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Snuff: A Novel of Discworld Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 11, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 589 customer reviews
Book 39 of 40 in the Discworld Series

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Author One-to-One: Neil Gaiman Interviews Terry Pratchett

Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novels include Neverwhere, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett). He is the creator of the Sandman series of graphic novels and author of the short-fiction collections Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things.

Neil Gaiman: Where did the idea for Snuff originate?

Terry Pratchett: I haven’t a clue, but I think I started out by considering the character of Sir Samuel Vimes, as he now is, and since I find his inner monologue interesting I decided to use the old and well-tried plot device of sending a policeman on holiday somewhere he can relax, because we all know the way this one is supposed to go. And then I realised that moving Vimes out of his city element and away from his comfort zone was going to be a sheer treat to write.

Gaiman: The Watch fascinate me. You get to do hardboiled police procedurals while still writing funny smart books set in a fantastic world.

Pratchett: On a point of order, Mister Gaiman, the world in which Sam Vimes finds himself is hardly fantastic. Okay, there are goblins, but the overall ambience is that of the shires of Middle England. It’s all about the commonality of humankind. Shove Sam Vimes into a situation that has gone toxic and away he goes, as realistic as any other policeman and thinking in the very same ways and being Sam Vimes, questioning his motives and procedures all the way through.

Gaiman: Did you really say in a previous interview that you’d like to be like Sam Vines? Why?

Pratchett: I don’t think I actually said that, but you know how it is and ‘how it is’ changes as you get older. The author can always delve into his own personality and find aspects of himself with which he can dress his characters. If you pushed me I would say that ever since I stood up and talked about my Alzheimer’s I have been a public figure; I visited Downing Street twice, wrote angry letters to the Times, got into debates in the House of Commons, and generally became a geezer to the extent that I sit here sometimes bewildered and think to myself, “Actually, your job is to sit here writing another book. Changing the world is for other people...” and then I come back to myself with, “No it isn’t!” And so, bearing in mind that these days, people call a kid from the council houses “Sir” allows me to create a mindset for Vimes.

Gaiman: On a piece about writing in the New York Times, Carl Hiaasen (a writer you started me reading on the Good Omens tour), wrote, “Every writer scrounges for inspiration in different places, and there's no shame in raiding the headlines. It's necessary, in fact, when attempting contemporary satire. Sharp-edged humor relies on topical reference points... Unfortunately for novelists, real life is getting way too funny and far-fetched.” Does the Discworld as a setting allow you to escape from that? Or is it a tool that lets you raid the headlines in ways people might not expect?

Pratchett: I think that’s the commonality of humankind again. I hope that everyone in Discworld is a recognisable and understandable character and so sometimes I can present them with modern and contemporary problems, such as Mustrum Ridcully getting his head around homosexuality.

In truth, I never have to go looking for this stuff; I turn to find it smacking me in the face. I was very pleased when Making Money came out just before the banking crisis and everyone said I had predicted it. It was hardly difficult.

Gaiman: How has the Discworld changed over the years?

Pratchett: I suppose the simple answer is that there is still humour, but the gags are no longer set up; they are derived from characters’ personalities and situations. These days the humour seems to arrive of its own accord.

Gaiman: How has writing the Discworld novels changed how you see the world?

Pratchett: I think it more true that getting older changes how you see the world. There is stuff in Snuff, for example, that I couldn’t have written at 25. Although I had written things before Discworld, I really leaned writing, on the job as it were, on Discworld. I think that the books are, if not serious, dealing with more serious subjects. These days it’s not just for laughs. My world view had changed; sometimes I feel that the world is made up of sensible people who know that plot and bloody idiots who don’t. Of course, all Discworld fans know the plot by heart!

Gaiman: How has writing the Discworld novels changed how the world sees you?

