Terry Pratchett's ("TP") legions of fans do not need a review of Going Postal. They have no doubt already purchased Going Postal or eagerly await its arrival in paperback. This review is for those new to TP.
Terry Pratchett: Rafael Sabatini begins his swashbuckler "Scaramouche" with the line "he was born with a gift for laughter and a sense that the world was mad and this was his patrimony". TP shares this patrimony. It is accomplishment enough to produce the sheer volume of work put out by TP. However, to combine this volume with a consistently high level of brilliant, funny, and original prose is simply amazing.
Discworld: Discworld is the alternate universe created by TP in his many books on the subject. Although this universe may share about 95% of our genetic code it is populated by a series of characters not really known to us here on this planet (at least as far as we know). TP's world travels through space like a frisbee, supported by four giant elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle. Living amongst the mere mortals is a cast of characters that include trolls, dwarfs, zombies, and more than a few wizards. They are not thought of as being particularly unusual, they are just there and live and work just like everyone else. The capital of Discworld is Ankh-Morpork ("A-M"), ruled by a rather witty despot known as the Patrician Vetinari. There is a recurring cast of characters. Although the books do tend to reflect the development of these characters each book does stand on its own and does not need to be read in any particular order.
Going Postal is TP's most recent effort. It is hilariously funny. Think of the movie The Sting with Redford and Newman as if it had been directed by Hunter S Thompson and you will have some idea of the plot. A very successful, if generally low level con man named Moist Van Lipwig has been caught, sentenced to die by hanging, and been hung. However, he did not quite die. He wakes up to find himself in the chambers of the Patrician Vetinari and told he may live if he decides to take over the operation of the A-M post office. Understandably enough, he accepts the assignment. His work is overseen by the A-M equivalent of a parole officer, a clay Golem (an ancient life like monster in medieval and Jewish mythology). Moist has never spent an honest day in his life and does not really intend to begin now. The postal service has basically ceased operations for years and the post office headquarters is drowning in undelivered mail. Gradually, Moist feels compelled to actually re-start the mail service. Gradually, and more than a bit grudgingly, Moist's rather narcissistic view of the world changes a bit as well. Moist's effort is not well received by the owners of the Grant Trunk clack system, the semaphore-based message delivery service run by Reacher Gilt. The last thing Gilt wants is competition. While Moist may see himself as a low-level con artist, Moist sees Reacher Gilt as a master of the con and evil on a scale far grander than anything ever accomplished by Moist. The story unfolds and turns into a battle of the con men: David (Moist) against the Enron-like Goliath (Gilt). Revealing anything more would spoil the story.
As with all Discworld books the main enjoyment to be had lies in the journey and not the destination. It is hard to explain how enjoyable it is to turn the page and find a sentence that is either down right funny or else contains some sharp observation on human nature. It is hard to be too glowing in this regard.
As mentioned, the Discworld series does follow some loosely structured order. However, Going Postal is as good a place to start as any. First, only one recurring character, Vetinari, plays a significant role in the book. The others make only cameo appearances. Second, the story set out in Going Postal does seem very self-contained.
I very much enjoyed this book and have no hesitation at all in recommending it to anyone whether they are new to Pratchett or old hands.
on November 3, 2004
The trouble with clever characters, is that the author typically needs to be just as clever. This is why books like "Silence of the Lambs," are much better than books like "Hannibal." If the author isn't as smart as his characters, then he shouldn't risk making his prized creation the main protagonist.
"Going Postal" doesn't have just a clever protagonist, it also has a supporting Patrician, whom one can argue, can give Hannibal Lecter a run for his money when it comes to intellect. On a few occasions, "Going Postal" finds itself in danger of being too clever to have a satisfying ending. But rest assured future reader, you will not be disappointed.
Pratchett's storylines are funny and can stand on their own. However, I became a fan because of his satires and metaphors, which bubbles underneath his stories. Since I work with internet technologies, I find the clacks metaphor hits close to home. The fact that "Granddad" is only 26 years old is a hilarious detail. Pratchett books are usually riddled with gems like these.
You don't have to be familiar with the Discworld series to appreciate this book. I have read all of the Discworld novels and this one is definitely the top ones on my list. For Pratchett readers, you can gauge my review's usefulness by what books I liked and disliked.
