Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam… a book by Terry Pratchett

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Raising Steam 
by Terry Pratchett

5951153 *****

Michael Beyer‘s review

Jul 12, 2017  
Iwas amazing!


Terry Pratchett is always a good choice if you like laughs, thrills, and satire. Raising Steam does not disappoint. It uses familiar characters like Moist Von Lipwig from Going Postal and Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork city watch along with new characters like the engineer Dick Simnel and the goblin Of The Twilight The Darkness (Yes, they like you to use the whole name).

The plot centers around the introduction of steam-powered railroads to the Discworld (the fantasy-world satire series that made Pratchett both a famous best-selling author, and a knight) and a schism between the dwarves who love the old ways of the deep, dark mines and the dwarves who love the new ways of living above ground in the light.

The usual mix of plot complications and themes of science versus magic are thrown about like fireballs to keep the story interesting, and one dark and foggy night aboard the train on a rickety bridge with the deposed king of the dwarves on board headed back to his kingdom sums up the sheer magic of Terry Pratchett’s gift for story-telling.

I recommend this book with six thumbs up… except I wasn’t supposed to reveal the existence of my extra arms.

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Three Books at Once

No, this isn’t some kind of multiple-book book review.  This is an ungodly silly claim that I can actually read three books at once.  Silly, but true.

Now I don’t claim to be a three-armed mutant with six eyes or anything.  And I am relatively sure I only have one brain.  But, remember, I was a school teacher who could successfully maintain a lesson thread through discussions that were supposed to be about a story by Mark Twain, but ventured off to the left into whether or not donuts were really invented by a guy who piloted a ship and stuck his pastries on the handles of the ships’ wheel, thus making the first donut holes, and then got briefly lost in the woods of a discussion about whether or not there were pirates on the Mississippi River, and who Jean Lafitte really was, and why he was not the barefoot pirate who stole Cap’n Crunch’s cereal, but finally got to the point of what the story was really trying to say.  (How’s that for mastery of the compound sentence?)  (Oh, so you could better?  Really?  You were in my class once, weren’t you.)  I am quite capable of tracking more than one plot at the same time.  And I am not slavishly devoted to finishing one book before I pick up the next.

I like reading things the way I eat a Sunday dinner… a little meatloaf is followed by a fork-full of mashed potatoes, then back to meat, and some green peas after that…  until the whole plate is clean.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is the meatloaf.  I have read it before, just as I have probably had more meatloaf in my Iowegian/Texican  lifetime than any other meat dish.  It’s pretty much a middle-America thing.  And Treasure Island is the second book I ever read.  So you can understand how easy a re-read would be.  I am reading it mostly while I am sitting in the high school parking lot waiting to pick up the Princess after school is out.

fbofw1Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse is also an old friend.  I used to read it in the newspaper practically every day.  I watched those kids grow up and have adventures almost as if they were members of my own family.  So the mashed potatoes part of the meal is easy to digest too.

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So that brings me to the green peas.  Green peas are good for you.  They are filled with niacin and folic acid and other green stuff that makes you healthier, even though when the green peas get mashed a bit and mix together with the potatoes, they look like boogers, and when you are a kid, you really can’t be sure.  Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter wrote this book The Long War together.  And while I love everything Terry Pratchett does, including the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, I am having a hard time getting into this one.  Parts of it seem disjointed and hard to follow, at least at the beginning.  It takes work to choke down some of it.  Peas and potatoes and boogers, you know.

But this isn’t the first time I have ever read multiple books at the same time.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I finished a book and the next one wasn’t at least halfway finished too.  So it can be done.  Even by sane people.

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Hogfather (a Book Review)

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I finished reading the book Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett,  while sitting in the waiting room as the dentist worked on the wires of my son’s braces in a nearby dentist’s chamber of horrors.  The receptionist and secretary probably thought I was insane for incessantly chortling and making those other rude snorty noises you make when you don’t want to interrupt others with laughing, but can’t help it.  What better way to wait in the cold chambers of dental anxiety than to read a funny, funny book about an assassin named Mr. Teatime who meant to slay the Hogfather, Terry Pratchett’s version of Santa Claus, by stealing children’s teeth from the tooth fairy and using them to control young minds and make them stop believing in the Hogfather, that giver of gifts on the sacred and festive Hogswatch Eve?

