Making Money by Terry Pratchett
So, it didn’t take as long as I expected to get to my next Discworld novel. It didn’t hurt that a reader pointed me toward a good reading guide for the series, or that I found the one that followed the last one I read while browsing the library this weekend. And hey, while we’re on the topic of things that helped me get back around to the series, let’s just say that it’s not often that I get to read books in a series back-to-back (-ish). So all the points convened on what became a foregone conclusion.
Anyway, Making Money follows right after Going Postal, and follows Moist von Lipwick’s journey from con man to postmaster to director of the Ankh-Morpork mint. Like the previous story, Moist’s adventures become more perilous than he would have expected, as he butts heads with those who gain to profit from the banks. And like Going Postal, he has to match wits with a variety of shady individuals in public and private, and still manages to stay charismatic through it all.
The story follows some of the same themes as Going Postal, this time focusing on banks and the industry of money. Pratchett seems to have a clear opinion of banks and the government, and deconstructs the idea of a national economy over the course of the story. And like Going Postal, Moist himself comes up with the main idea that manages to keep the business running, which is of course the same idea that we use to run our country today. It’s a fun conceit, and makes the reader think about how these ideas came to be in the real world. And there’s a hint at the end of the novel that Moist’s next adventure will involve tax collection, so I imagine there will be a grand simplification of that idea in his next novel.
Making Money is a wild romp and a fun ride, even if it isn’t quite as good as Going Postal. Maybe it’s because I’ve already seen Moist dodge all the challenges thrown his way, or maybe it’s because the ending was a little too forced and a little too pat, but it just didn’t resonate quite as well as Going Postal (though that didn’t stop me from reading the entire book in one day; Pratchett still tells a wonderful story that’s just plain fun to read). But that’s not going to stop me from picking up more of his books along the way. Anyone care to recommend the next place to start?
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Geek is chic (or so I’ve heard, but maybe that’s just in my own circles), or to put it in an even better perspective, “Geek used to be a four-letter word; now it’s a six-figure salary.” I wish I could take credit for that quote, but I read that on an Internet forum some years ago. But with the prevalence of sites like ThinkGeek, the popularity of such pop-culture figures as George Takei and Wil Wheaton, or even the fact that “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the top-rated shows on television, it’s hard to deny that Geek has gone mainstream. I mean, look at that; I even capitalized the dang word!
Ready Player One is a Geek’s dream, a throwback to all the things that make us who we are. It references comic books, video games, anime, manga, and music from the 1980s, without irony or derision. The main characters are plugged into something called the OASIS, which is a virtual reality world where some folks choose to spend most of their lives. Their quest in the book is to solve a years-old videogame contest by trying to find easter eggs hidden throughout the OASIS, and if anything I’ve written so far (especially if you know what I mean by easter eggs), then this is the book for you. And if, like me, you’re close to your 40s, then this book will resonate far more with you, since a lot of the pop-culture references here are going to be from your childhood.
The book is flat-out fun, too. Parzival is our narrator, and he represents the group of gamers who are trying to find the aforementioned easter egg, which in turn will grant him untold riches and fame, and even ownership of the OASIS. He’s a socially awkward kid who dreams of being better than what he is in the real world, and the OASIS and the promise of those rewards is what drives him through the story. He’s fighting against a corporation that would like to find that same easter egg, since ownership of the OASIS would equate to more riches for that corporation. And it’s so damned easy to root for Parzival and his friends over the course of this book.
I had heard a lot of good about this book before reading it, and I knew I was setting myself up for a huge disappointment if it didn’t pay off in the end. But the story flowed well and had me caught up in the lives of the main characters, all while peppering me with nostalgia for all the things I remember as I was growing up. I was sucked up like dirt in a Hoover, but I was smiling the whole time. The book ain’t perfect (some of the plotting was left up to random encounters, and there were a few moments where I found myself thinking, “Well, that’s going to show up later in the story, that’s for sure”), but the storytelling, characterization, and setting were all my thing. Just last night, I was relating to my wife how a friend, who just turned 43 and talked about going from being the answer to life, the universe, and everything to being prime, was “my people,” and Ernest Cline belongs to that rank, too. So if you know what I mean by any of those references, find this book, and read it. You won’t be disappointed.
The Postmortal by Drew Magary
Over the weekend, I discovered The Walking Dead on Netflix. My wife and I watched the entire first season — all six episodes — back-to-back, and are now officially hooked on it. I’m still thinking about it, and considering reading the graphic novel series, but I don’t want to spoil anything about the series. But I found it kind of jarring that I was watching the show while I was also reading The Postmortal, because while The Walking Dead is about a small group of survivors in a world where nearly everyone is dead, The Postmortal is about living in a world where hardly anyone ever dies.