My top ones are:
Feet of Clay
Mens at Arms
Books low on my list are:
Lords and Ladies
Last word: Enjoy.
One aspect of Terry Pratchett's genius as a writer is innovation. Lately, he's turned away from what might have become a rut - for both reader and writer - to launch a string of stand-alone books. We've had the introduction of a newspaper to Ankh-Morpork, a man falling through time to encounter himself, and an army of females ["women" would hardly be appropriate, here]. With this book, yet another declaration of independence has been issued. It's still the Discworld. A few known characters flit through cameo appearances - even if only virtually or even silently. One new persona emerges who will capture your attention, your sympathy, and, if you're not careful, your wallet.
If Moist van Lipwig has a personal Hell, its label is "Honesty". He's a confidence trickster, but we mustn't judge him too harshly for that. It's a career that any "businessperson" will identify with. Good Things are: a growing economy, minimal government interference while providing essential services and avoiding violence. Bad Things are: officials poking into private affairs, low profits and a soiled public image. Moist takes advantage of the Good Things while simply avoiding the Bad. He's been on the run for years, even while accumulating a stash of ill-gotten gains. A means of avoiding capture is being someone else. As this book opens one of his persona is facing hanging - which takes place.
Yet it wasn't Moist that died, but one of his aliases - Albert Spangler. With Spangler gone, it would seem Moist has a clear path to elsewhere to make a new start. Unfortunately for Moist, Ankh-Morpork's Patrician, Lord Vetinari, has other plans for him. Part of the scenario includes Moist being employed by Vetinari. Not only must he assume the mantle of honesty, he's now a Civil Servant! The job is the restoration of the defunct Ankh-Morpork Post Office.
The PO's laggardly pace has been outstripped by a new technology - a form of semaphore known as the "clacks". Owned and operated by the Grand Trunk corporation, the firm incorporates the philosophy of Good and Bad Things listed above. As we all know, or are often told, "downsizing" means "efficiency". The businessman's mind equates "Overhead" with "Profit Loss" and there is no worse sacrilege found in the balance sheet. "Overhead" includes "maintenance", which becomes the key to this story. How many have died or been damaged due to faulty views of how much must be spent on "Overhead"? How important is "Overhead"? Is it important at all.
Pratchett's genius goes beyond innovative thinking. He has penetrated the financier's mind and practices, exposing them to public view and assessment. This, he shows us, is a necessary and ongoing task. He further exhibits that there is but only one social force capable of the task - an enlightened government with the power to enforce. It takes a government interested in the public good, which remains an elusive goal. This is hardly the stuff usually found in "fantasy", but that label's never been appropriate for Pratchett's work in any case. Read this for entertainment first, returning to see how adroitly Pratchett has mirrored, once again, the world around us. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
You can read this story as Pratchett's commentary on criminal capitalism, ala Enron. Or you can read it as a caper story, featuring two, perhaps three con men. But however you read it, this novel will please, delight and enthrall you. This is masterful, this is a master's work. It's time to recognize Pratchett as a great writer in the finest British tradition.
The pseudonymous Alfred Spangler is dead, hung by neck to dance the rope fandango. But a very surprised Moist van Lipwig awakes in the Patrician's office. When offered the choice of becoming Postmaster of the dead-as-a-dinosaur Ankh-Morpork postal service or the right to leave the Patrician's office by the door behind him, the bright young con man accepts the duties of Postmaster. When running away doesn't work, Moist settles in to the challenge. To his surprise, running a big operation like the Post Office is a lot like running a con; to his greater surprise, he even starts to enjoy it.
But the competition to the Postal Service - the Grand Trunk Clacks, a kind of Middle Ages internet - is run by Reacher Gilt, a one-eyed, black-haired chairman who has a parrot trained to call, "Twelve and a half percent." Gilt takes competition to new extremes. Moist, who has always disdained violence, and Gilt, who will stop at nothing, engage in an escalating struggle. Moist can't seem to help himself, his reaction to a challenge is to up the stakes. And in a game of Find the Lady, no one is better than Moist.
As a caper story, the setup is perfect. Pratchett shows you all the cups, and defies you to find the pea. It makes the ending immensely satisfying. As an indictment of the immorality of capitalism, the part that works best is your laughter. Nothing that takes itself so seriously, and is so self-important, can stand ridicule. Including Reacher Gilt.
