Review: Guards Guards!

Vimes! Vimes!

I’ve had a bit of an enforced break from my Discworld readthrough due to Library availability, but finally got my hands on Guards Guards!

For me personally this one is a bit of a classic, while not the first Discworld I’ve read, it is probably the first Discworld I read that I found myself really getting sucked into the world and the characters, I loved Carrot and while my young self didn’t 100% get Vimes I enjoyed his growth too. I have to confess (spoilers sort of) my younger self also didn’t realize that Pratchett was going to subvert many expectations and fully expected Carrot to finish the story king of AnkhMorpork!

Guards Guards is the first ‘Night Watch’ or ‘Vimes’ book one of the recurring characters which in my opinion is the most popular of all the Discworld series, I think there is just so much character within these stories that its hard not to get attached and drawn into the tale. Guards Guards is also set entirely within Ankh-Morpork and its very fun getting to know the city and the world a bit better.

Something which hits a bit harder nowadays is the interplay of politics in Discworld. In my youth I largely took the world as a joke, but now much of Pratchett’s writing seems like a scathing critique of the world. That said I was intrigued by interactions with Vimes and the Patrician. As I’ve mentioned earlier the Patrician is actually in many of the early Discworld novels but is somewhat less developed, he is initially presented as a haughty placeholder ruler, however in Guard’s Guards we get a bit more development. And to be honest its quite strange. On the one hand the Patrician is depicted as fairly cold and more than willing to do evil (perhaps for good ends?) and also a master 4D chess manipulator, yet he also obviously has some sort of good or honorable streak in that his ends seem to be relative peace.

There is a highly unusual speech at the end of Guards Guards, much in the same format of dystopian novels where the ruler/authority explains the ethos of the dystopian world. The Patrician explains that humanity is basically a wave of evil, with islands of idealistic goodness among it. He sees his role as keeping the population organized enough to prevent chaos.

I would love to pick Pratchett’s brain about what his thoughts were behind this interaction. Obviously Vimes is our MC and thusly would be the favoured point of view (e.g. gritty honour) although through sheer competence and control its not clear whether Pratchett thinks the Patrician is a monster, necessary monster, or ultimately good. I do feel as the series continues that the Patrician largely is portrayed as ‘good’ but that doesn’t mean that his speech is the be all end of.

Probably my favourite thing about rereading Guards Guards is the anticipation of some of the upcoming amazing Guards books. Feet of Clay has always been a favourite, and Men at Arms is great too.

Dangerous Amnesia: Examining a Specific Trope

Technically that would probably result in executive function difficulties!

So quite a while back I did a post about Writing Amnesia: a risky trope where I talked about Amnesia, while being a relatively common story trope, can be a little difficult as it can undermine character development. I decided to revisit the topic as I recently played a game which used a very niche aspect of the trope where the MC has amnesia, (re)discovers a nefarious plot and in fact finds out that they themselves were a major part of it along the way.

(Some Spoilers ahead largely for a pair of games Amnesia the Dark Descent, and Lamentum)

While I’ve recently encountered this more in horror video games, it is a common trope in (usually B-grade) murder mysteries where the killer ends up being…. The Main Character Themselves.

This is not always pulled off with amnesia, although its often employed as otherwise the whodunnit story would make no sense (and sometimes still doesn’t) and is often a bit over the top as an obvious attempt to be ‘twisty’ rather than an intriguing story.

But today I’m more interested in a more cosmic horror perspective where characters delve into a mystery only to discover they’ve already delved into it before, and – at least in the games I’ve played! – , have done a considerable amount of wrong along the way to their goals.

In Lamentum the story beats go something along the lines of: our MC Victor meets and marries Alissa, who falls incurably ill after their marriage. We initially see the pair travel to Grau Hill were an obviously magically problematic statesman Edmond lives and promises to look into a cure for Alissa. Very quickly things take a turn for the eldritch as Alissa disappears and Victor awakes after some kind of episode and the mansion is full of freaky monsters.

While its obvious something ‘has happened’ its only as the game progresses and we meet some other characters that the amnesia elements comes into play. The initial hint is that all the characters Victor meets appear to know him, but not Alissa (although this sort of doesn’t quite work as will discuss later). As the story furthers we finally learn that Victor has in fact been a major part of the magical goings on (which is a very soft way of saying multiple majorly evil deeds) – not a recent visitor caught up – and in fact Alissa died and Victor’s goal is to resurrect her.

The amnesia part of the trope serves several functions in a story like this. First it provides some obvious extra intrigue personal to the MC, rather than simply exploring a horrorland we are also teased with some information about their own involvement. The amnesia is a necessary element because otherwise it raises the question of why the MC doesn’t reveal their knowledge or behave with their knowledge intact. Something that Lamentum does quite well is that they position the MC’s action as essentially the same, e.g. one Victor ignorantly continues the process to resurrect his wife even though he is oblivious to the plot.

There are some limitations however – having a character with amnesia can risk repetition, e.g. it gets fairly old fairly quickly when every character you meat has the same “how do you know me, have you seen my wife” dialogue. The obvious problem being that the story doesn’t want to reveal that Alissa is dead too soon so have to make it so the characters simply never heard of her (despite the being whole reason Victor is there).

