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G'day Mate! Discworld goes south
on April 18, 2002
The Last Continent is another Discworld book, a wonderful series of books by Terry Pratchett that takes place on a Disc, on the backs of four elephants that are standing on a cosmic turtle that's hurtling through space. This one features another adventure of the wizard who's not very good at wizardry, Rincewind. One thing he's good at, though, is getting into trouble, and boy does he in this one!
Rincewind is stranded in a dry, desolate place called XXXX (that's "ecks-ecks-ecks-ecks" to the locals). There is no rain. Instead, there is some water that you have to dig for. Unfortunately, that's starting to dry up too. Magic is going crazy on this continent, and Rincewind has been chosen to sort things out. Of course, as the kangaroo who gives him the job states, Rincewind already has sorted things out, so the kangaroo has no doubt that Rincewind will come around and accept the responsibility of sorting things out. Make sense? It doesn't to Rincewind either. He is forced to go on a journey around the continent (very obviously, it's supposed to be Australia, though supposedly Pratchett denies this) and falls into adventure after adventure. He's attacked by a drunken wombat, he discovers "Ecksians" can come up with new phrases (this actually seems to make Australian euphemisms make sense). He discovers an alternate group of wizards from another Unseen University, and accepts there help in his mission.
Speaking of the Unseen University, a number of faculty wizards end up on a desert island after stepping through a window in the study of one of another faculty member. Unfortunately, that window gets closed, leaving them trapped on this island, ages in the past, with no way to get back home. What would a normal wizard do in this situation? Of course! They panic. The resolution of all this, and how these two stories tie together, is really worth reading. I don't want to give away any more than I already have.
The Last Continent is a tremendously funny book. It's not as good as the City Watch books (another series of books taking place on Discworld), but it is well worth the time spent on it. Pratchett is a master at silly humour, and there's lots of it in this one. There's the aforementioned bit on euphemisms, there's one of the wizards trying to explain time paradoxes to a group of wizards that just don't get it. There's a scene taken from the movie The Road Warrior that is just priceless. The jokes never stop.
This book does tend to grow on you as well. When I first finished it, I rated it as a 4-star book. I thought it was really good, but not outstanding. However, after having had some time to reflect, it has really risen in my estimation. I'm thinking back to all of the funny bits and I find myself almost laughing out loud while remembering. It's the best of the Rincewind books that I've read (which, admittedly, leaves out any between The Light Fantastic and this one). This is definitely a 5-star book.
The characters are just wonderful. While Rincewind has his great moments, the other wizards steal the show. They just can't seem to understand much of anything, with the exception of one of them who keeps trying to explain things. Of course, sometimes his explanations make their misunderstanding even worse. The interplay between these characters, and between them and the university's housekeeper, is outstanding. The characters Rincewind runs into are great, too. There were no characters that I wished would just leave so I wouldn't have to read about them again. Pratchett keeps the sequences that Rincewind gets into short, so there's no real opportunity for them to get stale.
I can't say whether or not reading the previous Rincewind books is necessary. I personally didn't feel like I was missing anything by not having read them (with the possible exception of how Rincewind got to XXXX in the first place, though that didn't bother me too much). I picked it up cold and enjoyed it, so you shouldn't be afraid to either. Yet another must-read in the Pratchett collection.