As in all Pratchett novels, there are very funny scenes, but the mature Pratchett uses humor for a purpose beyond entertainment. This is using the Discworld as a mirror to reveal the parts of our world we otherwise cannot or will not see. This is a superb book, nearly flawless, and a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
on December 5, 2004
Going Postal is Terry Pratchett's 29th full Discworld book, a truly staggering output from a very good writer. So staggering that it's easier to clump them into groups when thinking about them. There are the 6 Rincewind books, The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sourcery, Eric, Interesting Times, and the Last Continent. The 6 Witches of Lancre books, Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum. The 5 Death books, Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather and The Thief of Time. The 6 Ankh-Morpork City Watch books, Guards Guards, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant and Night Watch. And the 5 stand-alone books, Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Small Gods, The Truth, and Monstrous Regiment. Going Postal is the 6th stand-alone book.
In a sense all of the Discworld books are stand-alone books because there is no need to read them in a particular order, although I have listed them chronologically above for convenience's sake. Of the groups I enjoyed the Ankh-Morpork City Watch books the most, but I have not picked up a Terry Pratchett book and not enjoyed it. He is that good.
All of the books take place on the Discworld, although often in widely scattered locations on the Discworld. Pratchett has introduced his readers to a vast array of memorable characters and characters from one group of books often appear in other groups of books. The only character to appear in them all, of course, is Death. The Orangutang librarian of the Unseen University probably ranks second in most appearances.
The Discworld books are wildly funny and often have me laughing out loud. But they are also poignant and have a deeper message than humor. The message of Going Postal is hope, and as the protagonist, the semi-reformed con man, Moist von Lipwig goes about trying to restart the Ankh-Morpork post office he unwittingly taps into a vast resevoir of hope and is overwhelmed and changed forever by it.
Along the way we are introduced to a slew of new characters including Junior Postman Groat, Apprentice Postman Stanley, Miss Dearheart, Mr Pump (von Lipwig's Golem Parole Officer) and another Igor in the employ of the evil Robber Baron, Reacher Gilt.
Old friends also make appearances, most especially the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, but Captain Carrot, Arch Chancelor Ridcully, Miss Crisplock, Commander Vimes, the Librarian and of course, Death as well.
The only series comparable to Pratchett's Discworld series is perhaps Piers Anthony's Xanth series. Both are good well-written series by imaginative authors, but Pratchett's humor is a little darker, sharper and a lot more topical than Anthony's.
If you've read some of Pratchett's previous Discworld books, you will not be disappointed by this one. If this is your first, you are in for a treat, but be warned, you will need $150 or so and a fair amount of time, because after reading this one you will want to find them all.
Although I gave "Going Postal" 5 stars, I found myself wishing that Amazon allowed a rating of "6", so much did I enjoy this latest entry in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I will admit that I had found "The Monstrous Regiment" less appealing than many of the earlier volumes, so I approached "Going Postal" with just a little concern. But no worries! This newest book easily ranks with the best of what has come before.
"Going Postal" returns us once again to Ankn-Morpork, but is not directly connected to the set of City Watch novels or any of the other groupings of Discworld book. Instead, like "Moving Pictures" or "The Truth", this new book stands by itself in the universe of Discworld. Only Lord Vetinari among the characters of earlier volumes plays a major role in this novel (and what a part he plays!), although a number of familiar names do pop up from time to time. The story principally centers around Moist von Lipwig, a skillful con man, to whom Lord Vetinari makes an offer he can't refuse. Well, not at least refuse and go on breathing. For reasons known only to the clever tyrant, Lipwig is appointed Postmaster of the long-defunct Ankh-Morpork postal service, a position whose recent history has largely featured drastically shortened lives. Among Lipwig's more obvious challenges is the rivalry of the long-distance "clacker" service that does not look kindly upon the rebirth of a rival. But the Discworld being Discworld, not all problems are human or even, in the strict sense, posed by living enemies.
Von Lipwig is a thoroughly engaging character who sometimes - well, most of the time - has a difficult time forgetting his criminal past. But he has help in keeping, more or less, on the straight and narrow from a watchdog golem who has been assigned by Vetinari to make sure that his new postmaster stays on the job (and in Ankh-Morpork). And just in case Lipwig hopes to take advantage of the well-known principle that a golem mustn't harm a human being, Vetinari reminds him of the lesser-known next bit: Unless Ordered To Do So By Duly Constituted Authority.