This is a major problem of the trope where its practically useful for creating intrigue and mystery but also highly risky where readers/players will feel vaguely annoyed either at being kept in the dark or by unnatural contrivances.

Ethics

The other side to this amnesia trope is that its used to ‘whitewash’ the character ethically so that their own evil actions can be drip-fed to the audience. This makes sense as stories can depict morally corrupt characters from the get-go, but it does create a significantly different tale. Having a more apparently heroic character be revealed as part of the evil creates a uniquely tense situation at the climatic end of the story where you have some powerful choices to be made – will the MC return to the evil plan, or fight against it. Also obviously avoids potential audience disgust at the beginning.

(if for example the MC’s evil actions were revealed from the start it wouldn’t make sense to have a choice like that in the end as they’d still just be working through their plan)

Again their are some obvious risks here. Revealing that the MC has been up to depraved stuff might alarm audiences, or disrupt the flow of the tale. How this is done is key, in the case of Lamentum its actually quite a deft strategy where Victor’s involvement AND wife’s demise are revealed together – it might seem a little tacky but it creates an interesting double effect. At first the plot seems like it may be leading towards a revelation that something went wrong with trying to cure Alissa and thusly her disappearance. However when its revealed that she in fact passed away and Victor’s goal is a resurrection, this ramping up of stakes makes us more comfortable with his increased immoral behaviour for said goal…

Note: I am not saying that this technique justifies evil actions OR that audiences would feel neutral. Rather that the double reveal makes it easier to accept than not.

So like my previous post I think there are some general risks to using amnesia which I’ll quickly summarize below:

You need to be careful not to erase your character OR effectively create two characters (unless that’s the effect you want)

Characters actions need to be integrated carefully – if an MC is punished for forgotten actions they will seems like a victim, if they are not held accountable they’ll seem like a villain.

Contrived reveals only stretch so far, an advantage of video games is you can place plot information pretty much where you want in the game to have it work, in a novel it will be hard to explain to an audience why an amnesiac MC only bumped into other characters in order of plot reveals.

Anyhow – hadn’t posted for a while so figured I’ll find a post out of the most recent game I played ūüėÄ

Thoughts?

Review: Sandman Vol. 11

Vol 11 of the Sandman series is a collection published Approx. 10 years after the conclusion of the series. It covers one tale per Endless. Despair, Delerium and Destiny have fairly alternative narratives, and Dream is a deep dive into the past (no tales of new Dream)

Overall the story is enjoyable, I wouldn’t grab it looking for any reveals for the overarching plot, there are hints as to the cause of Delerium’s change from Delight although I couldn’t interpret the dense story, also a major suggestion as to Dream’s dislike of Desire. Desire’s story provides insight into the nature of Desire, which while not containing any specific plot details does provide some character understanding.

TBH while you will want to read this to devour anything Sandman there is nothing necessary in this volume, it feels very similar to the standalone tales sprinkled throughout Sandman.

I will eventually re-read Overture (the prequel) but I will take a break for now!

Review: Sandman Vol. 10

If you’d asked me hypothetically whether an entire volume dedicated to a ‘wake’ would be a good read, I probably would have not been enthused.

Yet somehow between the artwork, the resolutions, the traumas, and the stream of backstory reveals Sandman Vol 10. Is just as amazing to read as the rest. Something of interest is that there aren’t any corny plot reveals or story twists, but there are quite a few reveals and non-reveals through characters discussing Dream. I don’t really know how Gaiman pulls it off, but the story of Sandman is both fantasy epic stuff, but also heartfelt and characterised so personally.

I confess now I’m a little lost, I read Vol 11. which I’ll review shortly but now I guess I just sit back and hope that the Streaming series isn’t a steaming pile‚Ķ

Review: Sandman Vol 9.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so nervous and excited to read an entry in a series as Sandman’s Kindly Ones. In hindsight I am a little sheepish because as a teen I read through Sandman in a very haphazard random order, pretty much based on what was available at the library at any given time. I’d never captured the whole tale but actually had most of the material somewhere in my memory banks.

So finally reading the epic conclusion(s) of this series was quite the experience, I never realized or expected Gaiman to actually put together so many threads and characters of the series, to be perfectly honest I’d assumed that the series being about “dream” would have a nebulous dreamlike quality, which it obviously does, yet simultaneously does have proper story ‘etiquette’

Vol 9 is the bulkiest of collections with plenty of material to process probably only matched by volume 1 with having the most collected ‘story.’

There isn’t too much more to say other than if you’re wanting an emotional, complex, return of past characters and generally epic story this is it!

Review: Sandman Vol. 8

Oh man, so even thought I thought that Vol 7. was my favourite Sandman collection I then moved onto World’s End!

Now technically I’d read World’s End before, but quite a while ago, and also out of order in the series and missed like 9/10 of the important parts of it!

