18 March 2009 ~ 0 Comments

The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

thelastcontinentThis book takes place on Discworld. For those of you who aren’t aware of this world, it is a magical world created by Terry Pratchett. Discworld is (not surprisingly) a disc, which is balanced on the back of four giant elephants, who are standing on the back of an even more giant sea turtle named Great A’Tuin who is swimming through space. Pratchett has written dozens of novels in this universe. He’s a great writer of humor fantasy. My favorite book by him is Small Gods.

The Last Continent, copyright 1998, chronicles the more of the perpetual misadventures of Rincewind the Cowardly Wizard. For him, running is the solution to nearly every problem, but somehow trouble always manages to find him despite his best efforts. This book occurs after the events of Interesting Times, where Rincewind traveled to the Aurient. At the end of that book the faculty of Unseen University tried to rescue him with a magical transportation spell, which went humorously wrong and transported him to the continent of XXXX (pronounced EcksEcksEcksEcks or Fourecks).

XXXX is also known as the Counterweight Continent, because it’s presence is only inferred by the locations of the known continents, and the assumption that the flat disc of the world has to have roughly equal weight distribution. Fourecks is remarkably similar to the continent we know as Australia, which perhaps isn’t so remarkable when you’ve read other books in the Discworld series and realize that many of the lands are distorted reflections of locations in our own world.

I didn’t like this book as much as I’ve liked most of his other books. I think I’ve become much more picky since I started writing, so this may be a reflection of that. To me, it’s not that easy to relate to Rincewind because he is so cowardly by definition, his reaction to any danger is to run like heck in the other direction. He doesn’t MAKE things happen, things just happen TO him. I would much rather read a story about a character that MAKES things happen. Even if he’s reluctant, I still expect it to be his own decisions that drive the story. Also, Rincewind’s never shown any character growth. He’s always been defined by his cowardice which hasn’t ever changed.

That being said, much of the draw to Pratchett’s books isn’t necessarily the character development, but the humorous situations. In that respect, I didn’t think this one had as much humor appeal as others. Most of the story was just a series of coincidental run-ins with mildly villainous characters that then served as origin stories for (for instance) cork hats, and some things that I’m guessing are likely Australian delicacies.

I think the biggest lack for me, is the lack of villains in the piece. When Rincewind arrives on Fourecks, he screws up history in some sort of vague way. It’s not immediately clear how, and is only vaguely clarified further on, but his changes have made it never ever rain in Fourecks. In parallel, the faculty of Unseen University (Rincewind’s alma mater) are searching for Rincewind and stumble across a passage through time to an island in the past where the god of evolution is working out how to make things evolve. This provides some laughs, but is an almost totally unrelated story to the story of Rincewind. Only in the last 30 pages are the stories tied together in the vaguest of ways, and a pretty random coincidence occurs that provides the resolution to everything.

All in all, it’s an amusing book with Pratchett’s signature sense of humor, but it lacks a cohesiveness that I expect out of a story. If you love Australia it might appeal more to you–I’ve never been there, so I probably missed out on some jokes. But if you’re just looking for a good story in general, I think you’d be better served picking up one of Pratchett’s other books like “Small Gods”, “Soul Music” or “Thief of Time”.

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