Books. Opinions. Good times.

Posts tagged ‘satire’

Men at Arms

menatarms

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.

Fool

Christopher_Moore_Fool_cover_artby: Christopher Moore

More is another comedic/satire writer that I enjoy, though he doesn’t write fantasy. (I would classify him as general fiction with some fantasy elements tossed in occasionally, though perhaps that’s a bit finicky.)

Fool is Moore’s take on Shakespeare.  It’s a retelling of “King Lear” from, of course, the fool’s point of view.  I will admit, I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan – I’ve seen 3 of his plays, and love watching them but have read only “Romeo and Juliet” and parts of “Julius Caesar.” (“Parts” because my English teacher decided we could skip all the boring battle scenes.)  Anyways, that whole aside is to note that there are multiple Shakespeare references, puns, and jokes that I’m sure I completely missed, due to my unfamiliarity with the Bard’s works. Feel free to note any of your favorites in the comments!

Fool is told from Pocket’s, the jester of King Lear, point of view, first person.  Moore’s work in third person often feels a bit disconnected or even impersonal to me; I greatly prefer his first person narratives.

I was rereading this via audiobook and it wasn’t until the second time around that I realized what a complex character Pocket is.  He does have a bit of that “happy outside, sad inside” clown persona going on, though it’s subtly enough done that it doesn’t feel like a cliche.  But he gets joy from his quick wit and job as a fool; he’s intelligent, observant, and rather lucky.  He is kind in a time and place devoid of empathy; he’s aware of how the world works and is willing to work with the tools that he has

The story, of course, retains its tragic elements but nobody could accuse Moore of writing a tragedy.  Rather, it’s riotous humor tempered by grievous and dire events.  Oh, yes, riotous.  This book is vulgar.  Really, truly vulgar.  It is full of, to quote the fools, “heinous fuckery.”  If you’re not a fan of cursing, bawdy humor, coarse, crude, and licentious language and stories, give this one a pass.  If you blush easily, you may not want to read this one in public.  (And if you are listening to the audiobook in front of children, expect a number of awkward questions afterwards.)

I loved the female characters in this novel.  Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters of King Lear, drive the plot.  They both enjoy sex, sans inhibitions, without becoming one-dimensional characters whose only defining characteristic is being sexy.  They have several, er, predilections in that arena which are traits, not defining characteristics. They control their husbands, manipulate the king, and plot for taking over the kingdom. But they don’t do so through womanly wiles and feminine deceptions.  Rather, they accomplish things through strength of will and intelligence.  They’re practical and not prone to being controlled by their emotions; instead they use their emotions to further their causes. Well. Regan is vaguely sociopathic, so we’re assuming emotions on her part.  Honestly, either of them could have easily been written as a man, even though throughout the  book it is clear that they are women.  (Which is awesome.  Many female characters are so stereotyped that writing them as men would require a major change in personality.)

Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter, is amazing.  She doesn’t actually appear that much in the novel and probably has the fewest lines of any of the main characters, but even though her page time is limited, the reader gets a clear picture of a well-rounded, intelligent, powerful character who goes after what she wants.   (Ah! I want to go on but not at the risk of spoiling the plot.)

The side characters are written sympathetically and nobody comes off as one-dimensional – eh, perhaps the witches do; I can forgive Moore for that.  There are a few good jabs at those in power, monarchies in general, and the abuse of power; some of them are funny and some of them are not.  This is definitely a book with darker humor in it.

If you like Shakespeare, satires, great female characters, or complex, dark comedies, you should try this one.  If you’re a stickler for history (this isn’t accurate by any standards), if you don’t like lewd humor, if you’re not a fan of violence, or if you like your comedies to be light and fluffy, than, sadly, this may not be the book for you.