The premise of World’s End is several characters gathering at the World’s End in the middle of a ‘reality storm.’ While on the basics it seems similar to the other Volume’s that gather standalone stories – World’s end has some recurring characters, with connections to past stories and importance for the next stories and of course has a pretty devastating finale (spoilers I guess, I don’t know how well known the conclusions to Sandman are)

I confess I’m already 1/2 way through Vol. 9 already before getting around to this review and HOLY MOLY my mind is already disintegrating! When is the Netflix Series coming?

Review: Sandman Vol. 7

Man, after a while it gets pretty hard to review Volumes of Sandman other than just throwing a brief synopsis and saying ‘this was great’ buuuut, Sandman Vol 7 is particularly great.

Why so?

I guess: Volume Seven does contain a lot of resolution building up in the series, featuring a heavy focus on The Endless (including Destruction), Sandman’s ongoing change. In saying resolution Gaiman likes to play around with implied emotions and events, even though Vol 7. has a lot more plot progress than earlier volumes there is even more brought up unrevealed and probably more questions than answers.

That said the mood/tension/setting are all intense and perfect for Sandman – alongside all the above points there is also space for minor characters who are just as interesting and compelling as our Endless MCs.

Vol 8. is still on route in the mail and I can’t wait.

Review: Sandman Vol 6

The Sandman, Vol. 6 by Neil Gaiman

Vol 6 is an interesting edition to our stories about the pale Endless. Largely standalone, and if I have my facts straight, all based in the past, Vol 6 collects stories of various individuals, some completely original, some from mythology and some from history, and recounts their experiences encountering The Sandman.

Probably most striking is a return to an earlier plot thread – Sandman’s relationship and actual child with one of the muses. In many respects the character development here most shows the ‘colder’ version of Sandman that we keep hearing about in current timelines, and boy he is COLD.

The other standout, it some brief time with Destruction (I hate to admit this but its literally only this recent readthough that I realized all the Endless are D’s) and some classic interactions with the other Endless.

Review: Pyramids (Discworld)

Pyramids Ebook Book Cover by Terry Pratchett

Continuing on my read-through of Discworld Novels, Pyramids is a bit of a favourite, funnily enough not because I think its particularly above the other novels, just that its one of the first ones I ever read, and because my older brother owns the book I’ve also read it many more times throughout my adolescence.

Pyramids is a bit of an interesting one – sitting in the minority as a ‘stand-alone’ Discworld novel this is our only version with Pteppic – a reluctant Prince of ‘Jellybaby’ a satire of ancient Egypt.

Similar to my comments of Wyrd Sisters, in Pyramids one feels that Pratchett is perhaps easing off the satire, or more precisely, added more traditional story telling to the plot alongside the riffing on the world and tropes that accompany Discworld novels. Along with this point I also feel that Pyramids marks a bit of a turning point, where up to this stage I felt that Pratchett had more skewered fantasy tropes for storylines and played the social commentary as gags throughout. Pyramids feels more like Pratchett has allowed some traditional storytelling to be included (e.g. Pteppic actually learns to be a pretty bad-ass assassin) while also turning up the social commentary several notches.

Just by way of examples, Pratchett shows the country of ‘Jellybaby’ as literally and figuratively stuck in the past, objective progress held back by continually building pyramids for dead kings, despite having no wealth to do so. Economic and personal philosophy collide when the pyramid workers find through timey wimey manipulates they can multiple themselves and their work-crew.

SPOILERS AHEAD

A funny side-note: rereading these books makes me realize that Pratchett did not like traditional love stories, although from his choices I can’t work out whether he likes to spin tropes, or just maybe feels so awkward he prefers to not to go there. For example poor Rincewind falls for his love interest, only to have them fall for someone else upon immediately meeting them. Mort doesn’t end up with the obvious crush, but falls for the girl-next-dimension? Pteppic almost gets into a Lannister type conundrum with an awkward resolution at the last minute. I might have to review this upon getting through more of the ‘Guards’ series‚Ķ

Review: Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd reading

Terry Pratchett's Discworld: Wyrd Sisters

Rereading the Discworld novels is a really interesting experience. I’ve read Wryd Sisters before, and to be honest not thought much about it and would have probably rated it a little low on my ranking of the series novels.

However rereading through makes Wyrd Sisters, if anything, fascinating to compare.

Technically this is book #2 of the Witches, well Granny Weatherwax was introduced in Equal Rites, but this is the first book of the coven, properly introducing Nanny Ogg and Magrat. It’s also the second such re-introduction of recurring characters (after Rincewind) and the first Discworld novel with a more ensemble cast.

Of course the other books have multiple characters, but at this point in the Discworld it feels Pratchett was still settling into recurring cast. What makes this so interesting is that it feels like the interactions between our main protagonists is much more significant than say Rincewind’s general ranting and quipping with whatever characters he ends up next to.

Also the story is much more grounded than previous – both in respects to avoiding the world/time/dimension destroying levels of the earlier books, but being more relevant to the characters at hand. Also Wyrd Sisters has a lot less fast-paced zany travel, almost a mainstay of the earlier books.

What I’m trying to say is: all in all Wyrd sisters while perhaps not reaching the heights of some of the later additions, is where one really starts to feel entrenched into the Discworld and the characters. While Ankh-Morpork is only featured briefly we start to get some of the more eccentric goings-on like the guild of thieves.