The Truth by Terry Pratchett
The truth about Sir Terry Pratchett’s novel The Truth is that for the first time a DISCWORLD book failed to satisfy me. While there is nothing seriously wrong with the story, the feeling that Pratchett was bolting set pieces together to make a whole overwhelmed the general fun of the book.
First published in 2000, The Truth is 25th in a 49-book series according to Wikipedia. The DISCWORLD books break into definable categories, even if fans give those categories different names; my name for Going Postal, Making Money and The Truth would be “Enterprise” stories; new businesses or utilities created in Ankh Morpork and the difficulties they face. This enterprise involves moveable type and the city’s first newspaper.
Aristocratic and rebellious second son William de Worde writes a “newsletter” for royalty and aristocrats outside of Ankh Morpork. When he meets with a group of dwarves who have brought a printing press to town, soon he is printing a daily “newspaper.” In the meantime, Lord Vetinari, the Patrician or, as William hesitates to call him, the “City Boss” is accused of the attempted murder of his own servant. Vetinari has been framed by a group of human-supremacists who don’t like the open nature of the city. They have hired two out-of-town villains who call themselves The New Firm to frame Vetinari, and soon it seems that only William, plucky-sidekick-girl Sacharissa, the printing press dwarves, and a talking dog can set things right.
The New Firm was one of my problems. Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip are clearly riffs on Neil Gaiman’s Vandemar and Croup, “the old firm.” Riffing is great, and it’s fun to read a story that has cross-pollination between two great friends and storytellers; but Pin and Tulip get a lot of time in The Truth, basically doing the same spiel over and over. With them in place The Truth reads less like a fun mystery and more like a DISCWORLD checklist.
Other elements contribute to the checklist feel, such as the real lack of character revelation, and a lot of telling. Pratchett tells us that William “wears his haughtiness like an overcoat” (because William is an aristocrat) but he never seems aristocratic. Other characters say of him that he is snobbish and racist but they can see he’s trying to get over it. Sacharissa, we are told, is a young woman who wants to be genteel and who “mistakes mannerisms for manners.” (Her name is the clue; she thinks she should be “sweet” even if it’s artificial.) The best thing about Sacharissa is that “young men tell her things” which makes her, potentially, an ace reporter. The best new character to me was Gunilla Goodmountain, who runs the printing press and is forthright, practical, and unimpressed with the unwritten rules of the city.
The plot of The Truth is good, if predictable, and there is fun along the way. Like any Pratchett book there are lots of pointed comments and the public interest, politics and so on. Watching the printing errors that changed the newspaper’s “the truth will set you free” to various other meanings, like “the truth will make you fret” was entertaining. It just read to me as a book Pratchett was doing by the numbers, rather than paying much attention to his story. In the very beginning, we see William at his “lodgings,” we hear rain dripping off the gutter and the chanting from the private magic school one floor down, but several chapters later we discover that William lives in a boarding house with a rather severe landlady. This is never explained; most likely, William was in his office in the first scene. It reads as if Pratchett changed his mind in an early draft and never went back and changed it.
Sir Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and some flaws in this book could be attributed to that, but he went on after this book to write several that were more compelling, even with the standard set pieces we’ve come to expect. I just think that while all the pieces fit together in a Discworld fashion, there was no real spark or energy to this one.
Bear in mind that lots of fans think this book is just grand. My reading of this book may be influenced by timing. In the USA, the first amendment and the free press are under a coordinated assault right now, and maybe The Truth can’t stand up in that environment. I think, though, that most of my problems here are with structure and depth. It may be me, but it’s not all me.
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.
Discworld for Kids: