by: Terry Pratchett
Men at Arms is Pratchett’s take on guns – or, as it’s known in the Discworld, a gonne. I, of course, was re-“reading” this on audiobook, with the same talks too quickly narrator as last time. I’m on a Terry Pratchett kick, so don’t be surprised if you see them popping up on my blog fairly frequently for the next month or so. (Terry Pratchett, by the way, is a British comedic fantasy writer who uses his universe, the Discworld, to do wonderful satires of the Roundworld.)
First off, Nigel Planer read this and while I generally liked him, he got Vetinari wrong. In my humble opinion, everyone gets Vetinari wrong; I’ve yet to see a depiction that matches the vision in my head. Also, again, he reads a tad too fast and you can’t slow him down with really screwing up the audio quality. Finally, the audio quality varied wildly from chapter to chapter. (The audiobook breaks up the recording into chapters even though Pratchett generally doesn’t.)
Onto the book itself: I rather like Men at Arms. It features many of my favorite characters – all of the Night Watch, but especially Vimes, Vetinari, and the occasional appearance by Death, who’s working on his delivery. (Death is my all-time favorite Discworld character and he usually has a hilarious little side story going on.) It’s set in Ank-Morpork, which is not at all like a Discworld version of London.
The Night Watch is being forced to implement a diversity program, incorporating dwarfs and trolls and Om knows what else into their forces. And Pratchett rather brilliantly satires prejudice here – oh, not the overt prejudice that people really notice, but the little, tiny comments and attitudes that can nearly silently and subtly attack people. It’s funny but very relatable. And no one is free from these attitudes – it’s nice how even the best of his characters are shown to have some sort of unrealized prejudice.
So, we have the Night Watch, highly diversified. We have Captain Vimes, a few days away from his marriage to the highest-ranking lady in the city and coming apart a bit at the seams at the thought of his impending retirement. We have a gonne, the only gonne in the Discworld, being used by an unknown perpetrator. And we have Corporal Carrot, universally well-liked, respected, obeyed, and born with a fancy sword in mysterious circumstances. Good times are to be had by all.
I think my favorite quotes were to do with the justice system and how justice ought to be served. (Vetinari is of the belief, of course, that every crime ought to have a punishment and if that punishment happens to fall upon the perpetrator of the crime, well, so much the better.) There were also some zingers about a monarchy vs. a dictatorship (Ank-Morpok’s current regime) which I thought were full of some commonly unrealized truths.
Now, Pratchett is British and he does share what I think is (but have no idea if it’s true) a British dislike of guns. This is a book with the underlying message that guns are evil and shouldn’t be used. (If you have a different reading, please let me know in the comments!) I’m a Texan and while I believe in reasonable laws regulating ownership of guns, I don’t believe in the abolition of guns – this is one of the few subjects on which Pratchett and I disagree. It didn’t take away from my appreciation of the book or from the humor; I just didn’t agree with all the points he was trying to make.
So if you don’t want to read a book extolling, however hilariously, the virtues of gun control, if you don’t want to read a comedy where a well-developed and likeable character dies – sorry! but it is a comedy and you do deserve fair warning – or if you don’t like a Douglas Adams’ type wit, than I’d give this one a pass. If, however, you love absurdist comedy, you love satire and clever truths delivered with a laugh, and you’ve been dying for a book that takes on modern police work, you should definitely give this one a try.