Going Postal
April 1, 2023 3:59 PM - Subscribe

Ankh-Morpork's postal system has been defunct and decrepit since long before the Clacks Towers (think telecommunications via Semaphore) went up, but the Clacks has changed the world, and people depend upon it now. Unfortunately, the Clacks has been taken over by a group of corporate raiders running it into the ground. Service is spotty, rates are rising, and worker mortalities abound. So Lord Vetinari gives a condemned young career con-man a new lease on life, provided he will take up the role of Postmaster. (Discworld #33, Industrial Revolution # 4.) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome (or welcome back!) to the newly-revived Discworld Book Club! We've been covering the City Watch subseries (Previously: Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch) but are currently detouring over to some of the "Industrial Revolution" books (Previously: The Truth, Monstrous Regiment) because we need them for context in the City Watch books and also they are flippin' awesome in their own right. But now we're caught up, so our next book will be Thud!


Moist von Lipwig is hanged. Or, more accurately, his alias "Alfred Spangler" is. A conman for all of his short life, Moist's schemes and scams have finally caught up with him, and though he keeps mum about where the $150,000 he's stolen might have ended up, he can't avoid his fate.

But fate often rests in the hands of Ankh-Morpork's Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who arranges for Moist to be revived after "Spangler's" execution, and gives him a choice: Become the city's new Postmaster, or walk out the door and never hear from Vetinari again. Moist wisely chooses not to walk out of this particular door.

Moist is given a Golem probation officer named Mr. Pump, learns that the Post Office is literally haunted by the sheer tonnage of undelivered ancient letters filling its corridors, meets the two remaining postal workers (an aged and unbathed "Junior" Postman and his assistant Stanley, a very odd young man obsessed with pins. He also meets Adorabelle Dearheart, a cynical, chainsmoking young woman with decidedly pointy stilettos, whose father developed the Clacks system and whose brother recently died in an accident on one of the towers.

Adorabelle's family has fallen on hard times since falling for the schemes of a group of financiers led by Reacher Gilt, a honey-voiced visionary who styles himself like a pirate and purchased the rights to the ancestry of his choosing. Since taking over the Grand Trunk Company (which owns and operates the Clacks towers), Gilt has ceased maintenance in favor of repairs, hiked up prices, and overseen any number of system failures, while reaping profits all the way.

Moist must rely on his confidence, ingenuity, and audacity to get the post running again, even if nobody really believes that it could ever rival the Clacks. Because Reacher Gilt knows a rival when he sees one, and is not particularly sporting about dealing with them...
posted by Navelgazer (23 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One of the absolute greats, through and through. Longish for a Discworld book (though that's common for the later ones) but never feels padded or repetitive. Moist is one of Pratchett's best creations, and it's a tragedy that he didn't get to play in the sandbox for nearly as long as Rincewind or Granny Weatherwax or Sam Vimes, but he leaps off the page here.

Adorabelle, too, is loads of fun (we came very close to naming the kitten we adopted this past Summer after her, in fact.) Reacher Gilt is a very obvious but still scathing satire of Randian philosophy, enough that this book is almost the Anti-Fountainhead. Not that that's a complaint, of course.

For me, the key sequence is Moist "finding" the money he hid away, by first making offerings at the temples of three of the major religions in Ankh-Morpork, and one to the Goddess of Things Getting Stuck in Drawers. All of this is hilarious enough, but due to what we know about how gods work on the Disc, we also have the knowledge (though Moist may not) that in laundering his hundred and fifty thousand, he has also given this minor Goddess way more agency than she ever would have had before.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:17 PM on April 1, 2023 [9 favorites]

Is Reacher Gilt supposed to be based on anyone in particular? I thought maybe Richard Branson, but I don't know enough about Branson to say, and there are so many much worse Anglo-American oligarchs to point to...

Anyway, yeah, loved this one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is the book that got me into Pratchett. I'd had Discworld recommended to me before, but when I took my recommender up on it, I started tidily with the first book in the series, which... just isn't... very good. (If this is blasphemy, so be it: I find quite a few of the first dozen or so Discworld books basically unreadable.)

