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Terry Alert: Unlike Gilliam, Pratchett eschews easy 'crushed by giant foot' iconography.

Things That Go Thud In the Night

Terry Pratchett's 'Thud!' takes aim directly at your brain

By Rick Kleffel

Terry Pratchett is known as a fantasy writer, but he's not exactly in the mold of Tolkien. "While I have nothing but the greatest respect for the giants of fantasy writing, like C. S. Lewis and Tolkien," says the Discworld series author, who reads this weekend at Capitola Book Café, "I have to say that in one Discworld novel not so long ago, a murder was committed by drowning a man in vat of latex in a condom factory ... with respect, you wouldn't see that in Lord of the Rings, and you'd hate to see that in Narnia."

For those who have managed to miss the first 30 Discworld novels, the concept is simple. Discworld is flat. It's held up by four--no, five elephants (thus, his earlier title The Fifth Elephant). It's inhabited by a satiric version of every fantasy cliché you've ever encountered, all of whom are much wittier than most of the people you've ever encountered, unless you've met Pratchett himself.

True to its title, Thud! (HarperCollins; 384 pages; $24.95 cloth) is replete with Pratchett's rather blunt brand of humor. Still, Pratchett tells us, "Thud! is not solely a funny book. ... As you may well be aware, recently we had our own 9/11 which was in fact 7/7; all those bombs being let off on the London Underground. The evening after that I looked at the manuscript of Thud!, and I thought, 'My word, people will be reading things into this book because of what has just happened.' Perhaps I might be asked if I'm a bit prescient, but I don't think so. Discworld seems have its own dynamic now."

It's a dynamic that reflects our world, Pratchett says. "There are dwarves and trolls and werewolves, and a lot of them work in the city and they're trying to make an honest buck, but using them it is possible to make points about our world which perhaps could not be made quite so concisely if we were talking directly about our world."

Thud! finds Sam Vimes, the captain of the guard in the capital city of Pratchett's Discworld, at the center of a blood feud between the dwarves and the trolls. "One of the things that happen in Thud! is that this war ends. But it doesn't end by the crowning of a king. It ends by committees being formed. All the weapons are laid down, and everyone's watching one another very carefully, and everyone is, as it were, metaphorically backing away, while watching what the other guys are doing. It's a kind of cease-fire with a bit of extra spin. And with any luck, and with people being careful, the war is going to be over. Which is actually how wars end. It doesn't just happen in a day. ... Oh, all right, I know it happened in the Second World War, but it took a long time to get to that point."

Though Discworld is a fantasy creation, Pratchett mimics our technology with Discworld's magic. So get ready to enjoy Sam Vimes' confrontations with the tiny green imp that runs his Gooseberry™ personal organizer. "Technology isn't really particularly good or bad," Terry Pratchett tells us. "It's a gun. You shoot it to keep the wild animals away, or to shoot the guy next door. Currently, most of it is subsumed in entertaining us."

Pratchett is often touted by his publisher as "the bestselling living novelist," but, he says, "The book trade throws up these stats from time to time; I treat them with caution!"

Though Pratchett speaks of the parallels between Discworld and our world, he's not very optimistic when asked about how the politicians, businessmen and various administrators he finds here would fare in his fantasy world. "They would be very bad ploughmen," he replies.

And what would be the fate of the magicians, trolls, werewolves and other fantastic creatures of Discworld, should they show up in, say, London--or Santa Cruz? "In London no one would say anything. In Santa Cruz no one would notice."

Terry Pratchett appears Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2:30pm, Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola; 831.362.4415. Seating begins at 1:30pm from line formed outside store. We'd suggest buying books in advance; they're likely to run low on day of signing.

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From the September 14-21, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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