Review: Interesting Times
by Tom Ingram
The Discworld series has undergone a deep transformation since the first book was published in 1983. The Colour of Magic was a light-hearted high-fantasy novel that poked fun at the traditional idioms. The stories around this period were a little absurd, and full of wordplay and other silliness. Gradually, it morphed into something more serious and cynical. The pun density stayed about the same, but Pratchett started to deal with more lofty ideas, using the absurdism to underscore his points. This transformation started in the late eighties when Guards! Guards! was published, and was spurred on a bit by Small Gods. Interesting Times, the seventeenth book in the series, published in 1994, is the dividing point between the two styles.
The cowardly Wizzard Rincewind returns as the main character after a long period of living on a desert island. He’s sent, against his will, to the mysterious Agatean Empire to answer a call for help. Through an interesting sequence of events involving an ancient prophecy about the Great Wizard and the revolutionary tract What I Did On My Holidays, he is inadvertently swept up in a plot to take over the Empire.
The returning characters are mostly silly holdovers from the pre-Guards! Guards! days. They gain more serious depth by the end of this book. Rincewind, the selfish coward, reveals his humanistic side. He wishes people could put aside their differences and get along, and is skeptical about whether overthrowing the government will help anything in the end. Cohen the Barbarian’s attempts to understand civilization satirizes the horrible things we accept as normal. Even Twoflower, the naive tourist from the first Discworld book, becomes jaded after the death of his wife.
The criticism of revolutions and quick, decisive solutions to big problems went on to become a major theme in the series, and as far as I can tell it started here. The books takes characters, concepts, and other story elements from the old days and puts a more mature spin on them.
Despite this, the book doesn’t fall into the old trap of becoming too gritty to the point that it’s unpalatable. That old Pratchett charm is still there. Interesting Times is a laugh riot all the way through. Pratchett’s ability to put exactly the right observation in the right place makes the story uplifting, and he convincingly weaves a series of coincidences into a tight plot that’s a pleasure to read.