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Location: Fantasy Books » Terry Pratchett

Excerpt from Interesting Times

Chapter One

There is where the gods play games with the lives of men, on a board which is at one and the same time a simple playing area and the whole world.

And Fate always wins.

Fate always wins. Most of the gods throw dice but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out until too late that he's been using two queens all along.

Fate wins. At least, so it is claimed. Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it must have been Fate.*

Gods can take any form, but the one aspect of themselves they cannot change is their eyes, which show their nature. The eyes of Fate are hardly eyes at all -- just dark holes into an infinity speckled with what may be stars or, there again, may be other things.

He blinked them, smiled at his fellow players in the smug way winners do just before they become winners, and said:

"I accuse the High Priest of the Green Robe in the library with the double-handed axe."

And he won.

He beamed at them.

"No one likeh a poor winner," grumbled Offler the Crocodile God, through his fangs.

"It seems that I am favoring myself today," said Fate. "Anyone fancy something else?"

The gods shrugged.

"Mad Kings?" said Fate pleasantly. "Star-Crossed Lovers?"

"I think we've lost the rules for that one," said Blind Io, chief of the gods.

"Or Tempest-Wrecked Mariners?"

"You always win," said Io.

"Floods and Droughts?" said Fate. "That's an easy one."

A shadow fell across the gaming table. The gods looked up.

"Ah," said Fate.

"Let a game begin," said the Lady.

There was always an argument about whether the newcomer was a goddess at all. Certainly no one ever got anywhere by worshipping her, and she tended to turn up only where she was least expected, such as now. And people who trusted in her seldom survived. Any temples built to her would surely be struck by lightning. Better to juggle axes on a tightrope than say her name. Just call her the waitress in the Last Chance saloon.

She was generally referred to as the Lady, and her eyes were green; not as the eyes of humans are green, but emerald green from edge to edge. It was said to be her favorite color.

"Ah," said Fate again. "And what game will it be?"

She sat down opposite him. The watching gods looked sidelong at one another. This looked interesting. These two were ancient enemies.

"How about..." she paused, "...Mighty Empires?"

"Oh, I hate that one," said Offler, breaking the sudden silence. "Everyone dief at the end."

"Yes," said Fate, "I believe they do." He nodded at the Lady, and in much the same voice as professional gamblers say "Aces high?" said, "The Fall of Great Houses? Destinies of Nations Hanging by a Thread?"

"Certainly," she said.

"Oh, good." Fate waved a hand across the board. The Discworld appeared.

"And where shall we play?" he said.

"The Counterweight Continent," said the Lady. "Where five noble families have fought one another for centuries."

"Really? Which families are these?" said Io. He had little involvement with individual humans. He generally looked after thunder and lightning, so from his point of view the only purpose of humanity was to get wet or, in occasional cases, charred.

The Hongs, the Sungs, the Tangs, the McSweeneys and the Fangs."

"Them? I didn't know they were noble," said lo.

"They're all very rich and have had millions of people butchered or tortured to death merely for reasons of expediency and pride," said the Lady.

The watching gods nodded solemnly. That was certainly noble behavior. That was exactly what they would have done.

"McFweeneyf?" said Offler.

"Very old established family," said Fate.

"Oh."

"And they wrestle one another for the Empire," said Fate. "Very good. Which will you be?"

The Lady looked at the history stretched out in front of them.

"The Hongs are the most powerful. Even as we speak, they have taken yet more cities," she said. "I see they are fated to win."

"So, no doubt, you'll pick a weaker family."

Fate waved his hand again. The playing pieces appeared, and started to move around the board as if they had a fife of their own, which was of course the case.

"But," he said, "we shall play without dice. I don't trust you with dice. You throw them where I can't see them. We will play with steel, and tactics, and politics, and war."

The Lady nodded.

Fate looked across at his opponent.

"And your move?" he said.

She smiled. "I've already made it."

He looked down. "But I don't see your pieces on the board."

"They're not on the board yet," she said.

She opened her hand.

There was something black and yellow on her palm. She blew on it, and it unfolded its wings.

It was a butterfly.

Fate always wins ...

At least, when people stick to the rules.

