Back in college I stumbled across a little book called Good Omens, written by a grand slam duo of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I’m not quite sure how this came about, in retrospect. Up to that point I had read some of Gaiman’s work, mostly in his Sandman graphic novels, but that was really my first foray into Pratchet’s work. I finished Good Omens, diligently lent the book to like 14 friends, and then forgot about it. Several years later, I stumbled across Pratchett’s Discworld series in a book store and realized that I had totally forgotten that Pratchett was a guy who wrote novels.
I came to the party a bit too late here. By the time I was browsing Pratchett’s work for the first time, most of his books were sporting a mark that said “Celebrating 25 extraordinary years of Discworld!” on them, which I thought was a bit of an odd selling point. Like, oh, these novels are so ordinary they are EXTRA ordinary. Everyone loves things that are more ordinary, right?
Today, I’m amassing quite the collection of Pratchett’s work. If I had to pick a favorite, Going Postal would take the top spot by a landslide. THE MAIL MUST GO THROUGH.
If you’re new to Pratchett’s work (and honestly here… I’m probably the only one who is still new to Pratchett’s work) there are some things you need to know. The majority of the books take place in Ankh-Morpork, the largest city in Discworld, ruled over by the despot Lord Vetinari (and yes, there’s a difference between a despot and a tyrant. Vetinari will be quick to point this out to you, if you can get the guts to ask him about it). Ankh-Morpork is a free city and has residents of all types living there, from dwarves and trolls and golems to zombies and vampires and humans and Igors. The city welcomes all, though be warned if you come to commit crimes, it’s rumored the city watch has a werewolf, and they’re not the kind to let go of a scent when they get one.
The city exists on the knife’s edge between fantasy and technology. A lot of the things that we take for granted in our world are huge developments in Discworld. On the other hand, we don’t often have to worry if the vampire across the room is a black ribbon wearer who has sworn off blood or not, or if the guy who is employing an Igor is insane, dangerous or simply overly rich. Some things stay the same, however. Take theft, for example. Theft is rarely looked upon as a good thing.
Enter Moist von Lipwig. He’s just exiting, really. We’re introduced to Moist as he’s awaiting his execution in an Ankh-Morpork prison under the assumed name of Albert Spangler for doing a large variety of Bad Things. To call Moist a petty thief is like calling the Pope slightly religious. He’s got swindling down to an art form, using little more than a wide selection of personality traits and assumed names, a diamond ring and three glass rings. At the beginning of the novel, Moist is in trouble, as he’s about to be hung for relieving an enormous amount of money from the local banks of Ankh-Morpork, something he did with guile and many little bits of paper, instead of something more direct like a club or a sword.
Moist never really needed the money. He just wants it as a way of keeping score. To make a long story short, Moist is hung under the name Albert Spangler and died.
Afterward, Vetinari somewhat forcibly hires him as the new postmaster of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Moist is suitably confused at the fact that he’s not dead, and determines to make a break for it the first chance he gets. Which is hard, when his new
assistant parole officer Mr. Pump is a six ton golem who never sleeps and can track Moist to the ends of the Discworld.
So into the post office goes Moist, wherein he meets his disturbingly unhinged two man staff and finds out the truth about why the institution shut down. Turns out there’s more to it than just a rivalry between the clacks, which promises to send messages at the speed of thought.
Finding his way around the office, however, is a problem because every room, hallway, crevasse and crack is packed full of undelivered mail. Turning the place around could be a life time job, but Moist, well, if he’s gotta do this job he’s gonna do it with flair, dammit.
This is my favorite Pratchett novel so far, mainly because it contains Moist von Lipwig at his finest. He’s over the top, impulsive and has a unique mantra: always raise the stakes. If this is your first foray into Discworld, Going Postal is a good start. The novel gives you a straight up crash course on Lord Vetinari, golems and Ankh-Morpork, the Grand Trunk and the Semaphore towers known as the clacks. While the premise of the novel is, in essence, to revive a failing government institution, with Moist at the wheel the novel never becomes boring.