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This story has an unusual hero.  Death, that skeletal reaper of souls and talker in ALL CAPITOL LETTERS.  Oh, and not just Death.  His granddaughter Susan is along for the adventure.  So Death puts on the red suit to make people believe in the Hogfather again while Susan tracks down the perpetrators of the tooth fairy plot.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are full of bizarre but highly developed characters who not only make you laugh, but make you think.  The books can be fairly thick and full of complex ideas, and yet, the pages melt away as you read.  And the people who can hear you laughing about the book will think you are absolutely crazy.

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Reading Old Books

My personal library is a final destination for a multitude of used and well-worn books.

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Half-Price Books employees used to know me by name.  They don’t now so much any more, because poor health has cut down on available funds, and they hire new people all the time.  But I have bought a number of books just cruising the Dollar-or-Less shelf.  A case in point is a recent purchase of an old book by one of my all-time favorite authors, Terry Pratchett.

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You can see why it was only worth about fifty cents.  It is all scuffed up and dog-eared from previous owners.  Of course, I know how to mistreat a book as well as the next guy, and some of the books I bought bookstore-new long ago look worse than this one does.  But that’s not what’s important.  The good part is on the inside.  You have to put in some effort to get at it.  It is an extremely funny and highly imaginative book.  Johnny is a kid living in Blackbury, England in 1996 (the present day of the story, though it is about time travel and drifts back to the early 1940’s).  He thinks he is just a stupid kid with more stupid-ness about him than he has pockets to keep it in, but he is blessed with an idiot’s ability to think outside of his own head (whatever the heck that means).  There just happens to be an old bag lady named Mrs. Tachyon who just happens to have a Tesco grocery shopping cart that just happens to be a time machine (or so Johnny and his stupid-kid friends just happen to believe).  Johnny and his stupid-kid friends, Bigmac, Wobbler, and Yo-less (don’t ask, okay) along with the girl Kirsty (who is definitely the opposite of a stupid kid), find Mrs. Tachyon lying in a bloody lump in an alley way, and sort of inherit the shopping cart when they get the old lady to a hospital.  And of course, the shopping cart is very unusual with its bags of mysterious wobbly stuff and its resident hyper-vicious cat named Guilty.  It soon accidentally transports the kids back to 1941 when German bombs (like the one in the title) are falling from the sky on Blackbury.  The very day, in fact, when the street they are standing in is supposed to be destroyed by a German bomb, according to history.

Of course, I can’t help but love any book by Terry Pratchett.  But this one is quirky-wonderful and full of surprises.  I really can’t even tell you more about it without spoiling something magical.  I won’t, however, recommend that you read this book.  After all, I had a lovely time reading it, and you certainly don’t need to share in that.  I can keep it all for myself.  No, don’t even think about trying to find a copy and read it!  I think it is out of print anyway.  Don’t you dare go to Half-Price Books!

I will continue to read and fall in love with old books.  I have a few in my library that haven’t actually gotten around to reading yet.  And I have a large number of books I want to read again.  Old books are the best books, and I will continue to say that… at least until I have a new book of my own coming out.

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The Uncritical Critic Likes to Read Books Too!

I told you before that I make a lousy movie critic because I watch anything and everything and like most of it.  You don’t believe me?  You can look it up through this link; The Uncritical Critic

I hate to tell you this, but it is almost exactly the same for books too.

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The Paffooney is an illustration for a proposed collaboration on a children’s book.  My friend and fellow author Stuart R. West (Stuart’s Blogspot about Aliens) had a story about three kids taking a balloon ride when they accidentally gave the goldfish bubble gum to chew ignoring their mother’s warning that dire consequences would follow.  He decided the project was too ridiculous to follow through on, or at least my Paffooney power wasn’t up to making sense of his brilliant literature, and the book did not happen.  And I am sorry about that because I couldn’t wait to find out how it turns out.  I love weird and wild stories of all kinds.  And, unfortunately, I love them uncritically.

So, what kind of books would a goofy uncritical critic actually recommend? Let me lay some bookishness on ya then.

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Here is the review I wrote for Goodreads on Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.

I have always felt, since the day I first picked up a copy of Mort by Terry Pratchett, that he was an absolute genius at humor-and-satire style fantasy fiction. In fact, he is a genius compared to any author in any genre. He has a mind that belongs up there with Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and William Faulkner… or down there as the case may well be. This book is one of his best, though that is a list that includes most of his Discworld novels.
Amazing Maurice is a magically enhanced cat with multiple magically enhanced mice for minions. And the cat has stumbled on a sure fire money-making scheme that completely encompasses the myth of Pied Piper of Hamlin. In fact, it puts the myth in a blender, turns it on high, and even forgets to secure the lid. It is funny, heartwarming, and changes the way you look at mice and evil cats.
This is a book to be read more than once and laughed at for the rest of your life.

