Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Report: Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett

It's a big book. Bigger than most of the Discworld books that are starting to overflow my shelves. It's also a bit of a departure. Although it takes place within Ankh-Morpork and Unseen University, and although it features the only faculty in the multiverse capable of destroying reality while trying to get in a game of billiards before tea, it's not about them. On the surface, it's about a mystery in the form of a being named Nutt who doesn't seem too certain about who or what he is. Beneath that, it's a meditation on Nature vs Nurture vs Free Will.

Are we what we are born to be? Are we what we are made to be? Are we what we decide to be? It all comes out in the mix of a football (soccer) prodigy whose dad died heroically while playing the game, a chef who's sensible and dependable and rather like a crab in an unpleasant way, and a beautiful girl for whom being beautiful just might be enough to get her through life.

The book is complicated and deep and rich and, although still funny and absurd in places, reminds me more of Pratchett's Nation than of any of his other Discworld work. And I guess that's where it fell down. It feels too big, I guess. Sprawling and less tightly plotted than his earlier work. This isn't a bad thing, but it's not quite what I read Pratchett's work for and so not only did I take longer to read this than I normally do, I found myself not quite as satisfied by it as I'd hoped to be.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.

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