The premise of The Postmortal is that science has finally discovered a cure for aging, and anyone who takes the cure will be locked in at their current age until they die. People who take the cure can still die, contract diseases, have heart attacks and strokes, etc., but so long as they take care of themselves and don’t run afoul of violence, they can live for as long as they wish. It’s a pipe dream, especially for anyone who’s contemplated their own mortality, and of course it sounds like a great idea. But what we don’t often think about when we think about living forever is what the world would be like if no one ever died. Luckily, Drew Magary thought about it. He thought about it a lot.
It’s hard to discuss the novel without giving away a lot of it, but it’s not a spoiler to say the world becomes overcrowded in a hurry. Where that overcrowding takes society I’ll leave for you to discover in the book, but I will say that while the first quarter or so of the book is filled with hope and optimism, the rest of the book takes a much darker look at the reality of that sort of situation. For all the people who populate the novel, it reads a lot like a post-apocalyptic novel of survival than a science-fictional look at living sort-of-forever.
I turn 40 this year, and over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself thinking more about my own mortality. It’s becoming less and less of an abstract idea, and I’m not ashamed to say that the idea of dying terrifies me. But The Postmortal actually made me feel a little more at ease with the idea by presenting the alternative side of living forever. It’s not a pleasant look at the idea, but it feels like a necessary one.
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
I’ll probably lose some geek-cred by saying so, but this is only the third Terry Pratchett book I’ve read (fourth, if you count Good Omens). I read The Colour of Magic many years ago when I was still in high school, and didn’t think much of it. Later, I read Equal Rites, and found it to be more interesting, but not enough to make me go back and read the other books in the series. Another 10-plus years has passed, and I’ve read my third book, Going Postal. How does it make me feel about the series?
Well, it was good. I mean, it was funny, but it was also serious. By that, I mean that it had some humorous moments and situations, but the plot was something to take seriously. It wasn’t like a Looney Tunes cartoon where a character gets shot by a rifle and gets back up to make a joke about it. When folks in the book die, they die. Well … mostly.
See, Going Postal opens with Moist von Lipwig, a sentenced con man, about to be hanged for his crimes. The first chapter is a running internal monologue by his character, covering his past enough to give a brief overview of his past, his personality, and what he’s about to face. And at the end of that chapter, he dies. Well … he’s hanged. The thing is, the person being hanged isn’t known as Moist von Lipwig; he’s known by one of his aliases, so when that person dies, Moist von Lipwig is still available to step in and do some work for the Ankh-Morpork government. And Moist is given the choice to take on the role of Postmaster for the post office, or die a real death. But from that point onward, if a character dies in the story, he doesn’t pop up with a witty quip; he stays dead.
I was surprised to find that the novel had something to say outside of being just a wacky fantasy story. Pratchett makes a commentary about digital versus traditional communications, and how we sacrifice humanity for speed of delivery as he pits the traditional Ankh-Morpork post office against the local, corrupt telegraph company. It helps give the novel a lasting impression beyond the story itself. And even the story itself is pretty dang good.
So, will I read the others? Maybe. The series is up to 39 books now, which is a little intimidating. I mean, I’m reluctant to pick up The Wheel of Time because I don’t want to be locked in to reading fourteen books, so it’s hard to imagine reading 37 more. But the reason I picked up Going Postal is because I heard it was easy to read as a standalone book in the series. Can anyone recommend others that follow that characteristic?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
When you break down fiction into its basest elements, its beauty lies in a good story, likable characters, and a compelling narrative. Fiction is also escapism, and that escapism is nowhere more prevalent than it is in fantasy fiction. There, the world is as interesting as compelling as the people who inhabit it, and in turn, the setting becomes as much a character as those moving through it. And with The Night Circus, this is exactly the case.
It’s no surprise that the circus acts as a character, since it serves as an extension of Celia and Marco, two magicians caught up in a game pitted between their mentors. In this game, they create attractions that are bigger and better than anything else the circus has yet offered as a means to prove how powerful and focused they are. It’s a battle that predates them by decades, if not longer, and one that has consequences of which they’re unaware. But the enchanted circus consumes them, much as it consumes anyone who visits it.
Readers might find themselves comparing the story to Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I think would be a disservice to both. Both stories center around a mystical circus, but the themes of the two novels are significantly different. Where Bradbury’s story focuses on the innocence of youth battling with the responsibilities of growing up, Morgenstern’s story is more about questionable loyalties at war with each other. It’s more understated and adult, both in theme and content.
The Night Circus is one of these fantasy novels, by turns light and airy, by others dark and brooding. Though it’s the story of the two magicians, the heart of the story lies with the eponymous circus, and like that circus, the story will wind you through pathways and into mysterious tents, all the while tantalizing you with hidden wonders and the promise of more. It’s a wonderful story, lyrically told, full of magic and amazement and inventive ideas that keep the reader engaged. Like any good fiction, it’s a story well worth reading and well worth sharing.