March 22, 2023 9:15 AM - Subscribe

TO ARMS! Ankh-Morpork gears up for War! The Fabled Island of Leshp has arisen in the Circle Sea, discovered simultaneously by fishermen from Ankh-Morpork and Klatch! Assassination attempt made on Prince Khufurah! Lord Vetinari runs off with Leonard of Quirm! Captain Carrot coaches local youths in Football! Corporal Nobbs tries to understand Women! Sergeant Angua receives a new Collar! And Commander Vimes grabs the wrong Dis-Organizer on his way out the door. (Discworld #21, City Watch #4.) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome (or welcome back) to the revived Terry Pratchett / Discworld Book Club! We're currently covering the City Watch subseries (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay. If you wish to catch up, Guards! Guards! is the recommended place to start, here.)


Once upon a Time, on dually-occupied Leshp....

An island has arisen out of the Circle Sea between Ankh-Morpork and the Klatchian Empire, discovered by fishermen from both nations (and their embarrassed teenage sons.) Both Fishermen lay claim to it in the name of their homelands, and both nations claim historical right to it as well. It's even got buildings on it, with weathercocks! Though something about the structures doesn't feel quite right...

News travels fast, and while tensions are mounting, the Unseen University is hosting Prince Khufurah of Klatch (brother of Crown Prince Cadram) for an honorary degree. There's a parade involved. Commander Vimes has to dress up and lead the procession, even. The even-more-expanded City Watch has done everything in their power to ensure safety, but that's a lot of buildings to cover...

The streets are tense. A curry-shop is firebombed, and the owner's son seeks retribution. The public consciousness (personified as always in Sergeant Colon) is getting more patriotic, more overtly racist, and rallying for war. Lord Vetinari (who alone among the ruling body recognizes Ankh-Morpork's utter inability to fight a war ("We have no ships. We have no men. We have no money, too.") steps down and departs on a mission of his own with Leonard of Quirm, leaving the cheerfully bellicose Lord Rust to fill the leadership void.

Corporal Nobby Nobbs is feeling lonely, asking Sergeant Angua for advice about women, and seeking help from fortune-teller Mrs. Cake (though only paying for the cheap fortune, of course.) In the course of investigations into an attempt on Prince Khufurah's life, Angua chases the enigmatic 71-Hour Ahmed onto a ship bound for Klatch, which departs with her still on board.

With the city under Martial Law and one of the Watch's own in peril, Commander Vimes uses his Knighthood to bring the rest of the Guards under his own banner and sets off for foreign lands, in the belief that there are big crimes behind enemy lines.

You haven't seen war until you've seen it through the eyes of Terry Pratchett.
posted by Navelgazer (8 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is, once again, a lot here. I'm not sure everything with Nobby works, but I was glad to see that he was unabashedly proud of having spent time as a woman and "learning" something from it. (It's still Nobbs, though, so unclear whether he learned a damn thing.) The Dis-organizer shows a lot of what I was talking about in the thread for Feet of Clay, where Terry can take something comic and absurd and twist it for disturbing or upsetting purposes, as we get the alternate-timeline "appointments" for everyone's deaths.

Klatch is, of course, an amalgam, subbing in primarily for Arabia, but also being all of MENA at times, and India and Pakistan as well. From a British perspective this makes sense of course, and since Pratchett is satirizing the British perspective in a fantasy world, the mish-mash of different cultures into one hegemony isn't as troublesome as it could be, but it's there.

Prejudice is, of course, still a major theme, here stretched out to include the concept that Vimes' now-reflexive refusal to believe that Klatchians can be as devious and underhanded as Ankh-Morporkians is, while better than Colon's nationalistic racism, still reductive. 71-Hour Ahmed is a great character, both a reflection of Vimes (as his Klatchian counterpart) but very much his own man, with his own ways of doing things brought about by the unique requirements of his own beat.

Pratchett does some neat things in reaching that "respect us enough to distrust us" conclusion that help to make it land. Here I'm particularly thinking of the two short sections that get us in the POV of Ossie Brunt and then, a little later, Janil Goriff, both of them angry young men about to do something unadvised. We don't get a lot of Prince Cadram (really just enough to make sense of him as the villain behind the Big Crime) but we get a lot of Lord Rust's dumbass unfounded confidence in leading men to their would-be certain deaths.

Vetinari gets to be clever while also showing some different sides, though we get very little in terms of female POVs (probably more from Nobbs dressed up as a woman than from Angua, Sybill and Cheery combined, to be honest.) I would have liked more Cheery. I'm always going to want more Cheery, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:42 AM on March 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

Jingo is my second favorite Watch book and the number of times I've said "If you give a man a fire, he's warm for a day. But if you set a man on fire, he's warm for the rest of his life."

For me, I adore the idea that Vimes is gonna apply the rules of society to war. Also, the day planner makes me laugh so hard I snort every damn time.
posted by teleri025 at 9:43 AM on March 22, 2023 [7 favorites]

A couple more things:

One thing that struck me is that the stuff around the buildings in Leshp seemed to be aiming for Lovecraft-lite eldritch horror, and foreboding a kraken rising or something, which came to very little (especially since Leonard as much as told us about halfway through that the island was going to be sinking again shortly.) The way I read the strangeness of the buildings is that every time the island rises, folks have tried to hurriedly build upon what was remaining from the previous time, and then as it sinks again it goes back to being a big ol' plastic castle for the curious squid, but I could also be missing something.

The other thing is that as much as I love how the Dis-Organizer is used, I'm not sure I can follow the alternate timeline. Obviously we're only supposed to get enough bits and pieces of it to be tantalizingly distressing, but in the "Vimes Stays Home" timeline, Klatch is invading during the timeline of these events. How does Vimes setting off after Ahmed prevent Klatch's ships from setting off for their invasion of Ankh-Morpork? Is it just because it forces Lord Rust's hand and makes him set off earlier than would be recommended, and that changes Cadram's plans? It's very likely that I missed something here.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:33 PM on March 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

My favorite day-planner moment is actually from The Truth: "But first we want to talk to whoever wrote that ___ing warranty." YOU GO, MR. TULIP.

As a technologist, I appreciate Leonard da Quirm's arc in this one. He reminds me so much of the architects of the early Internet, who couldn't conceive of (and didn't plan for) spam or eavesdropping or security attacks or so, so many other plagues that a Vimes or a 71-Hour Ahmed would have thought of immediately.
posted by humbug at 2:36 PM on March 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

When we had on the blue the other day about how Bush has never had to account for what he did to Iraq I immediately thought of the line from this book about war being a crime so terrible that no one had thought to make it illegal.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

Re Navelgazer's point about female representation in this book... I wonder if Pratchett realized this -- because yes, it's a problem; yes, it's a worse problem because Angua pretty much gets reduced to weredamsel-in-distress -- and it led in some way to Monstrous Regiment?

Which is, I will say, my favorite Discworld book. (I would love to play Sergeant Jackrum in the stage version. I would absolutely KILL IT, y'all. I would SLAY. Figuratively, not literally.)
posted by humbug at 5:38 PM on March 22, 2023 [5 favorites]

This is the one where the Dis-organiser tells him what his alternate self is doing, right down to Die under 'Things To Do Today', right? I found that concept so dark at the time, years before Community did their whole Darkest Timeline and it became common parlance during TFG's presidency. Almost like Pratchett inoculated me somehow.
posted by Molesome at 3:34 AM on March 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

We listened to this one on a car ride, and the disorganizer bits were a highlight.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:25 PM on March 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

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