Feb 8, 2011

[Books] Unseen Academicals

Unseen AcademicalsI'm proud to declare that I have almost all of the Discworld novels written by Terry Pratchett as part of my collection after more than ten years of hard word and who knows how much spent on this endeavor. I think I'm only missing a few of the young adult titles like Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight, but they're sort of lesser priority purchases in terms of my Discworld collection.

For the most part, I've also read most of them (with a few exceptions here and there, but I'm working on it!) so you can imagine how eagerly I anticipate the release of new Discworld novels. With close to 40 of them in circulation, it's hard for anyone to work through the entire series completely, especially in countries like the Philippines where science fiction and fantasy books always take the backseat in favor of the current bestseller fan craze. But a fair amount of time, effort and relentless combing of high end bookstores and bargain bins alike have resulted in my fairly sizable collection of Terry Pratchett novels including a few of his non-Discworld books.

Thus every time a new one comes out, it tends to be a cause for celebration, even if only a minor one. The real challenge is waiting for the paperback edition, if only to ensure that new copies generally match the ones that I already have on my shelves, save for a few differences here and there. I can live with the difference between the UK and US versions but not so much hardbound versus paperback...at least most of the time.

And this was definitely a book worth being happy about.

Terry Pratchett auf der Elf Fantasy Fair in de...Image via WikipediaUnseen Academicals is the 37th novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels. While some might argue that this is a book that belongs with the other titles devoted to the Wizards of the Unseen University, it is in fact a standalone book which introduces new characters into the mix.

The book deals with several plot lines in typical Pratchett fashion that come together in the end to become one big omni-plot. The "main" plot (if you can call it that) involves the Wizards at risk of losing access to one of the trust funds left by the great families if a stipulation involving the need for the school to actively participate in football games. Given that (1) the back-alley version of football that has become popular is very violent and (2) wizards are known for eating and not for their athletic prowess, this poses quite a challenge. So it's either they limit themselves to just three meals a day or they form a football team.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the world underneath the Unseen University that keeps things running. Thus we meet Glenda, head of the Night Kitchen and her neighbor and University maid Juliet, who's dumber than bricks on a bad day. We also meet the mysterious Mr. Nutt, who is a gray-skinned goblin that was placed in the employ of the University by the Patrician himself as part of some elaborate arrangement with Lady Margolotta of Uberwald. And there's Trevor Likely, son of the (in)famous Dave Likely, the footballer that everyone remembers as being very good but also quite dead now.

Things come to a head in the course of the story as the wizards (with some prodding by Vetinari) start to form "new" rules for football based on the "original" rules discovered on some urn. Juliet becomes the hit of Dwarf fashion world after she models the new micromail (which doesn't chafe). Juliet and Trev has this odd little romance brewing. And Mr. Nutt is far more than what he appears (and more than what even he realizes).

While most people love Discworld for the established characters like the Watch or the Witches, I like these little standalone pieces that tend to introduce some pretty interesting characters and further flesh out the rich universe of Discworld. This book was one of the better ones given the introduction of the highly sophisticated and intelligent Mr. Nutt and Glenda, who's more than just a woman who makes some of the best pies on the disc. Put the two together and you get for some very interesting exchanges and even more curious events and circumstances. I wouldn't be surprised if Pratchett doesn't revisit these characters in the same way Moist von Lipwig has gotten two books so far and how William de Worde gets the occasional cameo as representative of the press.

As always, Pratchett was able to capture part of the essence of real life and put things through the spinner in order to come out as something fitting of the Discworld. So we got football broken down to its component elements including the hooliganism and the whole fan culture. And we even got the stellar star player and his fashion model girlfriend (seriously - you should know who I'm talking about). I love how Pratchett gets to poke at real life circumstances without being blatant or coarse about the whole thing.

And one of the more notable things about this particular Discworld book is that I certainly felt like it had the most dialog from Vetinari EVER. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but seriously, they had him talking on and on for pages and pages. He had numerous conversations with Ridcully, then the run-ins with Glenda and of course his whole display at the banquet together with all the football captains. I'm not quite sure if I'm totally happy about this given his prior treatment was nicely mysterious and severely limited, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy it all. Vetinari's quips tend to rival the likes of Dr. Gregory House
or something, depending on what references you can think of.

Overall, this was another stellar addition to the Discworld universe with great characters, excellent humor and a pretty robust storyline. It's definitely a title for any Discworld fan and one that new readers might not have too hard a time to get into apart from some helpful research into the back story of the wizards.

Unseen Academicals is a nice spin away from the main story arcs of Discworld. It gets 4.5 well-dribbled candles out of a possible 5. If you're eager to start reading this book yourself, you can download the Kindle edition right now and jump right into the action!

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