Imagine my surprise, me, a so-called self respecting pTerry fan, when walking into Chapters yesterday I saw there’s a new Discworld book out. A full novel. Unseen Academicals. The 37th in the Discworld series. A hardback. €19.99. A book I didn’t know was due out so soon.
We’re back in good old Unseen University for this one, with Ponder Stibbons, Ridcully, the Librarian and the rest of the wizards up against a rather unexpected challenge not from the Dungeon Dimensions this time…
Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.
The prospect of the Big Match draws in a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dim but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt (and no one knows anything much about Mr Nutt, not even Mr Nutt, which worries him, too). As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed for ever.
Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.
In fact I went on a bit of a spending splurge yesterday, picking myself up a few missing-from-the-collection Pratchetts, introducing Steph to the wonderful world of Disc and picking up the new Eoin Colfer book, the new Audrey Niffenegger‘s Her Fearful Symmetry (author of The Time Traveller’s Wife), Dacre Stoker‘s Dracula The Undead and A book about Innocent among others. So lots of reading ahead.
But back to the Pratchett book. Now, I know Ronan will be reviewing it for Broken Spine, so I won’t anticipate that. Added to that, and possibly more importantly, I’m not finished it yet – there’s 400 glorious pages and I’m only on page 327 – and really, well, I’m no book reviewer. I like what I like. But I do want to share something about it with you.
I don’t know if you saw the BBC TV show earlier this year – Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s. It was a very powerful two part show showing Terry’s battle with Alzheimers, his announcement to the public, his frustration and his optimistic outlook in looking for a cure.
…In fact, it was his own brain that was out to get him, in the form of a rare form of Alzheimer’s, posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), which corrodes visual recognition and short-term memory while postponing dementia. So you know what’s happening to you for a long time.
This Telegraph review gives a good taste of it but for me there was one heart stopping, tear inducing “Ahhh BOLLIX” moment that still sticks with me.
It’s the moment that Terry admits he can’t find the S key on the keyboard.
Alzheimer’s is such a hideous, bastard of a disease – I can relate to it almost first hand – and to see the author of the books that I love – and I really mean LOVE – stricken, handicapped and just unable to type out the characters and the words that would bring me another joyous escape into the Discworld was awful. Awful.
So I didn’t really look out for when the new book would be out. It would happen when it would happen. God help him, he had enough to be worrying about and besides, I delved right back into the Discworld, starting this time with Small Gods and working my way on.
But… and here it is, pre-finished as all as I am – Unseen Academicals is superb. I don’t just mean it’s a good Discworld novel or a great read or a nice compromise considering the circumstances, I mean it’s fantastic and funny and brilliant and interesting and informative and is well on its way to being my favourite of the entire series – definitely up there with Jingo (the first I ever read), Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Reaper Man, Small Gods, Soul Music, Feet of Clay, Hogfather, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, Thief of Time, The Last Hero, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, Going Postal, Thud and Making Money. So, erm, yeah. The top of my “love to read again of all the series” list.
I’m flying through the book not because it’s any more simple than the others, but because the story is so well told, the characters so rounded and believable, the setting so rich and despite it being about football, it really is just a great Ankh-Morpork story.
Terry Pratchett never lost it. Fine, his PCA might be preventing him from doing it as quickly, but the quality, the eye, the genius is still there. Thanks be to all of the Gods, Blind Io included. I can’t wait to finish it. In fact I may do so now…
I’m looking forward to the Discworld Conference in November more and more now…