Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #31)

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it.

- Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

The title for Terry Pratchett's 31th Discworld novel, Monstrous Regiment, is inspired by the name of an infamous book, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, written by John Knox, who was an influential figure in the protestant reformation.

At this point you may be wondering, why did Terry Pratchett name a Discworld novel after a religious book that promoted gender discrimination? What was Terry Pratchett brewing up? Remember, Terry Pratchett is an excellent satirist. So you can bet that Sir Terry had a very good reason for borrowing the name of John Knox's infamous book – to cook up a storm of parodies and then challenging the status quo!

Our story began, when a girl called Polly joined Borogravia's army to find her brother Paul. Boro what? Ok, let's rewind a little bit. Borogravia is a small, backward country on Discworld. Borogravia follows the gospel of the god Nuggan, who dedicated a lot of time coming up with laws against abominations.

A sizable chunk on Nuggan's list of abominations have to do with women not acting “women-like”; such as women joining the army, which was a big No No according to the infallible Nuggan. So why and how did Polly join the army? Because Borogravia is constantly at war with someone, after years of war a lot of Borogravian men are either dead or have gone missing, including Polly's brother, Paul. This also means Polly cares nothing about war, money, or patriotism. She just wanted to find her brother and go home.

Risking Nuggan's wrath, Polly dresses up as a man and joined the army. She was enlisted by Borogravian army's living legend, Sergeant Jackrum, who took her into his regiment, alongside a vampire, a troll, a zombie, a religious fanatic, and two unusually close friends. As Polly marched into war and secretly searching for her brother, she soon discovered that most of her comrades were more than meets the eye...

Monstrous Regiment concludes the “Industrial Revolution” sub-series in Discworld. This book tells a wonderful story about wars, and it is full of witty and funny moments. On the other hand, this book is also a social commentary, and if I may suggest, I think Sir Terry really loaded his gun this time and blasted, full force, at the things he wished to criticize against. Things like bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and jingoism in disguise as patriotism, all got what they deserved by Sir Terry's biting bullets. Gone are the subtle critiques found in earlier Discworld novels. In its stead, Sir Terry opted for a more direct, blunt way of engaging the hot problems in our world. Mind you, Sir Terry still presented these issues in the form of satires, and this book is just as humorous and funny as previous Discworld novels. However, some readers may complain about the heavy handed way in which Monstrous Regiment passes on its messages. Personally, I vote in favor of this book because I love that Terry Pratchett did not shy away from asking uncomfortable questions.

I think Terry Pratchett's writings are treasures in the fantasy genre. This is because Sir Terry was among the very few male fantasy authors who have consistently depicted female characters as real, believable human beings without relying on stereotypes and caricatures. In this book, all female characters, including the protagonist, Polly, are portrayed realistically. But then, this is a trademark and one of the greatest virtue of Discworld; just like in our world, life on Discworld is made up of stories of small folks.

The second avenue of Sir Terry's critique was aimed at religious fundamentalism. In this book, Borogravians have a certain way of interpreting their holy scripture, and they are absolutely sure they are right – for them, it was all or nothing. Through the eyes of Polly and her comrades, readers are shown how Borogravian's all-or-nothing mentality inflicted a whirlwind of harms, suffering and injustice on anyone who was involved in the story. Meanwhile, a bagful of twists and turns await readers as the story unfolds. As these twists and turns slowly greet the readers, we begin to comprehend the connection between the name of this novel, Monstrous Regiment, to John Knox's infamous book. Let me just say as this understanding dawned on me, I came to full appreciation for the marvels of Sir Terry's parody. I am in full agreement with Terry Pratchett's assessment on religious fundamentalism. I like Discworld novels, and I especially enjoy the ones that criticized religious fundamentalism. Terry Pratchett has a knack for making sharp and accurate observations about challenges facing our society. In this case, Monstrous Regiment nailed the problem of religious fundamentalism on its head.

The ending of this book tastes bittersweet. Ok, don't freak out, I am not about to spoil the story for you. I just want to note my appreciation for its ending, because it illustrated the point that progress is made by taking baby steps, that changes do not come overnight but rather they arrive one step at a time as people slowly change their beliefs and prejudices. The key then, as Terry Pratchett illustrated in this fine tale, is to never loose hope, persevere, and continue to challenge the status quo. Challenge the status quo with uncomfortable questions instead of treating them as rules carved in stones.

Post Script:

In Monstrous Regiment, Ankh Morpork sent Samuel Vimes to intervene in the war between Borogravia and Zlobenia. Being Vimes, he put a grin on my face when he spoke the following line:
"Oh well, the interests of Ankh Morpork are the interests of all money-lov... oops, sorry, all freedom-loving people everywhere."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Book Review: The Truth by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #25)

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on

                           - Terry Pratchett, The Truth

How do we know what is true?

I think this is a most important question, and we should ask it all the time. Our world is full of people who want to sell you their ideas and beliefs by marketing them as the truth. The problem is, it is not uncommon for people's beliefs to differ from the truth. If you keep an open mind, then it is only a matter of time before someone comes along and try to put something in it. We are constantly bombarded by truth claims that ask us to commit with our minds, time and money. Buying into non-truth, then, can lead to dire consequences.

Some people say their belief is the truth because it is written down in a book or in some documents. However, is something true just because it is written down? Our culture places a lot of confidence in things that are written down. The news, for example, is a hub for truth claims that are being written down, constantly, and people pay to read it and refer to it all the time. But how do we know if the news is reporting the truth? Furthermore, should the news be reporting matters of public interest or individual interest?

In The Truth, the 25th novel in the much beloved, satirical fantasy series, Discworld, Sir Terry Pratchett turned his mighty pen on the news/press, and exploring its power to distribute and create truth. This novel belongs to “Industrial Revolution” sub-series in Discworld, and it is also much, much more than just an examination of the press.


