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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Truth

(Discworld, Volume 25)

By Terry Pratchett

OK, circling back now to catch up on Volume 25 of the Discworld series. Before we hit the home stretch I've got a couple other books to read first, so this will be the last of these for a couple weeks. Huzzah.

It's important to note that in the Discworld, newspapers have never existed. The engravers guild, in order to preserve their monopoly on printing, preventing anyone from using a mechanical press. That is until a group of dwarfs arrive from the mountains yearning to make money by printing.

Along comes young William de Worde, a prodigal aristocrat whose broken from his wealthy father to make it on his own. When William visits the printing shop, he finds himself plunged into the new world of journalism. Together with a proper young lady named Sacharissa, they set out to create the Disc's first newspaper called the Times.

As luck would have it, just as they're starting out, a huge story breaks. The metropolis of Ankh-Morpork's leader, The Patrician, is accused of stabbing his clerk with a knife and then trying to flee the city with embezzled funds. The City Watch is baffled by the case, but William soon finds a "man" on the inside, the mysterious Deep Bone. Aided by Sacharissa, the dwarfs, and a vampire photographer (on the wagon, meaning he only drinks animal blood) who turns to dust if he uses flash photography, William is determined to get to the bottom of things. But the truth isn't always so easy to set free, especially when hired goons are trying to kill you.

This was a good addition to the series, but it could have been better. When I first read the description, I thought for sure there'd be some Citizen Kane references in there. I was expecting William to be one of those larger-than-life type characters like Charlie Kane and his real world counterpart William Randolph Hearst. That never materialized, which is disappointing. Instead William is an earnest young man in search of The Truth, which is OK too, but don't we all like more grandiose characters?

There are some good insights into what makes the news, especially in the comparison between the Times and its rival The Inquirer--which despite its name is more based on Weekly World News. As the Deep Bone indicates there are references to Watergate and also the hired goons Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip are based on the killers in Pulp Fiction, as evidenced by the line, "Do you know what they call a sausage-inna-bun in Klatch?"

On a side note, this story probably was the template for the later Going Postal, the first in the series I read. That involved the creation--resurrection really--of the post office in a similar fashion. Though the central character of that one, Moist von Lipwig, was more interesting. Conmen are just more exciting than conflicted aristocrats.

And that's all the news fit to print.

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