You see what I mean?  I uncritically praise books that make me laugh and think deeply about things at the same time.  It is as if I don’t have any standards at all if something is brilliantly written and makes a deep and influential impression on me.

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Here’s another book that I love so much I can’t be properly critical when I reread it.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I cannot help but be taken in by the unrequited love the dissolute lawyer Sydney Carton had for the beautiful refugee from the French Revolution, Lucy Manette.  Tragic love stories melt my old heart.  And I can’t help but root for Charles Darnay as well, even though I know what’s going to happen in Paris at the Bastille because I have read this book three times and seen the Ronald Coleman movie five times.  I also love the comical side characters like Jerry Cruncher the grave-robber and hired man as well as Miss Pross, the undefeatable champion of Miss Lucy and key opposer to mad Madam Defarge.

I simply cannot be talked out of praising the books I read… and especially the books I love.  I am totally uncritical as a reader, foolishly only looking for things I like about a book.  Real critics are supposed to read a book and make faces that remind you of look on my little brother’s face when I had to help him use an outhouse for the first time.  (Oh, what a lovely smell that was!)  (And I mean that sarcastically!)  Real critics are supposed to tell you what they hated about the book and what was done in such a juvenile and unprofessional way that it spoiled all other books forever.  That’s right isn’t it?  Real critics are supposed to do that?  Maybe I am glad I’m not a real critic.

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Terry Pratchett, the Grand Wizard of Discworld

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

I firmly believe that I would never have succeeded as a teacher and never gotten my resolve wrapped around the whole nonsense package of being a published author if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Mort, the first Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett that I ever encountered.  I started reading the book as a veteran dungeon-master at D&D role-playing games and also as a novice teacher having a world of difficulty trying to swim up the waterfalls of Texas education fast enough to avoid the jagged rocks of failure at the bottom.  I was drinking ice tea when I started reading it.  More of that iced tea shot out my nose while reading and laughing than went down my gullet.  I almost put myself in the hospital with goofy guffaws over Death’s apprentice and his comic adventures on a flat world riding through space and time on the backs of four gigantic elephants standing on the back of a gigantic-er turtle swimming through the stars.  Now, I know you have no earthly idea what this paragraph even means, unless you read Terry Pratchett.  And believe me, if you don’t, you have to start.  If you don’t die laughing, you will have discovered what may well be the best humorist to ever put quill pen to scroll and write.  And if you do die laughing, well, there are worse ways to go, believe me.

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Discworld novels are fantasy-satire that make fun of Tolkien and Conan the Barbarian (written by Robert E. Howard, not the barbarian himself) and the whole world of elves and dwarves and heroes and dragons and such.  You don’t even have to love fantasy to like this stuff.  It skewers fantasy with spears of ridiculousness (a fourth level spell from the Dungeons of Comedic Magic for those fellow dungeon masters out there who obsessively keep track of such things).  The humor bleeds over into the realms of high finance, education, theater, English and American politics, and the world as we know it (but failed to see from this angle before… a stand-on-your-head-and-balance-over-a-pit-of-man-eating-goldfish sort of angle).

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Terry Pratchett’s many wonderful books helped me to love what is ugly, because ugly is funny, and if you love something funny for long enough, you understand that there is a place in the world even for goblins and trolls and ogres.  Believe me, that was a critical lesson for a teacher of seventh graders to learn.  I became quite fond of a number of twelve and thirteen year old goblins and trolls because I was able see through the funny parts of their inherent ugliness to the hidden beauty that lies within (yes, I know that sounds like I am still talking about yesterday’s post, but that’s because I am… I never stop blithering about that sort of blather when it comes to the value hidden inside kids).

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I have made it a personal goal to read every book ever written by Terry Pratchett.  And that goal is now within reach because even though he is an incredibly prolific writer, he has passed on withing the last year.  He now only has one novel left that hasn’t reached bookstores.  Soon I will only need to read a dozen more of his books to finish his entire catalog of published works.  And I am confident I will learn more lessons about life and love and laughter by reading what is left, and re-reading some of the books in my treasured Terry Pratchett paperback collection.  Talk about your dog-eared tomes of magical mirth-making lore!  I know I will never be the writer he was.  But I can imitate and praise him and maybe extend the wonderful work that he did in life.  This word-wizard is definitely worth any amount of work to acquire and internalize.  Don’t take my convoluted word for it.  Try it yourself.

borrowed from artistsUK.com

borrowed from artistsUK.com

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