A rumor is gliding over the cobblestone streets of Ankh Morpork. Darwfs, apparently, have found a way to turn lead into gold!

What on Disc? Have the dwarfs put the Alchemist Guild to shame? How can one turn lead into gold?

William de Worde, who earns a scanty living as a writer of things, discovered the metaphorical truth behind this rumor. Initially, William was contracted to write down the story about the dwarfs. In the process, however, he uncovered the dwarfs have in fact, invented the technology of movable type. An ingenious idea struck William, he utilized the movable type and started Ankh Morpork's first newspaper company - The Ankh Morpork Times.

Not only is William's start-up company the first of its kind, his choice of staff member is equally as ground breaking. William's company (unintentionally) promoted diversity and equal opportunity. He hired a troll, a team of dwarf printers, an editor, and a reformed vampire who is obsessed about photography.

William's business soared as the sales of his newspaper skyrocketed. Unfortunately, very soon competition challenged William as the wealthy Engravers' Guild found a rival newspaper called The Inquirer, and they intended to force William out of business. William, on the other hand, focused his energy on unraveling the clues to a conspiracy where Lord Ventinari, the patrician of the city, was framed for an attempted murder.

Little did William know his investigation was about to unveil a most unsettling truth. Because the truth, you see, will make you fret...

My thoughts on this book:

I find it difficult to write reviews for Discworld novels. This is because these books are complex, social commentaries and they often go deep and explore burning issues in our society. But I love writing reviews for Discworld novels. I think these book are worth reading and I want to introduce them to my fellow readers. In this instance, I think The Truth represents Terry Pratchett at his best and it is a must read for new comers and veterans to the Disc.

Terry Pratchett often hit the nail on the head when he made observations and critiques about our society. Every Discworld novel focuses on a specific theme, but themes such as inequality, the nature of belief, and the problem of racism, are prevalent in almost all Discworld novels. This is certainly the case for The Truth. At its core, this book is about journalism, but Terry Pratchett also invested a large portion of the story at exploring issues related to inequality, and the nature of beliefs.

Terry Pratchett has a gift for finding fantastic ways of putting words together and turning his observations into sharp, and humorous satires to criticize the absurdities in our society. For example, in The Truth, Terry Pratchett was spot on when he pointed the wrongs of media sensationalism and the harms it can cause to the public. Sir Terry presented his critiques in parodies that I would describe as "tear-jerkingly funny". Indeed, some parts of this book can exert such comedic effects on its readers that can only result in tears, from laughing too hard. So read at your own caution, you have been warned! 

The best thing about Terry Pratchett's writings, however, lies in his big hearted approach to the things he wished to criticize. Having said this, in this book, I could sense a passion that was fueling Terry Pratchett's writings. Behind the jokes, and the wicked humor, I think Terry Pratchett was really furious about all the wrongness and injustice in our society and he expressed them in satires. A good satire carries real power. I agree with Terry Pratchett's assessments, and I appreciate the fact that he was such an extraordinary satirist, who spoke out against the wrongness in our society with his excellent stories, on behalf of little folks such as myself. In other words, Terry Pratchett is my spokesperson.

The Truth differs greatly from other Discworld novels. It engaged in several debates related to the political-ethical front of the news business, but the book left the debates unresolved. This signified a change in Terry Pratchett's style because he usually approached a topic with a clear solution in mind. In this book, through the eyes of William de Worde, the story explored a question - should news be reporting matters of public interest or individual interest? In this book, Terry Pratchett presented both sides of the argument and he left the debate hanging in the air.

On the other hand, the fans' favorite, Commander Samuel Vimes, returned in this book to play an important role in the story. In some ways, Samuel Vimes played the role of antagonist in this book. The story set up a premise where William clashed against Vimes. These two main characters represent two ideologies, debating the amount of freedom journalism should possess and whether if it is ethical for news to be reporting everything. Once again, Terry Pratchett presented both sides of the argument and left the debate unresolved.

On top of the debates about the news business, the story also explored problems of inequality, such as class and racial discrimination, and its relation to (unfair) allocation of capital and greed. For me, the golden moment of this book arrived when Terry Pratchett narrated an analogy, about people getting drinks in a bar, to illustrate the point that greed is not without consequences, that one's greed always comes at the cost of other people's expenses. This was a moment where Terry Pratchett wonderfully captured, in words, the wrongness of greed, in a dark and humorous way that has his signature all over it. And you know what the best thing is about this book? Terry Pratchett packed all these thought-provoking topics in a satirical fantasy story that is entertaining and fun to read.

Despite the many praises I have given to this book, I do not think this book is flawless. When I was reading this novel, some parts of the storytelling came across as being disjointed and overly random, to the effect that it disrupted the story's flow. But this is a minor problem and it is not a show stopper. On the whole, the storytelling in The Truth is coherent and a reader can easily follow the story.

Brilliantly funny and thought provoking, The Truth is a solid entry in Discworld. Through an entertaining, fantasy story, Terry Pratchett made sharp observations about the world of journalism, and also tackling the problem of inequality. But make no mistake, this book is not a bitter expression against the injustices in the world. It is not all doom and despair. As a veteran reader of Discworld series, I came to appreciate more and more of the hopefulness that's present in these books. A lot of times when I closed a Discworld novel, I walked away with the feeling that despite all the problems, the world is actually not such a bad place. That oasis do exist somewhere in the desert, sometimes all it takes is witnessing a small act of kindness. Just like in Sir Terry's Discworld stories, it is always the small folks, not the big and mighty heroes, who braved the storms in life and showed that it is worth living.