The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic is an excellent justification.

601239The Discworld is a place that follows archetypal fantasy but does so through the lens of cynicism and wit. It’s scope comes through a little clearer here than in it’s predecessor the Colour of Magic. Rather than riffing off high fantasy books with warrior maidens, gambling gods and nameless horrors it offers a cottage made of sweets, an aged Conan the Barbarian and a political struggle within the halls of wizardry as the wizard Trymon plots his way to the top. The set pieces (because like it’s predecessor the plot is little more than a loose movement from one moment to the next) are much shorter and snappier, resulting in  much better flow. Perhaps the most significant improvement in this book is that it has more than two real characters.

Though Terry Pratchett has a great gift for imbibing a hook into every character he writes, pushing one quirk or humanizing detail to give them life, most serve only to advance either the plot or a joke. In the first half of this tale only a few characters besides Rincewind and Twoflower had any real depth, as they came and went so quickly, but The Light Fantastic shows the reward of sticking with good characters. Trymon is an excellent villain with real depth, a man whose selfishness threatens to destroy the world, and by putting this academic superstar against the dropout Rincewind we finally get some evolution in the main hero. Though fun at first Rincewind is not an ideal protagonist, a theme I shall return to with future books. And whilst his character doesn’t exactly… develop here it does go through some important experiences that mesh well with the story of the book. And at the end the underlying plot (that despite initial appearances does exist and was just biding it’s time) hangs together on a few clever revelations that subtlety reward big questions posed in the first book without explicitly answering them.

If the Discworld had begun and ended with two books it would have been an extremely diverting aside but little more. There are great ideas here but until this second book little patience to fashion them into a cohesive whole. It’s deliberately written in an anarchic style, rebelling against the genre, taking pot shots at it’s source material rather than focusing on its own ideas. This is witty, and often fun, but the balance is fundamentally flawed. However the blueprints for something far bigger just may have been set down.

Thomas Was Alone

Up and to the right

Occasionally you encounter a video game that makes you think about things differently. I imagine Thomas Was Alone as the result of one of the most challenging creative writing classes you could imagine; a perspective so alien to ours it becomes unfathomable. Try this for yourself…

headerImagine you are a 2-dimensional shape living in a 2-dimensional universe that consists purely of squares and rectangles of various sizes. You can move freely around this plane, subject to an equivalent to gravity, and somehow communicate with other sentient rectangles. What would you do? What would you say? How would you tell a story? Continue reading

The Colour of Magic

There are many ways to experience Terry Pratchetts’ first entry to the Discworld Universe and in all probability it’s for the best I went about it an unorthadox way. The sad truth is that this literary beast, an ongoing series that has over many years grown to something of herculean proportions, started as something simple, trivially light and lacking in key areas.

As a teenager I first discoColour of Magicvered the Discworld in the form of a graphic novel; an excellent adaptation which brings an extraordinary level of light and colour to the vivid world Pratchett has concieved. As a comic strip the adventures of Rincewind and Twoflower feels  episodic in nature, the pair moving from one adventure to the next, and the format of the story flows most naturally here.  Many years later came the television adaptation starring David Jason and Sean Astin, which offers an entirely different take on the two characters, turning them into an elderly innofensive bumbler and an american style tourist. Enjoying that I returned to the source material with an abridged audiobook read by Tony Robinson, who invests such wit and life into the characters his voice feels like the definitive voice of the series. But when, some months later still, I finally decided to read the original book, I found that there was yet more to discover. As good as the audio books are they are heavily abridged. Each iteration of this story contains something the other’s don’t and I’d struggle to call the original book the definitive take, as despite containing the most material it also shows just how far the author has come as a writer in it’s inherent weaknesses.

Continue reading

Blackmail, My Love

I’ve recently moved to San Francisco and wanted to find out a little more about the city’s history. I don’t do well with textbooks (even sleeping with them under my pillow doesn’t work) so I absorb facts from fiction using some form of osmosis. I’m always on the look out for a piece of fiction that can give me a interesting perspective on the place I’m living in.

blackmail

Blackmail, My Love did just that. It’s a decent LGBT murder mystery but it’s the world-weaving (yes, that’s a thing), which I like. The book is rife with the geographical and historical touchstones that I love. The author does a really good job of bringing the 1950’s LGBT community’s plight alive. SF back then was definitely not liberal and a new law meant (in a round about way) that police raids were stepped up and a lot of the LGBT community were beaten, or in the case of the protagonists brother… disappeared. It really shocked me. I’ve always thought of SF as being a liberal city, it never occurred to me that those rights had to be fought for. I knew it in the back of my head of course but there’s a difference between knowing something and seeing it happen to a character you can identify with.
I googled the author and found an interview where she says that she interviewed a lot of people who lived through those times, so I guess it’s as legit as it can be. I also liked the drawings throughout (not too many, I don’t like picture books) and it turned out that they’re prints that she’s made. That sealed the deal. I’m kind of obsessed with her.

In short. Plot decent. World-weaving (again, real thing) great. Author’s credentials + print skills = legendary. I don’t think I’ll ever see the streets of SF in the same way again.

Site Wide Redesign

Distant Spires is changing.

Messers Glen Delaney and Thomas Swift are proud to announce a site wide redesign that has recently begun, and will soon finish, allowing for far more regular updates in the future.

Additionally we are happy to begin a series of feature reviews which we will post regularly from now on. Glen’s in America, reporting on his favourite new discoveries across the pond, and Tom is embarking on an epic marathon of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. And on top of that we’ve brought across a bucketload of old reviews from his old website for your convenience.

Expect plenty more material going forwards along with word of our next release which we should be completeing… sooon….