I’ve read the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, several times, but I had never taken the plunge and dived deeper into the series. I missed them, somehow, when they were new and I was devouring almost all the fantasy in sight. Then I was overseas for a while and doing my best not to accumulate books (it didn’t work). After that, I was in grad school and reading other things (history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, how are ya; also, Nagorno-Karabakh). Suddenly, there were twenty Discworld books. Now I’ve been overseas a lot longer, and while I have given up on not accumulating books, I am more conscious of what I give shelf space than I would be if I lived on the same side of the ocean I was born on. (E-reader people, hush; I want the kids to be able to find the Discworld books that I do have.)
Now, thanks in part to conversations with this blog’s Laura, I am giving it more of a go. Thanks to a random trove I stumbled upon in Basel, I have about half a dozen of the earlier volumes (online retail people, you can hush too; I like serendipitous discoveries in the physical world); Mort is the first one that I have read, though it is the fourth in the series.
One of the critical assessments I’ve heard about Discworld over the years (though I can’t pin down a definitive source of this view) is that the early books are good fun and all that, but about a dozen or so books in, Pratchett started writing novels that were Really Good. I guess I will see when I get there — and a startling transformation has precedent in F/SF, most famously between early and middle Robert Silverberg — but my sneaking suspicion is that Pratchett was writing the Really Good ones all along, and it just took that long for the audience to notice what he was getting up to.
Certainly by Mort he’s already writing with the effortlessness of a mere six or seven drafts, casting off careless asides that had me chortling, and deftly sketching people and places. The action is fast, the characters reveal unexpected facets of themselves and almost incidentally Pratchett says interesting things about people, love, life and death. I suspect that with Discworld, it’s good novels all the way down.