Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
Lord Vetinari receives a message from the Counterweight Continent — which isn’t China — demanding that Ankh-Morpork send the “Great Wizzard” at once. Vetinari, hoping to avoid a conflict, summons Mustrum Ridcully, the Archchancellor of Unseen University, to a top-secret meeting. Who do they want? Ridcully figures the Dean is the biggest wizard at the university — could they just send him? Of course, longtime DISCWORLD readers already know that “Wizzard” means Rincewind, and, of course, that he is going to the “Aurient.”
It takes some convincing, but Rincewind reluctantly agrees to the plan. Ponder programs Hex to send Rincewind to the Counterweight Continent, and, though the calculations are rough, Rincewind arrives more or less safely. Once there, he meets Cohen the Barbarian, who, at ninety-maybe-ninety-five, is aging like oak. Unhappy with the tide of politically correct thought taking over the Ramtops — they complain if you kill a dragon now — Cohen has formed an army, the “Silver Horde,” to conquer the Agatean Empire.
However, there are powerful families already in the Agatean Empire. The Emperor’s Grand Vizier, Lord Hong, is an excellent man, by which I mean that he excels at everything. While most people take decades to master the art of sword making, Hong took just three weeks. Otherwise, Hong is brutal, merciless, and ambitious. He intends to take the Empire for himself.
Some detractors might note that Rincewind runs from one Chinese tourist curiosity to another. Fireworks, the Terracotta Warriors, and revolutionaries are just the start. The plot is complex, but Interesting Times often feels like Pratchett made the plot this complex so that he could bring in as many curiosities as possible (China’s a big place and it has a long history). It also feels like he wanted to make a vacation to China pay — or at least like he bought a Lonely Planet: China to outline the novel. Sadly, all of Rincewind’s touring around the country comes at the cost of characterization. While that may seem an odd complaint for a DISCWORLD novel featuring Rincewind as its hero, I couldn’t help thinking that the best parts of Interesting Times actually took place in Anhk-Morpork where the characters are richer and their interactions more comical. (Or maybe it’s just that I think Ridcully is funnier than Rincewind.)
Still, Interesting Times is short, quick, and often funny. I particularly enjoyed the Red Army’s polite slogans, especially “Steady Progress and Limited Disobedience While Retaining Well-Formulated Good Manners.” Cohen the Barbarian returns with his sword and a bunch of gags, as do Twoflower and the Luggage, which should please most Rincewind fans.
Interesting Times is the seventeenth DISCWORLD novel and the fifth to feature Rincewind as its protagonist. Although I did not listen to this one on audio, I did imagine the voices in my head as though they were read by Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs. Interesting Times is not my favorite novel in this series, but I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a particularly light, especially irreverent read while traveling through China.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
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