I’m very nearly to the end of the complete, publication-order reread of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books that I started in September. I’m only about halfway through the final book, The Shepherd’s Crown, today, but I feel comfortable talking about the series as a whole, and the main thing I want to talk about is reading order.
Discworld is a huge series, with 41 books in the main sequence, published over 33 years, and it varies highly in quality. This has led to some ridiculous flowcharts for where to start reading it, which can be funny, but I don’t really think that’s the right approach. Instead I want to look at how to get the most out of reading it for the least investment.
Often when we talk about series fiction we talk about spearpoints, which is to say that you have significant events late in the series whose power is dependent on having read the previous works in the series, metaphorically the shaft of the spear. This is a really powerful tool for authors, who can give more emotional weight to a climax when the history of several books with the same characters and world is pushing behind it.
Discworld doesn’t really do this, outside of Raising Steam. One of the reasons there are lots of entry points to the series is that every book until the very last few is written to hold up on its own. That makes the series more accessible and possibly made it more successful, but one thing it means is that you don’t have to read them in publication order, or series chronological order, to get the most out of any particular book.
So I wanted to create a series reading order that abandons overall chronology while still maintaining it locally in a few key places, in favor of trying to get the most punch out of the fewest books. The goal of the Reverse Spearpoint Order is that you can read as far into it as you feel is worthwhile, and then stop, without missing out on anything. No reading mediocre books to get to good ones. At whatever point in the RSO you’ve had enough of Discworld, you can have confidence that you will have read as much of it as you really want to, that there are no hidden gems waiting for you later in the sequence, and you can move on to whatever interests you next.
Maybe this will be thirty-some books, maybe it will be one or five or eight. There are a few I really don’t recommend getting to unless you’re a huge completist, but maybe it will even be all 41.
The nature of the list also means that they will get somewhat more racist and sexist as you go along. For the most part these map well with other qualities of the books, so that the best ones in other terms are also the least racist and sexist. (The exception is the late set I’m calling The Summoning Dark, which could have been dramatically improved by dumping those things, and if you really don’t care about them you could move that set up to #5.) Pratchett in particular really likes gender essentialism and cheap jokes at East Asians, which may bother you quite early on. If they do, stop, it’s not going to get better.
Enough said, I think, on to the reading order. I break these up a little differently than the traditional subseries labels.
Anta Baku’s Reverse Spearpoint Discworld Reading Order
(1) The Tiffany Aching Books:
The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky
I Shall Wear Midnight
The Shepherd’s Crown
(2) Modernity in Ankh-Morpork:
Thief of Time
(4) Mid-period Vimes
The Fifth Elephant
(5) Singles 1998-2003
Carpe Jugulum (This is a Witches book but it’s by far the best non-Tiffany Witches book)
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
The Last Hero
(6) Early Watch
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay
(8) The Summoning Dark
Lords and Ladies
(10) Deep Cuts
The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
(11) For the Completist Only
The Last Continent
My own opinion would suggest that stopping somewhere in Group #5 is probably ideal for a recreational reader. I’m glad I read/reread them all, but a lot of that glad is tied to being a comic fantasy writer and having things to learn even from the books that don’t do it very well.