Thursday, June 7, 2007


I'm reading a book about a world power being coaxed, for reasons of dubious reliability, into a war with a nation that people describe as being nothing but sand and camels.

It is, of course, a fantasy novel.

Every few pages I check the publication date and mutter "1997? He wrote this ten years ago?"

The book is Jingo, by Terry Pratchett. It is the 21st novel in his Discworld series. That is somewhat of an oversimplification, because the series contains half a dozen subseries, interweaving and cross-connecting. This one is a sort of a police procedural, starring Sam Vimes, the commander of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on Discworld. Due to the nature of this world his force includes, trolls, dwarves, a werewolf, gargoyles, etc.

But they aren't Vimes' problem. His trouble is that a crime has been committed in his city, clearly for the purpose of starting a war with the aforementioned sandy nation of Klatch, and if he can't solve it there may be endless bloodshed over a disputed resource-rich area. As the Klatchian ambassador says, drily: "A few square miles of uninhabitated fertile ground with superb anchorage in an unsurpassed strategic position? What sort of inconsequence is that for civilized people to war over?"

Pratchett's books are an astonishing combination of frothy humor and grim meditations on the human condition. He has been described as one of the great satirists in the English language. (Satire here is not a synonym for parody, but the ridiculing of something in order to expose folly.) One of his other characters is Death (the skinny fellow with the scythe) who gets in trouble because, as his assistant says sadly, he "takes an interest" in people.

While the good guys usually win in his books there is a shrewd, brooding pessimism in Pratchett, as in this line from Reaper Man: "No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."

By the way, if you don't understand the title of the novel, read the definition of jingoism.

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