Saturday, June 12, 2010

CBRII: One More with Footnotes by Terry Pratchett.

I love Terry Pratchett. Seriously, if I could have one person on earth converted, Futurama-style, into a head in a jar, it would be him.
So when I saw this book in the library, I pounced like a kitten on a laser pointer beam. Yay! A collection of Pratchett short stories!
It's not great. It's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't escape the feeling that this book more accurately could have been called 'Once more For The Royalties'. The problem is, it's basically half a dozen very good short stories, padded out with random things like speeches he gave at dinners, or when being presented with awards. Articles he wrote for newspapers on fantasy writing, or his introductions to books written by other authors. Some of the padding is also good (after all, it's Pratchett we're talking about). Unfortunately (especially when it comes to the opinion pieces) there's a lot of it, so you end up with a lot of repetition, and an unpleasant whiff of Vanity Projects, especially when he includes an introduction to the introduction he wrote for a Discworld book by another author, or the speech he gave to people performing an adaption of one of his books. It just feels like padding. I can't help but wonder if Pratchett already knows this - the title of his introduction to the book is 'An Apology'.

Because I am weird, I actually did a count. There are 44 items in this collection (I left out the introduction by another author, the introduction to the book by Pratchett himself, and a closing statement by another author - that alone probably proves my point about padding), which I sorted into rough categories. 15 are journalistic-style articles, 9 are forewords, 4 are speeches and sixteen are stories. Although Pratchett used to be a journalist, so I'd understand that he'd include some of his articles, SEVEN of them are on fantasy writing/reading. Seven times, you hear his views on the role of fantasy in society, why people shouldn't look down on it, how escapism can be to as well as from. They're very good points. But seven times in the same book? Really?

Ideally, the book should have been about 70 pages shorter. Then the non-stories would have each been an interesting little amuse bouche between the story courses, rather than great big wrenches in the clockwork (and boy, didn't I mix the metaphors there?!). We're in desperate need of a firmer editor here. One who'd say 'Pick two opinion pieces on fantasy and two speeches. We probably don't need that 250 word obituary on your fellow author, as great as he was. Likewise, we're dropping the equally short article on your favourite word (again, really?). Choose just one of the introductions you wrote for books on Discworld and just one article on the type of technology you use. You've got some brilliant pieces here, we want them to shine."

And there ARE some brilliant pieces. The story he wrote when he was thirteen that he finds cripplingly embarrassing is better written than some bestsellers. 'Hollywood Chickens', '#ifdefDEBUG' and 'Once and Future' are excellent non-Discworld pieces. 'The Orangutans are Dying' is a worthwhile read. 'No Worries' and 'Thought Processes' are a nice insight into the man behind the typewriter. One of his speeches, entitled 'Alien Christmas' had me giggling on the train, which is always fun for the strangers sitting opposite me.

Ultimately, as much as it pains me, I'd only recommend borrowing this one.

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