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The Truth by Terry Pratchett

'Words are too important to be left to machinery. We've got nothing against engraving, you know that. We've got nothing against words being nailed down properly. But words that can be taken apart and used to make other words... well, that's downright dangerous.'

The Truth is the 25th Discworld novel and one of a very rapidly dwindling number - mostly those that don't fit directly into any character's particular story arc - that I hadn't read before. If I'm not mistaken the only adult Discworld world that I've still to read is Lords and Ladies. I wish there were still more than that! Many of the Ankh-Morpork based novels follow a particular pattern: a new (but recognisable in our world) phenomenon evolves on the Disc (e.g. movie-making, rock music, football, a banking service etc) and in a world sustained by magic energy that new feature takes on a powerful and unexpected energy of its own. But to identify Pratchett's formula is by no means to reduce its power, because the fact is, it's a brilliant device; one which allows simultaneously for some wonderfully comic and/or surreal scenarios and - increasingly as the series progresses - some really searching social commentary. This novel is no exception, exploring this time around the world of journalism.

When the dwarves invent a printing press, William de Worde, a young nobleman who has rejected his stifling, prejudiced family (though not as fully as he thinks) becomes the accidental editor of the Disc's first newspaper. As he and his assistant, Sacharissa Cripslock, become increasingly obsessed with the - far from complementary - goals of pursuing the truth and penning a good story, the pair become involved with a major political drama, some hired killers, a plague of dogs and a man who grows rudely shaped vegetables. The book manages to include a surprisingly astute commentary on the differences between tabloid and broadsheet style journalism, and Pratchett's simile of the press being like a vampire, constantly craving the fresh blood of never-ending news, is a very powerful one. But this being Ankh-Morpork there's a more literal vampire to be found here too and for me he absolutely stole the show. I'd met Otto Chriek in later novels but this is his first appearance. Otto is a great character: his career calling as photographer ("iconographer" in Disc parlance) is particularly difficult one for a vampire as he is reduced to dust every time he is exposed to the flash! Yet this doesn't stop him being passionate about light in all its (for him) deadly forms. I think Pratchett's greatest gift is in his ability to invent characters like Otto: quirky, flawed individuals that his readers really, really care about! Overall this wasn't my favourite Discworld book but it would feature certainly in the top half of my list. Although it does stand alone and doesn't really progress any particular long standing character arc I think that Discworld newbies would get more out of The Truth if they read it at least after all the early guards books and probably also the two earlier books set in Uberwald (Carpe Jugulum and Fifth Elephant).

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September 2010

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