Pratchett: Has it? My agent pointed out one day that I had been quoted by a columnist in some American newspaper, and he noted with some glee that they simply identified me by name without reminding people who I was, apparently in the clear expectation that their readers would know who I am. I have quite a large number of honorary doctorates; I am a professor of English at Trinity College Dublin and a fellow of King’s College London, on top of all the other stuff, including the knighthood. However, when it gets to the sub-editors I am always going to be that writer of wacky fantasy, though I have to say that dismissiveness is getting rarer and rarer.

Gaiman: Are you respectable?

Pratchett: Is this a trick question? If so, then I shall say yes. Generally speaking I try to obey the law, pay my taxes (of which there are an enormous lot), give to charity, and write letters to the Times that they print.

It’s a weird term, respectable; isn’t ‘respek’ what every street kid wants and might possibly expect at the point of a knife? I certainly get involved with things and shortly after finishing this interview will be annoying my local MP. It’s fun. Discworld and the Alzheimer’s together have given me a platform.

Review

“In short, this is as busy and as daft as any other Discworld yarn, which means it is the quintessence of daft. Nobody writes fantasy funnier than Pratchett.” (Booklist)

“This account of Unseen University’s entry into the world of soccer (or, as they occasionally call it, “foot-the-ball”) pushes past the usual conventions of satire to offer equal parts absurdist philosophy and heartwarming romance....A witty addition to the long-running fantasy series” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A triumphant effort.” (The Independent on Sunday)

“Like Pratchett, [narrator Stephen Briggs] loves the comic rhythm, sound, and very taste of words-just for their own sake. So order up a tuna-spaghetti-jam sandwich (with sprinkles) and be prepared for a wonderful time.” (AudioFile Magazine)

“Thirty-seven books in and ... Discworld is still going strong...and doing so with undimmed, triumphant exuberance. ” (The Guardian)

“…[SNUFF is a] lively outing, complete with sly shout-outs to Jane Austen and gritty police procedurals.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“The humor is sharp and the characters are charming, and the plight of the goblins creates moments of genuine pathos that are the highlight of the book.” (Tor.com)

“Brilliantly complex.” (The Straits Times)

“In the history of comic fantasy, Mr. Pratchett has no equals for invention or for range. ” (Wall Street Journal)

“Series followers will delight in this latest entry. . . . Pratchett’s fun, irreverent-seeming story line masks a larger discussion of social inequalities and the courage it takes to stand up for the voiceless.” (Library Journal)

“Funny, of course, but with plenty of hard edges; and, along with the excellent lessons in practical police work, genuine sympathy for the ordinary copper’s lot. A treat no fan of Discworld—and there are boatloads of them—will want to miss.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Product Details

  • Series: Discworld (Book 39)
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062011847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062011848
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (589 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
But, as usual, brings his work with him.

His Grace, Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the City Watch of Ankh Morpork, and Blackboard Monitor has given himself over to the will of a higher power, his wife, Lady Sybil Vimes, née Ramkin. She has determined that their son should see their country residence and where food comes from (hint: meat does not spontaneously appear in the butcher shop), so Sam finds himself in a new and unnerving place; the rolling hills outside his beloved (and often beloathed, but it is HIS city regardless) Ankh Morpork. But Sybil has arranged this sabbatical with Lord Vetinari (the tyrant of Ankh Morpork, and the most subtle and nuanced absolute ruler ever portrayed), so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the quiet countryside is full of surprises for Sam Vimes.

In this, the latest chronicle of Discworld, we learn more of the intricacies of marriage (and if you are not yet married, "Jesters do oft prove prophets"), the belief system of goblins is expounded upon, the qualifications of a gentleman's gentleman are illustrated, the difficulties of life for the nobility, the diverse and fascinating world of poo, the influence of Dwarf substition (substition: a thing that is true, but not generally believed), the intimidation and menace wielded by an accountant, and the budding romance of Nobby Nobbs (Corporal, Ankh Morpork City Watch, and alleged human). Police procedural, Victorian scientific inquiry, race relations, novelists, river boats, the expectations of the landed gentry, privilege, and smuggling are at the top of the list of things parodied, poked at, and presented in "Snuff".

