Mar. 27th, 2009

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Picture a great turtle moving through space. Balanced on the backs of the four elephants riding its shell is a pancake-flat planet. This is the Discworld, and its inhabitants have no doubt that it's flat. The concerns of the Disc's citizens aren't all that different from those of our world. They're just trying to get along as well as they can.

In Moving Pictures, the tenth Discworld novel, a wild idea leaks through a time-space hole into the Discworld, bringing with it dreams of a place called Holy Wood. At the same time, the alchemists of the city of Ankh-Morpork discover the secret of making "octo-cellulose," a substance that, while highly volatile, can have pictures painted on it (by tiny demons in a box). Light can be shown through the resulting film and by moving the pictures very quickly, educational and historical stories can be shown.

Until, that is, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, purveyor of extremely suspect sausages, comes to Holy Wood. CMOT can sell anything, and what he wants to sell right now is moving pictures (or "clicks," as they're called from the noise the handles of the moving picture boxes make). Thrilles! Chilles! 1,000 Elephants! Suddenly, "educational and historical" goes out the window in favor of such wonders as Valley of Blud (the inhabitants of the Disc aren't much for standardized spelling) and the epic story of love set against the civil war of Ankh-Morpork, Blown Away.

In the middle of all this are Victor, a student wizard who has managed to spend his entire career intentionally just failing his final exams, Ginger, a milkmaid turned actress, and scruffy Gaspode the [talking] Wonder Dog, who principally wonders why the stupid but gorgeous Laddie should have a better shot at Holy Wood stardom than he. And it is the three of them who discover that Holy Wood's dreams are masking the attentions of some fairly nasty creatures from outside the Disc, who want desperately to be inside. Now it's up to them to save the Disc from moving picture monsters.

The recently-knighted Terry Pratchett is a master of...well, just about everything, most especially wonderfully witty prose and sharp satire, and in Moving Pictures, he turns his attention to -- obviously -- the motion picture industry. He skewers everyone from movie execs to star-struck audiences; in one scene, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, attending the premiere of Blown Away wonders who the nice young couple (the stars of the click) are seated next to him, and why they're considered to be as important as he is, and why on the Disc people who would never dream of fawning on him are, in fact, fawning on them.

One reviewer, who is frequently quoted on the covers of the Discworld novels, once compared Pratchett's works to Tolkien's, "only with a sharper, more satirical edge." It would be far more accurate to compare his works to Douglas Adams's Hitchchikers trilogy (with the exception of the downright depressing fifth book) or to Monty Python. Where The Lord of the Rings is serious and -- at times -- ponderous, displaying Tolkien's scholarship and weighted with his attempt to build a specifically English mythology, the Discworld is more like our own world, and Pratchett uses it like a fun-house mirror to reflect all our own absurdities.

Oh... and did I mention that it's funny?

Cross-posted to [ profile] webofbooks.


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