It’s gotten to the point where I’m pretty tired of saying the same things about how things are going here. It’s still January, it’s still very hard for me to manage much of anything. I’ve been a little brighter the last couple of days, but I doubt that’s real progress. It might be a sign that I’m not headed steadily downhill, which would be a relief at this point. This has begun to remind me of the winter of 2018-19, when I didn’t really recover until August. If there’s any willpower that can stop that happening again, I will be deploying it.
But for the moment, I want to talk about Thud!, which I finished yesterday. This is the first place I’ve really felt like reading all the Discworld books in order gave me a significantly different estimation of a single book. So far the exercise has been really useful in terms of thinking about series things, and authorial improvement things, but the individual books haven’t really been especially thought-provoking to reread.
Thud!, though, is very weird in its context. The sentence-level writing and the focus on Ankh-Morpork multiculturalism both fit in very well with the later run of Discworld books. But the character development and the plotting are in some ways throwbacks to the early days. Up until this point, Vimes’ character development has been building further in each Watch book, but in Thud! it more or less vanishes. We have Vimes becoming a father, and his attitude toward Young Sam, which kind of stand in for character development without offering any real depth. The story is eventually shown to be about Vimes being a pawn, but Vimes is very much a pawn within the story as well, one being casually moved around by Pratchett just as he’s moved about by Vetinari.
The other Watch characters have a similar fate. The plot with Nobby’s girlfriend is bizarre and goes nowhere except for giving Pratchett a chance to take cheap shots at pretty girls. The new lance constable, the vampire Sally, is plot-relevant but as far as character development goes doesn’t stand up to the introductions of Cheery, or Angua, or even someone more minor like Reg Shoe. The only Watch character bits that really hang together compared to the previous books are the co-option of Vetinari’s auditor and Detritus’ adoption of the drugged-out troll Brick, which doesn’t get as much time as it deserves.
The plot more or less works, and makes Pratchett’s point, but it feels a lot less sophisticated than the run of recent books, and a lot more like characters are being moved about like game pieces. Which I suppose is appropriate for a book with a game as a core metaphor and occasional plot point. Thud the game, itself, is interestingly vague from a game player’s perspective, but at the same time not developed enough to really hold its own as a metaphor within the book. Nor is there as much parallelism as is usual in such things. No one’s standing in for the dwarves, or the trolls, and Vimes’ personal importance to the plot is completely opposite the mechanics of the game, which doesn’t differentiate even between roles except for “dwarf team” and “troll team.”
I was left more curious about how Thud worked, and less interested in what was actually happening, which isn’t really the goal, and something Pratchett got a lot better at avoiding as his career went along. This was very much the sort of feeling in, say, Pyramids, where I can tell you very little about the characters despite having reread it just a few months ago, but the spatio-temporal mechanics were interesting. That could have easily been a weakness of the Lu-Tze books or the clacks-focused books, but it wasn’t, and it felt like it was a flaw that Pratchett had gotten beyond at this point.
And I guess I can see that the dwarf-troll conflict needed some level of resolution, and this book is maybe more about getting to that than it is about any of the characters. I’m not sure if this is the point where Pratchett’s grappling with mortality became real. That could easily be what’s going on, that this book is more about providing a certain amount of resolution, rather than having as much internal motivation as the previous stories. It will be interesting to see where that thread goes as I move through the last seven books. I don’t remember much at all about Snuff, the last Watch book, so I’ll be hitting that one almost cold in a couple of weeks.