, and the sands of the Future are pouring through the bottleneck of the Present and piling up in the Past. (Pratchett has a terrific way with words.) What else is there for him to do but seek work on a Discworld farm, harvesting corn instead of lives? More important, with no Death to keep it under control, life force is piling up, making its vital presence felt in the form of poltergeist activity and a plague of snowglobes and supermarket baskets, which are only the harbingers of the dreaded appearance of Mall Life. Meanwhile, 130-year-old wizard Windle Poons has just died -- but Death, who is out of a job and not yet been replaced, hasn't come for him. Windle is one of the undead, so naturally he is approached by dead-activists. Then he gets caught up in the struggle against too much life being carried on (reluctantly) by the faculty of Unseen University, of which he was lately a member. And I haven't even mentioned Mrs. Cake and her werewoman daughter, or Lupine, or the grocer vampire, or the bashful banshee who slips notes under doors instead of screaming. Pratchett is a first-rate parodist but he's also a very talented designer of complex and highly original plots and characters.
on June 28, 2001
"Reaper Man" has all the elements of a good Discworld book. Old friends -- Death, The Librarian -- show up and reap (pun intended) havoc. A gaggle of befuddled wizards leave the sanctuary of Unseen University to try and solve a mystical dilemma. And a sheltered innocent, an old wizard named Windle Poons, learns a little something about himself. All fine and good. The problem, and thankfully it is a rare occurrence in Pratchett's world, is that these elements don't interact enough to create a cohesive whole. Pity.
Death gets top billing here, and he is fleshed-out wonderfully (a tough task considering he had no flesh to begin with). A supernatural career crisis leads him to a job harvesting crops, where his skill with a scythe is put to good use. A budding relationship with his new employer, Miss Flitworth, teaches him to actually live.
Windle Poons undergoes a crisis of his own. He's died. Well, almost. See, Death is not around to collect him. So what happens? Well, Terry heaps confusing circumstances on poor Mr. Poons. Poons reacts in much of the same way that Death did. He learns to live, too. After 130-years of sheltered existence, not to mention the last 50 years living with a decrepit body, he is liberated by Death. Only Terry could come up with such a wacky but logically sound notion.
The rest of the cast of characters, including the Wizards and a rag-tag group of misfits called the Fresh Start Club, lively wander around the plot, narrowly bumping into each other while providing fine comic moments. The Wizards get a little too caught up in their quest, eventually donning cloth headbands and yelling "Yo!" as if going into Rambo-style warfare. Couple this with their sheltered pomposity, and we get truly funny moments. The Fresh Start Club is quite the inspired creation on Terry's part. Their group is made up of the failed undead, including a bogeyman who's scared of people, a wolf who turns into a man during a full moon, and a shy banshee who, instead of wailing, slips a card under your door that reads: "OOoooEeeeOooEeeeOOOeee". I would have liked to spend more time with this motley crew.
And Terry's concept of what happens when Death is not around (to collect humanity's deceased life force) is a true revelation. It confused me at first, but upon further reflection, I realized that not only has he conjured up a truly poetic invention, but has made a sly comment on the reign of terror consumerism has inflicted on our culture. I'll say no more; just be prepared to sing for your supper because Terry's not about to hold your hand (with explicit explanation) through these sections.
So the elements are all there. But they never interact in any meaningful way. Terry usually manages to tie the varying narrative threads together by the end. The end here is satisfying in its own way (Death's final scenes are poetic and beautiful), but doesn't carry its weight in terms of helping unify the book's structure. It made me think that there were really two or three distinct stories here, slapped together without much afterthought, to create one full-sized book. That was really my only problem. The rest of the book is enchanting and wonderful; a lesser entry in the Discworld series, but fine reading nonetheless.
Shortsighted management has forced another "downsizing". This time the victim of layoff is Death himself, "retired" by the Auditors. He does his job efficiently and he doesn't sass the boss. He's just become "too involved" with those due to receive attention from his infinitely sharp scythe. The Auditors want a firmer hand on the reaping blade. On the street with time on his hands, Death decides he's going to spend it. Wandering the Discworld, he "gets his feet under the table" as hired man at Miss Flitworth's farm. Although a bit confused about eating and sleeping, he's able to respond with resolute affirmation when she asks, "Can you use a scythe?" He demonstrates a harvesting technique only Pratchett could devise.
With Death no longer performing his role, strange events result. Unconfined, the life force manifests itself in bizarre ways. Death, visible to wizards, fails to arrive at an appointment. In consequence, Windle Poons is subjected to various indignities. His colleagues have a prejudice about zombies. Not having actually died, Windle decides to start to live. Over a century of breathing doesn't necessarily mean you've been living, and Windle, like Death, decides to see something of the [Disc]world. His colleagues, uncertain as to why Windle's still upright and subjected to some mild indignities of their own, seek the cause of
If you're new to the Discworld, all this must sound pretty grotesque. Death "fired" only to become a reaper on a spinster's farm? Wizards who can see him and know precisely when he's due? Take heart, this isn't a bleak version of the Merlin legend, nor a Stephen King horror story. It's Terry Pratchett, a writer with an unmatched talent for looking at the world we live in. He peers deeply at how life works. Then with countless deft twists, restructures our globe into a flat Disc. The Disc's filled with novel ideas and even more unusual people, but on second glance all seem terribly familiar. Death isn't a killer, for example. He's only there to collect lives when they're due to end. Unlike the tax man, he only arrives once, and he's terribly, terribly good at his job.
