Top critical review
Best of a mediocre bunch
on March 29, 1999
Probably the best of the Discworld series. Enjoyable, funny in places, and enough story to make the book an easy one to finish.
I've wondered on occasion why Pratchett (at his best) is never nearly as funny as Douglas Adams (at his best); now I think I know. "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is genuine science fiction. The story drives itself. The Infinite Improbability Drive, is exactly the sort of thing a science fiction writer would invent, and the explanation for its existence exactly that which a science fiction writer would give. Someone with no sense of humour at all might not like Adams's book, but would at least understand it.
None of this is true of Pratchett. His books, as a rule, aren't fantasy: he usually gives the impression of wanting to write about something else. (This is most apparent in, say, "Moving Pictures", a book about Hollywood that would lose most of its humour if it was actually set *in* Hollywood.) Usually there's nothing to Pratchett except one liners and turns of phrase. He presents us with a plot he doesn't appear to care about, and then goes through the tedious motions of writing a novel to it, all the time keeping a sharp look-out for amusing comments to make. The amusing comments are what makes the otherwise tedious excercise worthwhile. They don't always succeed.
(This explains why Pratchett is seldom REALLY funny. Someone who has no particular axe to grind and is just looking for jokes, any jokes, is in the unenviable position of a a clown at the circus, or a court jester, whom everyone expects to be funny but no-one expects to be anything else. Such people produce dutiful chuckles. Humour needs passion.)
This is a generalisation. There are exceptions, and this book is one of them. Ankh-Morpork is about the only thing left in Discworld which is interesting in itself (and not just interesting as a result of the funny things that might be said about it); so, hurrah, we begin the novel in Ankh-Morpork. We get a story which has some merit as a fantasy story all by itself. The magic is for once genuine magic, and not a kind of ersatz technology. This book approaches the kind of thing Discworld as a whole ought to have been.
Another book worth reading for similar reasons is "Mort". Read it after or before "Pyramids". It won't hurt to read the other Discworld books, but there is really no need.