But then I saw a Going Postal ARC at a library sale, thumbed through it, thought that for a few bucks I'd take a chance, and absolutely loved it. I still have that ARC, though after several moves and scads of rereads it's not exactly in pristine condition.

After too many years of trying to make {the thing I was nominally hired to do} happen without support, I have so very much sympathy for poor Mr. Pony. Fucking suits, couldn't build a fucking gingerbread house without help. His mental rant is right on target, and what Reacher Gilt does to him is so evil... and for me, so very painfully familiar.

Don't tell anyone, but every once in a while I rattle my kitchen drawers for Anoia.
posted by humbug at 5:16 PM on April 1, 2023 [6 favorites]

I've always been curious how Pratchett chose some of his characters' names, "Moist" being one of the more baffling ones ("Teatime" was another, and "Carcer" as we discussed previously). Just...why?? Pure random whimsy? Is there some reference I'm missing that would tie it into the plot, or something?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:30 PM on April 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

Yeah, "Lipwig" is fairly on-the-nose (heh) for a guy who disguises himself a lot, but "Moist" is a poser.

The closest I can get, and this is REALLY reaching, is Harry Harrison's fairly vile books about a con artist named "Slippery Jim diGriz," whose theory about how he's not actually harming anybody is echoed in Moist's, before Mr. Pump deconstructs it.

I got nothin' on "Teatime." If it's any more than the pronunciation joke, it's lost on me.
posted by humbug at 8:06 PM on April 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

This is also the book that finally got me into Discworld. In early internet days I found the fandom off-putting (this was back on usenet groups), but when it finally clicked for me, I kicked myself for the 20 years I lost when I could have been reading Pratchett.

It is also my favorite non-Tiffany-Aching book of his. I think it is a masterwork, and the number of times I've mentally quoted to myself his commentary on Reacher Gilt's use of the word "synergistically" is well, quite high.

As great as Going Postal is, the two subsequent Moist books left me a bit weary of the character, possibly because I began to sense there were parts of my own personality that were a little too similar, and I didn't like looking in that literary mirror. I think that may be the reason why in time I grew to love the young witch books more. Still, GP is an absolute treasure, and one I reread every few years.

As far as the names, I personally think it's a deliberate callback to the Victorian era that Pratchett is lampooning and observing. It feels of a piece with Dickens who used similar names that sound absurd to us today. And in truth in my family tree there are plenty of Perseverance Jones and One Too Many Harris, and I once read an article about Victorian names that had a list of similar dandies like a boy named Leicester Railway and a girl named Mineral Waters. And Moist himself thinks that his parents giving him the extremely off-putting traditional family name is one of the contributing factors of why he developed his super-power of manic glib improvisation.

Yeah, I love this book.
posted by seasparrow at 8:34 PM on April 1, 2023 [6 favorites]

I don't think this is the best Pratchett novel but I think it is the most fun to read. There's a propulsive energy, a compulsive page turner-ish-ness to it. An absolute masterwork of pacing and plotting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:01 PM on April 1, 2023 [4 favorites]

This is likely my favorite one. I love it so much. The redemption of Most through building something for others, the depiction of Tolliver and Stanley is perfect. I love Arabella and how she cares about the golems. I love the final race between the post and the clacks. It's just amazing.
posted by Carillon at 9:16 PM on April 1, 2023 [4 favorites]

And in truth in my family tree there are plenty of Perseverance Jones and One Too Many Harris, and I once read an article about Victorian names that had a list of similar dandies like a boy named Leicester Railway and a girl named Mineral Waters.

Even in our time, we've got, say, Reality Winner.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:14 PM on April 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

I started tidily with the first book in the series, which... just isn't... very good. (If this is blasphemy, so be it: I find quite a few of the first dozen or so Discworld books basically unreadable.)

I think all but the most fanatical Discworld fan will cheerfully accept that the first couple of Discworlds are terrible entry points. I'd say that Mort is the first actually good Discworld.