To those familiar with Pratchett, this book should receive high marks. All of Ankh-Morpork's finest are here - even Sergeant Colon makes an appearance. While enlarging on the cameos Death's played in other Discworld books, Pratchett nearly lets Miss Flitworth walk away with this one. But it's Sal Lifton who does that - the Small Child who recognizes Bill Door as a "skellington" as she ponders how he can eat or sleep. For it's Sal who personifies why Death's been put out to pasture [sorry!]. What that implies about Death's philosophy of life [sorry, again!] and how all this reflects Pratchett's own views becomes vividly clear when the "new hire" appears. As with many modern managers, the Auditors have acquired a labour saving appliance.
Pratchett's great genius is many-leveled. A light skim of any of his books is to experience high mirth rates. His talent for quirky description and one liners you seek ways to use in conversation is matchless. But a few months later, Reaper Man may arrive unbidden back in your hand. "There's something else", you may muse, going back to seek it. More jewels will be discovered, the witticisms skipped over revealing things of deeper value. You will then discover why this reviewer considers Pratchett as one of today's most valuable philosophers. And who rejoices seeing his children with PTerry in hand. If there's hope for survival of this species, it will be people like Pratchett conveying human values to people who need it most - the next generation.
on October 30, 2000
If you've read the other reviews, you probably understand by now that in this episode from the Discworld series, Death gets to take a holiday from his normal duties. This sets up a series of preposterous circumstances that can only be carried off by Terry Pratchett on his insane creation - Discworld.
This was the first of the Discworld novels I ever read, and by far and away the funniest! I was reading it on a flight to San Diego, during the in-flight movie - a taut thriller - and laughed so hard that other passengers were removing their headphones and glaring at me, wondering what I found so hysterical in the film.
This book turned me into a confirmed Terry Pratchett enthusiast. His tongue-in-cheek attitude towards his world and his wonderfully twisted take on life has helped inspire my own looney creative efforts, much to the delight of my children.
Read this book. Then read the entire Discworld series. If you have any sense of humor, you can't go wrong with this one!
on August 10, 2000
The Discworld series is a brilliant and beautiful series of books. This is the best of them. Do I really need to give any further explanation? Alright then.
The Grim Reaper, Death, is a character often popularised as evil and murderous, and such. But he isn't, and in fact gets quite offended should this be suggested to him. The Auditors of Reality have therefore decided to fire him, on the basis that he is taking too much personal interest in his work. Until a replacement is found, though, Death's job - taking the spirits of the dead to their appointed afterlife (if any) isn't happening, leaving a surplus of life force and an abundance of chaos.
As Death journeys through what must now be called his "life" as a farm labourer called Bill Door, and deceased-but-not-departed wizard Windle Poons attempts to find him, comedy mixes with serious issues on life and humanity. And we are amused, but moved at the same time. A beautiful book. Get it. Now, if not sooner.
on January 25, 1998
Terry Pratchett shows once again that even the most serious of subjects is no match for the silliness that is discworld! He cleverly walks the fine lines of literature, embracing humor without falling into stupidity; exploring life and death without falling into dull preachiness. What sets Pratchett's writings apart from that of others in the field of fiction today is his balancing act; Every story has a serious plot, it's just the characters and setting that are ridiculous. What sets "Reaper Man" apart is the interesting look at ourselves that Pratchett provides, both through the eyes of Death and, in some cases, Windle Poons. Both come to realize in the end what really is important in life. Finally, "Reaper Man" finally allows Death to become a good guy, something that was denied him in the early discworld novels and, to some extent, in "Mort". As this novel shows, Death has indeed become quite a character, in more ways than one!
on July 17, 2002
this is certainly among Pratchett's top five books. It's a wonderful work...full of understated humour and philosophical observations which give a slightly different slant to the way we view our own world. The humour is laugh-out-loud funny, and there are some lines you just want to keep in your head forever, remembering with a smile.
Pratchett's writing humour aside, is also quite brilliant. It is eloquent, elegaic, and his descriptions are amazing. Simple things such as a grandfather clock, or a scythe, or even just daylight, are seen in a different way after being put under the microscope of Pratchett.
the plot is brilliant, as are the characters. it rides along at a fair pace, with Death at the head of the cast. (My, and many others', favourite character).
This is an excellent addition to the series, and for fans of Mr Pratchett comes very highly reccomended.
on December 3, 1999
Well, I've not really read this book yet (just ordered it, though, which is why I'm here in the first place) but I'm sure I'll agree on the 5 stars after reading it, as Terry (I call him Terry) is the most brilliant writer of this, and quite possibly the next, millennium. I see my favorite little rodent, D.o.R. (among friends, that is) on the cover and that makes me happy.
D.o.R. is the most brilliantly thought out character in any book ever written in any world. I only wished we'd get a full, 600 page book about the little fellow. We'd enjoy it. Yep.
I leave you with the classic theme song of all that is dead and furry.
"Deeeeeeeeeeeath, the Death of Raaaaaats!
He's the Tiniest,
His Scythe is COOL...and he's a RAT!
Deeeeeeeeeeeath, the Death of Raaaaaats!"
on November 16, 1999
While I have read all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels and enjoyed most, none are as moving and funny as Reaper Man. Pratchett succeeds here in doing what many authors attempt and at which few succeed--using parody and satire to convey a powerful emotional punch.
Pratchett's hilarious and poignant picture of the anthropomorphic characterization of Death entices the reader into a false sense of security and then, when you are least prepared, unleashes a devastatingly insightful and positive message about the human soul and condition.
While I suspect Reaper Man may be somewhat inaccessible to those unversed in the context and language of the Discworld, it remains one of my favorite works of any genre. It is worth reading the entire series for this one title alone.