Characters and situations are full of humor, the dialogue is sparkling, word-play abounds. But in with the humor are thoughtful points made about corporate corruption and practices that sacrifice people for suspect profits. In other words, another excellent Discworld novel.
on October 7, 2004
...and better. Terry Pratchett has done it again. He has returned to his famous world on the back of a giant turtle and delivered another gem. This time a hanged con man has been given a job by the Patricion to run the defunct post office. Moist von Lipwig decides to cut out only to find that he has a golem as both his personal body gaurd and parole officer, so he has to stay and perform his duty. To me, the explanation of why a golem is the perfect parole officer is one of the high points of the book. Pratchett once again manages to make an incredibly complex book easy and fun to read. He manages to have a main character that the story revolves around, but it is the supporting cast that is the true focus with their true life idiosyncracies. Once again the Patrician's character is filled in a bit more, but he is still a work in progress. A tyrant that truly cares for the well being of it's citizens. Go Figure.
Pratchett's discworld is also becoming more subtle and complex. He has managed to write in this world for more than twenty years and it is still fresh. He adds new characters so he can use them later in following books. Many of his characters from previous books make appearences and it is fun for those of us that have been long time readers to recognize these characters. It is not important if you have not read him before, this book stands nicely on its own. It is just like an inside joke that you would miss, but without knowing it. This book is both fun and a delight to read. Highly recommended.
on October 2, 2004
As a bureaucrat myself, I can appreciate Mr. Moist von Lipwig's predicament. He's literally saved from perdition by an "Angel" who just happens to be Lord Vetinari, duly-elected ruler of the city of Ankh-Morpork (one man, one vote, he's the man and he's got the vote!). Whether Vetinari is an "Angel of Light" or a really dark angel remains to be seen.
Certainly, the job is no prize. Who would want the job of resurrecting a moribund Post Office? Only a convicted criminal, once hanged, who now faces a life of servitude to the state. Oh, it's a paid job - after all, we bureaucrats do INSIST on fair days' wage for a fair days' labor, but getting a "bodyguard" that is nearly indestructable (a golem) and may not have all the "safeguards" against harming a human? Moist has his problems... but also, he's a talker. And, as any bureaucrat can vouch for, if you can talk in government, you can go far indeed!
An excellent book overall, with an interesting premise, good character (!) development, and enough inside humor to keep even the dryest of bureaucrats chuckling.
on November 9, 2004
or so it is said. terry pratchett may only be terminally irked. which is wonderful for those of us who enjoy barbed wit, parody, satire and ridicule. in this book, as in all of the disc world books, he skewers stupidity, selfishness, ignorance and white collar criminal behavior and other unethical habits--all while providing some of the best humor in print. comic dialogue, comic action, puns, obscure references (the chapter headings in _going postal_, for those who don't read a lot of 18th and 19th century literature, are take-offs), if there's a form of humor he's missed, i can't think what it is.
one review quoted on the dust cover of _going postal_ compares him to chaucer. i think he's closer to mark twain and will rogers. he's more subtle than douglas adams.
while there's not a disc world novel i haven't enjoyed, i laughed out loud more often reading this one than i did with some others. it would be a good choice for someone who has been culturally deprived (i.e., hasn't yet read pratchett) and a treat for those who have.
on October 4, 2004
Pratchett is back and doing what he's best at: creating detailed and facinating characters to populate his world.
So you send a businessman to get the old post office running again. He dies in an accident. You send another one. He dies in an accident. You send another one. Another accident. You send a deadly trained assassin disguised as a businessman. Another accident. Well now what?
In this book, we follow the Patrician's next attempt: an unwilling master thief living on borrowed time and a 2000 pound tireless golem that serves both as bodyguard and parole officer (to make sure the master thief fixes the post officer rather than, for example, running away to another continent).
The story takes place in Ankh-Morpork. There are appearences by some discworld regulars but mostly this is a tale with all new characters, possibly Pratchett's best yet, and that's saying a lot. The story is great and the humor is classic Pratchett. Easily 5 stars.
As for the "stand-alone" value, you'll be a bit better off if you're already familar with Discworld but if you've never read a Discworld book you shouldn't have any trouble, since all the major players are new anyway (although I personally suggest "Guards! Guards!" as the first Discworld book to read).