Thursday, March 2, 2017

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett

   1992; 344 pages.  Book 13 (out of 41)  in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fantasy; Humor; Satire.  Overall Rating : 10*/10.

    It must be Brutha’s lucky day.  Om, the patron god of his hometown Omnia has designated him, a mere novice, to be his “Chosen One”.

    Unfortunately, Om has fallen on hard times lately, and for the last three years he’s been stuck in a most humiliating manifestation – a turtle.  Still, he is a god, and one of the miraculous things he can do as a turtle is speak to his Chosen One.

    For Brutha, this is a mixed blessing.  On one hand, it’s kind of nice to be able to chat with a deity, even if the god-given advice  is rather worthless.  On the other hand, being the only one who can hear Om, Brutha looks like a crazy man when he’s speaking to the turtle.  And others notice this kind of eccentricity

   Such as Deacon Vorbis, who speaks for Om, even though he’s never ever spoken with Om.  And Deacon Vorbis also happens to be the head of the Inquisitors, which means he has ways of seeing what’s inside your head.

    Such as drills, and tongs, and fire, and other extremely uncomfortable implements.

What’s To Like...
    Small Gods is kind of a one-off tale in the Discworld Universe.  The only “regulars” we meet are DEATH,  the librarian (who only makes a cameo appearance), and Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, a take-off of the ubiquitous Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler.  But not to worry, the new characters are fun to meet, including a host of philosophers, religious figures, and gods.  My favorite was St. Ungulant, an anchorite who dwells way out in the desert, although the eagle is pretty kewl too.

    The “small gods” concept is explained early (page 6), and is basically this: a god has power(s) proportional to the number of his followers, and what those believers are.  So being god over a bunch of humans is much better than being one over a bunch of bacteria.  And when your following dwindles to, say, zero, you cease to exist.  Om is down to his last believer, and so is relegated to being a turtle.

    Small Gods is Terry Pratchett at his finest.  There are footnotes, but no chapters.  The wit and silliness abound.  And yet he tackles a sensitive subject in the form of organized religion, and handles it evenly and subtly enough to where I don’t think anyone would take offense.  Structurally, the storyline is perfect, with everything building to a great, twisty ending.  There’s even an unusual (for Discworld tales) epilogue, wherein we learn the rest of Brutha’s story.

    Balanced against the serious themes of torture and war in the name of a god, Pratchett gives us some interesting views on things like the art of Philosophy, the worth of libraries, and the assets and liabilities of learning to think for yourself.  We even get the “creation story” behind Discworld (page 25), which was quite the treat.

    As usual, there are lots of smaller details to enjoy.  My favorite religion, Gnosticism, gets a brief mention.  So does eidetic memory and the shadowy History Monks.  Small Gods is an easy and fun read, which is no small feat when addressing topics such as the Inquisition.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Soughing (v.) : making a moaning, whistling or rushing sound (such as the wind in the trees)
Others : Baulks (n., plural); Anchorite (n.); Sophistry (n.)

    “If you’re really Om, stop being a tortoise.”
    “I told you.  I can’t.  You think I haven’t tried?  Three years!  Most of that time I thought I was a tortoise.”
    “Then perhaps you were.  Maybe you’re just a tortoise who thinks he’s a god.”
    “Nah.  Don’t try philosophy again.  Start thinking like that and you end up thinking maybe you’re just a butterfly dreaming it’s a whelk or something.”  (pg. 101)

    “I’m reminded of the time when old Prince Lasgere of Tsort asked me how he could become learned, especially since he hadn’t got any time for this reading business.  I said to him, ‘There is no royal road to learning, sire’ and he said to me, ‘Bloody well build one or I shall have your legs chopped off.  Use as many slaves as you like. ‘  A refreshingly direct approach, I always thought.  Not a man to mince words.  People, yes.  But not words.”
    “Why didn’t he chop your legs off?” said Urn.
    “I built him his road.  More or less.”
    “How?  I thought that was just a metaphor.”
    “You’re learning, Urn.”  (pg. 208)

 The trouble with being a god is that you’ve got no one to pray to.  (pg. 11)
    Small Gods has been on my TBR shelf for a number of years now.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it – I knew going in it was often considered Terry Pratchett’s best effort from his most creative era.

    I don’t have anything negative to say about the book, and I was impressed by how evenly the author, an avowed humanist, handled the whole touchy subject of religion.  So go out and find the book, and treat yourself to a fascinating tale, and remember the mantra: “The Turtle Moves”.

    10 Stars.  When you can’t find anything at all to quibble about, what other rating can you give?

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