on September 20, 2007
It seems, after reading Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel "Making Money", that money does make the world go `round, even if that world is flat and balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle.
In "Making Money", Terry Pratchett and his `hero' Moist von Lipwig do for and to the monetary system exactly what they did for and to the postal service in "Going Postal". The result is the same - a slapstick romp through the strange and wonderful world of Discworld.
It is impossible to detail the plot of this book without giving away spoilers so I think it best just to say that Lord Vetinari has determined that Ankh-Morpork's monetary system is in dire straits and in need of improvement. Vetinari picks, in his inimitable way, Moist von Lipwig to lead the way. The result is - well just about what you'd expect.
"Making Money" features a cast of mostly new characters. As to established characters, Vetinari is featured and he is as delightfully Machiavellian as ever. There are cameo appearances by DEATH, the Watch, and CMOT Dibbler. However, new or newer characters play the largest roles. Moist's second appearance is terrific. Pratchett does a very nice job turning him into what I hope is a recurring role. Moist's girlfriend the chain-smoking Adore Belle Dearheart makes her presence felt, especially when she puts her foot down. Mr. Bent, the oh-so serious bank manager plays straight man to Moist's light-hearted con-man character. Bent is tied to the old ways - where money must be based on gold and nothing but gold. He is serious, has never been known to laugh, and has a head for numbers that is astonishing. Moist, on the other hand, is a man of flash, charm and an easy smile. Form doesn't follow function for Moist - form is function. There is undoubtedly substance there but it is often lost in a lot of smoke and mirrors. In some respects you could argue that Bent is to Moist what Gordon Brown was to Tony Blair.
Moist's antagonists are the Lavish family, particularly Cosmo Lavish and his rather large sister Pucci (of whom Pratchett says in a great line, "she had no idea how to handle people and she tried to make self-esteem do the work of self-respect, but the girl could flounce better than a fat turkey on a trampoline".) They make good foils for Moist and Vetinari.
As always the plot has many twists and turns and one-liners fly almost as fast as the slings and arrows of the Assassins' Guild. Pratchett has a great way with humour and manages to combine that humour with a good deal of insight into how `things' work in the real world. His look at the monetary system in "Making Money" can now stand with Pratchett's look at rock music, religion, the post office, and movies as some very funny looks at our world through the prism of Discworld.
"Making Money" was a fun book for me to read. It was typical Pratchett (high praise) and I think most Pratchett fans will enjoy it. I certainly did. L. Fleisig
In "Going Postal", Pratchett introduced Moist von Lipwig, a condemned confidence trickster, at his "end", hanged at the order of Ankh-Morpork's Patrician, Havelock Vetinari. It wasn't Moist who was executed, however, but Albert Spangler, his most frequently used alias. That identity was swept away to enable Lord Vetinari's wish to rejuvenate the City's postal system. Moist was up to the task, transforming an ancient, creaking and nearly obsolete civil service into a humming success. The rejuvenation kept the post office a City institution instead of divested into greedy, private hands.
But success isn't Moist's desired state. He craves danger, illicit activity, deception and the thrill of the chase. To keep his hand in, he must break into his own post office! Vetinari didn't spare Moist on a whim. He knows his man and his methods, deftly manoeuvring the talented thief for his own ends. "Tyrant" or no, Vetinari lives for the City of Ankh-Morpork, using whatever means available to keep it going effectively. With no other vested interest and lacking anything like an army for enforcing his aims, Vetinari relies on guile and one of the most devious personalities in literature. He uses that talent to manoeuvre Moist's taking over the Royal Bank and Mint. Moist will be "making money" in a new way.
"Ankh-Morpork" of course, won't be found in any Rand McNally [in case you were thinking of looking]. That's because Vetinari's City is the largest on the Discworld. Pratchett has produced over three dozen books on this world, which is only partly imaginary. His slogan for the series: "Discworld is a world, and a mirror of worlds" reveals the reflection there is us. There are a few exotic characters residing on the Discworld. The City Watch hires trolls, dwarves and even promoted a werewolf to Sergeant, for example. These are minor characters here, although golems move to near-centre stage in this tale. One of them, who's discovered "ladies' magazines" and books on deportment, has donned a blue dress and dubbed herself "Gladys". She is Moist's personal maid, demurely turning her back when he dresses.
Golems are seen as a threat by many in Ankh-Morpork. They do the repetitive, mindless tasks without murmur or complaint. If they cause job loss with such behaviour, however, the economy will suffer - as will the Bank. Run by the Chief Cashier, Malvolio Bent, who staunchly defends traditional standards, innovation has little place in the Bank. A nephew of the former Chairman has introduced speculative forecasting on the City's economy, including what might transpire in conditions of mass unemployment. Scorning anything as crude as an abacus, Hubert has expanded on the ancient water clock to create The Glooper, a maze of glass pipes, valves and buckets to trace the impact of small changes in the flow of money. Hubert calls it his "analogy machine". Silicon being the basis for glass and computers is a point to remember.
Hubert is a Lavish, the family that has run and controlled the Royal Bank for generations. The Lavishes, are, well, lavish. They are Old Money, which means they know how to save, spend, and use it for their own ambitions. One Lavish, Cosmo, has even more grandiose plans - take over the management of the Bank, and depose Vetinari in the process. Moist, as the new Master of the Royal Mint, and keeper of the present Chairman, a multi-breed dog named Mr Fusspot, stands in Cosmo's path. Moist seems immune from Cosmo's machinations, until a figure from the past arrives. Cribbins knows Albert Spangler from old and intends to benefit from the knowledge. Only Vetinari is aware of who Moist actually is, keeping that secret for his own purposes. Now, Moist's past is rising up like a restless shade. How will Ankh-Morpork respond when it learns their admired Postmaster and Master of the Royal Mint is a former crook? Especially when it's discovered that the gold reserve keeping the economy ticking over and backing up Moist's innovation of paper money has mysteriously disappeared?
To those who've read Pratchett, extolling his style and wit will be redundant. He's a master at word bending, double meaning and adapting. The Bank's cellar, a huge vault, was excavated by a former Chairman on speculation that it would attract a beneficent god. "If we build it, wilt thou comest?" is a typical Pratchett tossed-off line. Yet, as any fan will testify, he's not limited to petty wit. He understands issues confronting us all, conveying them with panache. He does this through his characters, at whose creation Pratchett is a master. Moist is one of his finer efforts, but his on-going depiction of Vetinari through the Discworld series has made him a favoured character: "Do I need to wear a badge that says tyrant?" Pratchett's characterisations, and the twists and arabesques of his plots, spiced with an accomplished knowledge of his topic, keeps his books not only on the "Must Read" list, but rewards those who pick them up again and again. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]