Literary Disappointments (was: The LKH thing)

Mon Feb 17 18:51:26 PST 2003

Jim Boutcher wrote:
> Personally I'd say that Pratchett has gone from writing decent parody,
> through humorous fantasy into shallow philosophy to appeal to the
> comfort zone of his market. To refer to him as a satirist is flattery
> and unfair on more proper exponents. Although the actual quality of his
> writing has improved despite the mass production, the content has
> dropped markedly.

I would have switched it around - from mildly amusing parody (first
three) to something more serious and fascinating (Death, Witches, Guard
series) with excursions back into mildly humorous fantasy here and there
(Rincewind books).

But would you mind going into more detail about where you're getting the
shallow philosophy part?  Yeah, the characterization of the various
characters often changes considerably from first introduction to how
they end up as in the later books, but I really can't see it as
Pratchett making things easy for himself by changing the characters so
the philosophy stays true.  I think it's more like he introduces stock
characters (True King, Smart Evil Overlord, etc) and then starts making
them more complicated, rather than whatever makes the Big Truth be true
in such-and-such a situation.  

Now, my definition of shallow philosophy is the kind of book where the
setting is such that any character that does not espouse the One True
Way of Doing Things According to the Author gets stomped - and there's
never any suggestion that maybe the One True Way has problems in some
areas which explains why maybe people in real life disagree with the
author's opinions without obviously being deluded idiots or would-be
evil geniuses [1].  Like, if the hero trusts beyond reason, and that's a
good thing, he always gets results beyond reason as well [2], rather
than finding his sidekick has embezzled the money and run off with the
Twue Luv and left him holding the bag.  Under my definition, then,
Pratchett ain't doing that, because no one interested in shallow
philosophy would have written an exchange that acknowledges the world is
a frequently messy place, like:

"Yes, sarge?"
"You know when you wanted to swing a club at that torturing bastard and
I stopped you?"
"Yes, sarge?"
"That's why, lad.  Once we break down, it all breaks down."
"Yes sarge, but you do bop people over the head."
"Interesting point, lance-constable.  Logical and well made, too, in a
clear tone of voice bordering on the bloody cheeky.  But there's a big
"And what's that, sarge?"
"You'll find out," said Vimes.  And privately thought: the answer is,
It's Me Doing It.  I'll grant that it's not a *good* answer, because
people like Carcer use it too, but that's what it boils down to.

(Although, I suppose you could call it a shallow piece of philosophy to
assert that the world is a messy place and people aren't usually
selfless altruists, but that doesn't mean the Apocalypse is Tomorrow!)

[1] Maybe like Clancy's Jack Ryan books, based on some of the discussion
about the later books in the series I've seen - I gave up on it after
Cardinal of the Kremlin.
[2] Although that is actually from a series which I'm still reading and
thinking about.