It was brilliant.
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Format: Hardcover
If you look at the books he's written since being diagnosed with alzheimer's, it may occur to you that we're witnessing a trend. Storylines are being closed, and it looks in general as though the Discworld series is coming to an end. The impression I get is of an author trying to leave no loose ends. This could definitely explain some of the darker tones, especially in I Shall Wear Midnight as well as in Snuff. Also remember the brief update we got on Rincewind in Unseen Academicals, this could easily be another level of closure for us.

If you read this book and simply compare it to other discworld novels, you may not be entirely satisfied. If you decide to read it as an insight as to what's happening when a great mind sees the end of his ability to write approaching, and wants to ensure that his fans aren't left hanging, you will likely take away a completely different opinion of the book.

I myself enjoyed the story, and the evolution of the characters makes sense to me, when you consider this book takes place 6 years after Thud!.

The bottom line is that I would recommend this book, while communicating the above take on it to any Pratchett fan. To anyone new to the series, I would recommend they start with an earlier novel.
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Format: Hardcover
Like many other readers and long-time fans of Sir Terry, I really wanted to like, even love, this book. Unfortunately, I don't.

Snuff just doesn't feel like a Discworld novel. I found myself unable to recognise Sam Vimes and Sybil as the characters I'd grown to love over many books - Vimes especially felt very out-of-character (inasmuch as you can say that about an author writing his own characters). The novel suffers from cumbersome narrative and dialogue: at times it feels as though characters exchange ponderous speeches rather than converse naturally. This is something I also noticed in "I Shall Wear Midnight". The humour of previous books is simply not present.

Some people have suggested that the novel will be polarizing because of its dark subject matter. I am not averse to "darker" themes at all - Terry Pratchett has often tackled some of the darkest aspects of humanity with exceptional skill. However, in my opinion, the problem with this novel is not that it is "too dark" but that it is simply not very well-written.

Given the circumstances and the author's health, I feel guilty writing this, but it is my honest opinion. I've been a fan of Discworld for over 15 years, and Terry Pratchett remains my all-time favourite author. I don't think I can imagine myself *not* buying a Discworld book, for as long as Sir Terry chooses to continue writing them. But I cannot say that reading Snuff was in any way an enjoyable experience. In truth: it feels like somebody else trying to imitate Terry's style, and not being able to pull it off. And I'm genuinely sorry to have to say that.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't want to zing the author for Amazon's shoddy product.

So, the book isn't Pratchett's strongest but even his slightly off efforts are miles better than many other authors' best. Plenty of reviewers have summarized the plot so I won't repeat it. Vimes is at the center of the book but he's not quite the character I remember so fondly, or expected him to become. For lack of a better way to put it, Vimes is now *too much*. Of everything. He's positively revered by the humble and powerful alike, and now endowed with a typically skewed Pratchettian superpower. It's been interesting watching gritty, down-to-earth Vimes learn to cope with being a nobleman. But he's somehow less nuanced and that's just a tiny bit disappointing. As a reviewer (or someone) once said of Dorothy Sayer that she made the mistake of falling in love with her main character. "Snuff" makes me wonder whether Terry Pratchett is verging on identifying too closely with Vimes.

Actually this is a very minor quibble. Pratchett is still a giant, simply one of the best out there. "Snuff" is funny, thoughtful and of course gently satirical. Vintage Pratchett, in fact.

As for advice to the buying public, beware of Amazon's Kindle editions. This is the worst I've ever seen. It's riddled with formatting errors, so badly that reading it is difficult. There were sections I had to parse word by word to wring sense from the text. I've e-mailed Amazon to see if they will replace it with a readable version. I am becoming VERY disenchanted with Kindle books. "Snuff" isn't the first bad Kindle edition, just the most flagrant and the most recent. Amazon needs to drastically improve its reliability, and do it soon.

Follow-up: Amazon's response?
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