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It's not just about football 
23rd-Feb-2010 05:01 pm
THIRTY DAYS OF MEME: Day 13: A fictional Book

ACK! Look what I let myself fall behind on. The whole point of me tackling this 'post a day' meme was to get myself back in the habit of regular blogging with pre-determined content. Then I just let it fall to the side like I let so much of my life do at the moment. But just because I've missed several days time-wise, I still think I can get the posts done.

It doesn't help for this entry that I haven't actually read a lot of anything in the past few years, though not for want of trying. The last fiction book I read was - OK, it was The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon, which I finished last night. But before that, it was Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.

I'm aware of the opinion that some fans have, that Mr. Pratchett's work recently has not been up to the standards of the first part of this decade (or the last, depending on where you start counting). While I don't want to be the person who spouts crap like "you just don't get it" - an appallingly patronising statement that more often than not is just wrong - I do disagree with that general view. But then, I didn't much care for fan-favourite Night Watch, and loved the much less popular Monstrous Regiment, so what do I know?

Anyway, I really liked Pterry-does-football, partly because, as he says on the cover, the thing about football, the really important thin about football, is it's not just about football. Pterry has written quite a few books that felt a bit like he was playing Buckeroo with a topic - hanging as many jokes related to that topic as he can on a plot, without letting that plot snap and make a huge mess. Usually, I love this approach, as used in Moving Pictures, Soul Music and Going Postal. The thing is, though, that I don't know a damned thing about football and if this had been such a book I would not have been along for the ride. Fortunately, Pterry has also confessed to not knowing much about football, so there's plenty here that's not about football.

Unseen Academicals is, in a lot of ways, a book about class in an urban environment. About the educated privileged classes suddenly taking an interest in an activity dominated by the lower classes, and authoritatively informing them that they're Doing It Wrong. About how there's always work to be done in eliminating oppression and discrimination, and how if you have a certain label assigned to you, you're going to have to work long and hard forever in order to prove that label irrelevant. And it's about the crab bucket.

The crab bucket is right now my favourite metaphor that Pterry has produced, in which a bucket of crabs for sale represents a less-than-well off community. Most crabs just mill about in the bucket waiting to be killed, and if any crab starts to climb out of the bucket, the other crabs will pull it down, without any worry to the fishmonger. A person attempting to pull out of a social situation, he implies, is going to face as much if not more resistance from their peers trying to keep them down than from above. There are echoes, depressingly with Orwell's 1984, in which the party had more to worry about the party members, trusting that the Proles will keep themselves down.

It doesn't read like a lecture, though. It's not a transfer of blame for inequality on the people at the bottom, so much as an observation from the viewpoint of someone in that position. Pterry's got plenty to say about the behaviour of people outside the crab bucket as well, mostly that they tend to ignore the crabs, because they have the privilege of being able to do so, until a crab up and pinches them.

I don't believe for a second that Pterry's off his game. I think he's just evolving as a writer, and I'm thankful for that, the best author in the world, if he writes the same book over and over, becomes stagnant and tasteless. Pterry doesn't show any sins of this yet, and Unseen Academicals, while no Nation, is another excellent Discworld book, and well worth a read.
23rd-Feb-2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
The feeling I get from most Discworld novels these days is one of... traning, I guess you could say? Progression? It feels like the novels are about Who's being trained to take over. Susan is being trained to be Death, or someone like him, Moist is being trained to be the patrician, Carrot is being trained to be the commander, Ponder is being trained to be the archchancelor, heck, even Nutt is being trained to be the king of the orcs....

That said, a discworld novel will still always make me smile, at the end.
23rd-Feb-2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think the strongest parts of the book are the ones that deal with class - well, that, and just the whole sense of community in the book in general. The community you come from, and the community you make.
23rd-Feb-2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
I wrote about this one a bit ago and I really liked it especially how it really went into looking at class and how different communities interact with each other.

He did a good job with capturing the weirdness of an academic community along with just the joy and crazy of sports. I think I need to reread it.
23rd-Feb-2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
I desperately need this book yesterday.
23rd-Feb-2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
I liked this book even more on the reread, for the same reasons as you: the not-football, the sore things it gets into, societal and personal. UA is one of my definite favourites, now.
24th-Feb-2010 10:28 am (UTC)
...how can anybody not like Monstrous Regiment?

Anyway, I just wanted to say that as well as joining the resounding chorus of admiration for the social commentary on class conflict, I actually really liked the parts about football. I quite like football and I loved the way the book presented the positive and negative things about football, both so well that even though I was pretty sure Sir Terry is not a football fan, he could tell you a lot of the things I like about it, much more eloquently than I could, and he can also tell you all the things that are ugly about it, without descending into incoherent rants (most of which are class-based anyway, be it either the ridiculous wealth of the players or the unbecoming poverty of the hooligans that actually enjoy</i> the game).
24th-Feb-2010 11:58 am (UTC)
I've really been enjoying the recent books and was unaware of a body of opinion which said otherwise. And in terms of substance and themes, I think Unseen Academicals is still very good. But the grasp of language isn't quite so deft - for the first time I can remember, there are jokes which don't come off, sentences which could have been fine-tuned. Which makes me worry that the disease is starting to hit. The secondary tragedy being, an editor could have sorted this out so easily - but clearly they've got into the habit of not editing Pratchett because for so long, he hasn't needed it.
24th-Feb-2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
This book was largely, if not completely written by dictation to Terry's PA, Rob. It's presumably easier to fine-tune prose of any length if you're seeing it as you write, and Terry is no longer able to sight-read, which would make the fine tuning process much more intuitive.

I don't know that there isn't an editor, but maybe the PA is considered enough.
24th-Feb-2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
Certainly I can see that it would take time to find a new accomodation under the circumstances, but I'm hopeful that they might find one before the next book. It could be something as simple as Rob just reading it back to him, even.
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