October 24, 2004

Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

So Jane and I went out on a date, as we sometimes do, and we went to a bookstore as we usually do on a date, and we found a new Discworld novel as we all too seldom do, and Jane got to drive home so I could start reading it to her, as we invariably do when we find a new Discworld novel at the bookstore whilst on a date.

As long time readers know, the city of Ankh-Morpork is ruled by the Patrician, a (reasonably) benevolent despot named Lord Vetinari. Lord Vetinari is a practical man; he's willing to adopt unusual methods to keep his city working smoothly. Early in his tenure, for example, there was a terrible problem with thievery in Ankh-Morpork; Vetinari retaliated by giving the previously shadowy Thieve's Guild equal standing with the other craft guilds--and then establishing an official schedule of rates and fees. Pay your Thieve's Guild fee regularly, and the Thieve's Guild will ensure that you remain untroubled by burglars while at home or by thieves while out and about. They'd better, or the Patrician will have words for them. Of course, the new scheme led to the near destruction of Ankh-Morpork's Night Watch, a situation that has required a considerable amount of the Patrician's time (and many of Pratchett's books) to put right.

In this book, Vetinari turns his attention to the telecommunications industry, as it were. The Discworld's most recent technological development is the "klacks", a kind of telegraph system based on optical semaphores and line-of-sight relays by operators sitting in klacks towers. In recent books it has even been possible to send klacks messages all the way across the continent to the distant city of Genua, some three-thousand miles away, via the towers of the Grand Trunk.

But the klacks is a newcomer to Ankh-Morpork; long before the waving flags and flashing lights spread across the land there was the Penny Post and the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. But the Post Office has fallen on hard times; indeed, it's been decades since the last mail delivery. It's time for that to change, decides Vetinari; it only remains to find the right man to take on the job.

Enter the unfortunately named Moist von Lipwig. Moist is a con-man, and a skillful one; it's a sign of the improved status of the City Watch that they were able to catch him at all--well, that and the sharp nose of Lance-Constable Angua. But caught he has been, and Vetinari feels that a fast-talking con-man is just what the Post Office needs to get back on its feet. If Lipwig doesn't want to take the job, of course, there's always the scaffold...and should he take the job and then decide to leave town quietly, there's always his "bodyguard," a golem named Mr. Pipe, to fetch him back.

Meanwhile, there's something odd going on with the Grand Trunk. A new company has taken it over, and suddenly it's become much less reliable. Line men having been dying with distressing regularity. And they say the dead men's names circulate forever in the overhead.

The book isn't perfect; there's at least one thread I wish Pratchett had tied off neatly, and at one point there's a catastrophe that works out a little too conveniently for Mr. Lipwig. But on the whole, I'd say it ranks up there with Pratchett's best, and it's definitely less serious and more funny than the previous two Discworld novels, Monstrous Regiment and Night Watch. So go read it.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 24, 2004 05:18 PM