It’s probably no secret that I’m a nerd. I like nerdy things, like dragons and comic books and Star Wars and mathematics. I have nerdy friends. I have pretty good nerd “cred” (go on, ask me to sing Still Alive. Or pretty much anything by Freezepop. Or The Protomen.) But as a nerd–and in particular a nerd who likes books–I have a secret, shameful confession to make.
I don’t really like Terry Pratchett.
I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice guy personally–he seems nice in his interviews, anyway. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him. I guess he might be a jerk. At any rate, that’s not what I meant–what I meant was, I don’t like his books.
I should like his books. I like fantasy, and I like deconstructionist humor, and Terry’s books are all pretty much those two things smashed together and turned up to eleven. Just like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is science fiction and deconstruction smashed together and turned up to eleven. I like Hitchhiker, so I should like Pratchett’s books, right?
Oh wait, I forgot. I don’t really like Hitchhiker either.
All right, relax, everyone. Put your monocles back in. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading Hitchhiker (the first one, anyway–don’t get me started on the others) or any of Pratchett’s books. I did. Really, I did. I just didn’t…like them. They felt empty. They’re all deconstruction purely for deconstruction’s sake. Reading them feels like eating spoonfuls of chocolate syrup: sure, it tastes good while I’m eating it, I guess. But no matter how many spoonfuls I eat, I still feel hungry afterwards (and kinda gross, besides). Pratchett’s writing is undeniably clever, talented, and engaging, but when I read his books I can’t help feeling that something is missing. Something, anything, to pour the chocolate onto. A little substance. A little–dare I say it–faith in the story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the cleverness and the jokes, the self-deprecation and the self-reference, the tearing-down-and-then-building-up-and-then-tearing-down-again of just about every trope and cliche in the genre. Really, I do. But it’s a shallow, unsatisfying enjoyment. When I’ve read a book, I want to feel like I’ve gotten something out of it, not as though something has been taken away (in this case, it’s usually my faith in the genre). I want the characters, plot points, settings, and mythologies of my books to be more than just punchlines to jokes at their own expense. I want my stories to–I admit it–take themselves at least a little bit seriously.
I’ll understand if you don’t agree. I certainly won’t blame you for it. I’ll even understand if we can’t be friends anymore after this. I just wanted to get it out in the open. I’m sick of living a lie. I hope, someday, you can forgive me.
Just don’t act surprised if I no longer feign agreement when you start gushing about Terry Pratchett.
4 responses to “My Sordid Confession”
I love this post! Brief but thorough. Sincere but funny. Intelligent and simple. YOU!!!
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Nice to hear someone else say it! It’s been a long time since I read one of Pratchett’s books, but I stopped after a few for about the same reasons. Entertaining but mostly relatively vacuous, like most TV.
On the other hand, sometimes you want that and are OK with it. I still read everything John Grisham publishes, even though it’s usually the same story, and usually about the same hard-drinking larger-than-life Mississippi lawyer.
(TLDR Warning: Beyond this point there be much aimless rambling.)
I’ve noticed this more when I read several books by an author in a row. You start to notice the patterns. For example, the first Ken Follet medieval novel I read was fantastic. I read a couple more in quick succession and while good storytelling always keeps you hooked, I started noticing the recurring patterns and formulas too much, which detracted more and more. I’m still going to read the next one that comes out though, having had a year…
That’s one reason I like Joe Haldeman so much, I’ve done a lot of binge-reading and he keeps surprising me. I am often reminded of some Haldeman story. I think of Forever Peace every time I hear about armed military drones in the news. Orson Scott Card’s another one like that I’ve recently read a bunch of, though some of the Ender sequels get tedious and do fall into patterns at times. I’m sometimes reminded of some story from Card’s Somec/Capitol/Worthing universe when thinking of a topic involving differing or large timescales.
Indeed, by contrast, I can’t think of much that reminds me of Pratchett or Hitchhiker in an interesting way.
Ah, just realized, that’s not quite true. Just one thing: I do think of the contents of the Big Answer and Big Question in Hitchhiker occasionally in relation to software (in the book, the answer turns out to be 42, and the question turns out to be “what do you get when you multiply six times nine?” — illustrating several principles of software development methodology if you overthink it enough, especially since 6 * 9 is actually 54)
No, I take it back. That’s a much weaker sort of insight, very rorsarch blot like. To be honest, it reminds me of the time I played a game a friend of mine made for their senior thesis, and I spent quite a while trying to find some interesting insights, themes, meaning in the game’s plot and gameplay. It was pretty abstract and open-ended so there wasn’t much to go on, and since I really wanted to find something to say I kept playing even after it got tedious after the initial novelty.
After a little while of this tedium I began to justify it to myself by deciding that, the true object of the game must surely involve the very activity itself of seeking out what the goal of the game could be. (That probably sounds ridiculous, unless you knew the author was influenced by Jason Rohrer’s poetic games)
Eventually, after spending a while of tedious, increasingly dissatisfying time pursuing the increasingly unlikely self-imposed goal of finding meaning in this game, I gave up and hit upon the solution — it must be the case, I decided, that the game was designed to provide exactly this unsatisfying experience, thus commenting darkly upon the nature of man’s yearning for meaning.
If I recall right I think the game author assured me that none of that had been the original artistic intent. In the same way, I can try to find meaning in Hitchhiker, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.
I’ve been reading your blog posts for a while and enjoying them by the way!
Yeah, for some authors ‘style’ seems to extend to much more than just tone and voice, in some cases constituting a kind of personal genre. I don’t think “formulaic” should be considered an insult, but I do think it applies to Pratchett in some ways and that’s another aspect that doesn’t appeal to me much.
The point about meaning is nicely put–it makes me suspect that my searching for meaning is exactly where my dissatisfaction lies. It’s the same reason sitcoms bug me: “status quo is God” starts to grate on me pretty quickly, and although Pratchett’s books aren’t slaves to status quo *per se* they give me the same feeling that no matter what happens, nothing will have any consequence in the long term. Individual characters may learn and grow (or not, which is a different peeve) but the Discworld itself will remain unchanged. Lesson ultimately unlearned; message ultimately nil. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I usually want from my fiction. I want my fiction to have an agenda. I want it to tell me something, not just entertain me.
Thanks very much for the comment, it’s good hearing from you! You should post something on your own blog; I’ve missed your writing.