This is probably in my top three; it's an extremely good book, brimming with ideas but with a bubbling anger underneath it. It would have been very easy to make Reacher Gilt a more obvious parody, but what we get is a character that feels like it's parodying like four or five other characters but is still his own creation. I gave this to my mum because she runs a post office and anything post office-themed was, for a while, a very reliable winner with her, but also because I knew how good it was and figured that even if fantasy comedy wasn't her thing, this would work. I think my dad enjoyed it too, and he does not like This Sort of Thing.

One of the things I enjoy about this book is how good Pratchett is at working in established details in a way that doesn't feel forced - we get fresh perspectives on Sgt Angua, Sacharissa Cripslock and Lord Vetenari (here probably the most openly tyrannical we ever get to see him) but even the Glom Of Nit joke, which has been around for ages, finally gets an unexpected punchline here. I feel like Pratchett only holds onto characters and details from previous books if he can keep coming up with jokes to introduce them, which makes a series 30 books deep still pretty comprehensible when read "out of order".
posted by Merus at 3:42 AM on April 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

> "I think all but the most fanatical Discworld fan will cheerfully accept that the first couple of Discworlds are terrible entry points."

Counterpoint -- if you read them when they come out and you are eleven years old, and are therefore looking much less for social satire and much more for someone to make fun of your current D&D game, they are really quite excellent. It is possible that I am speaking from personal experience.
posted by kyrademon at 6:26 AM on April 2, 2023 [13 favorites]

He's called Moist because it's funny. It's an awful name and not one you'd want, so he's got it as his real identity he's spent his life running from. Though the Slippery Jim idea is clever,...
posted by Sebmojo at 3:42 PM on April 2, 2023 [3 favorites]

That wouldn't totally surprise me. It just seemed - to me, at least - a bit bizarrely whimsical even by Pratchett's standards.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:34 PM on April 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's particularly out there. I just picture Pratchett brainstorming names including the "Slippery/Fast/Slick/Speedy" whatever adjective first name for this con-man character, and chuckling to himself too much at "Moist von Lipwig" that he decided he couldn't not use it.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:51 PM on April 2, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is also one of my favorites, and has the advantage of NOT being from the POV of a cop (however heroic) which is a bit harder for me to enjoy these days.

And you even feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Reacher, who is himself baffled by the willingness of so many to follow his extremely obvious scams. Doesn't justify murder of course, but you can understand his temptation. And Moist's realization that Reacher is just himself writ much larger and with less queasiness around violence is an interesting one

The literary convention of "scam artists uses powers for good" is hardly new, and is an interesting one. You could teach a good class on it by including this book and several seasons of Leverage.
posted by emjaybee at 8:59 PM on April 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

I read a few Discworld books before this one, and the Lancre witches will probably always consistently be my favorites, but Postal was such a wild ride and I adored it. I don't get crushes on characters in books that often, but I fell pretty hard for Moist von Lipwig.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:29 PM on April 3, 2023 [4 favorites]

Also, in my head I've always seen Lord Vetinari played by Vincent Price.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2023 [3 favorites]

Vincent Price would do an extremely creditable "Don't let me detain you."

If Ian Richardson hadn't been tapped for Death, though...
posted by humbug at 7:57 PM on April 4, 2023 [3 favorites]

I'm watching the TV adaptation and it's very bad. It's as though the screenwriters thought the book was too clever and well-written.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2023 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I've only caught some of the adaptation, and mostly remember how they saw the character of Adora Belle and seemingly sought out to specifically destroy everything that makes her great.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:05 PM on April 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

Everybody monologues, Vetinari is very open about what he's doing including to Reacher, there's melodramatic confrontations, it's just a badly-written mess.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:34 PM on April 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

I was just scrolling down to see if we were also talking about the adaptation because, as much as it looks nice, it just Entirely Misses The Fucking Point. Like, someone looked at the book and said, "But I would like it so much better if it was and said the opposite." It is Bizarro!Postal.
posted by DebetEsse at 12:16 AM on April 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

Ms. Dearheart is exactly the kind of woman I formed hopeless crushes on as a young man, and is one of my favorite characters, period.

I've re-read this book half a dozen times, and it's one of my favorites.

I look forward to the discussion of "Raising Steam", which is a mess, I feel, and what folks think of it.
posted by maxwelton at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2023 [2 favorites]

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