According to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle, chaos is found in, greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.

This is the butterfly of the storms.

See the wings, slightly more ragged than those of the common fritillary. In reality, thanks to the fractal nature of the universe, this means that those ragged edges are infinite -- in the same way that the edge of any rugged coastline, when measured to the ultimate microscopic level, is infinitely long -- or, if not infinite, then at least so close to it that Infinity can be seen on a clear day.

*People are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles. When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that's a miracle. But of course if someone is killed by a freak chain of events -- the oil spilled just there, the safety fence broken just there --that must also be a miracle. Just because it's not nice doesn't mean it's not miraculous.

Excerpt from Maskerade

Chapter One

The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth.

Among the hissing furze bushes a fire blazed, the flames driven this way and that by the gusts.

An eldritch voice shrieked: "When shall we... two... meet again?"

Thunder rolled.

A rather more ordinary voice said: "What'd you go and shout that for? You made me drop my toast in the fire."

Nanny Ogg sat down again.

"Sorry, Esme. I was just doing it for... you know... old time's sake... Doesn't roll off the tongue, though."

"I'd just got it nice and brown, too."

"Sorry."

"Anyway, you didn't have to shout."

"Sorry."

"I mean, I ain't deaf. You could've just asked me in a normal voice. And I'd have said, 'Next Wednesday.'"

"Sorry, Esme."

"Just you cut me another slice."

Nanny Ogg nodded, and turned her head. "Magrat, cut Granny ano... oh. Mind wandering there for a minute. I'll do it myself, shall I?"

"Hah!" said Granny Weatherwax, staring into the fire.

There was no sound for a while but the roar of the wind and the sound of Nanny Ogg cutting bread, which she did with about as much efficiency as a man trying to chainsaw a mattress.

"I thought it'd cheer you up, coming up here," she said after a while.

"Really." It wasn't a question.

"Take you out of yourself, sort of thing..." Nanny went on, watching her friend carefully.

"Mm?" said Granny, still staring moodily at the fire.

Oh dear, thought Nanny. I shouldn't've said that.

The point was...well, the point was that Nanny Ogg was worried. Very worried. She wasn't at all sure that her friend wasn't well going well, sort of... in a manner of speaking... well... black...

She knew it happened, with the really powerful ones. And Granny Weatherwax was pretty damn powerful. She was probably an even more accomplished witch now than the infamous Black Aliss, and everyone knew what had happened to her at the finish. Pushed into her own stove by a couple of kids, and everyone said it was a damn good thing, even if it took a whole week to clean the oven.

But Aliss, up until that terrible day, had terrorized the Ramtops. She'd become so good at magic that there wasn't room in her head for anything else.

They said weapons couldn't pierce her. Swords bounced off her skin. They said you could hear her mad laughter a mile off, and of course, while mad laughter was always part of a witch's stock-in-trade in necessary circumstances, this was insane mad laughter, the worst kind. And she turned people into gingerbread and had a house made of frogs. It had been very nasty, toward the end. It always was, when a witch went bad.

Sometimes, of course, they didn't go bad. They just went... somewhere.

Granny's intellect needed something to do. She did not take kindly to boredom. She'd take to her bed instead and send her mind out Borrowing, inside the head of some forest creature, listening with its ears, seeing with its eyes. That was all very well for general purposes, but she was too good at it. She could stay away longer than anyone Nanny Ogg had ever heard of.

One day, almost certainly, she wouldn't bother to come back... and this was the worst time of the year, with the geese honking and rushing across the sky every night, and the autumn air crisp and inviting. There was something terribly tempting about that.

Nanny Ogg reckoned she knew what the cause of the problem was.

She coughed.

"Saw Magrat the other day," she ventured, looking sidelong at Granny.

There was no reaction.

"She's looking well. Queening suits her."

"Hmm?"

Nanny groaned inwardly. If Granny couldn't even be bothered to make a nasty remark, then she was really missing Magrat.

Nanny Ogg had never believed it at the start, but Magrat Garlick, wet as a sponge though she was half the time, had been dead right about one thing.

Three was a natural number for witches.

And they'd lost one. Well, not lost, exactly. Magrat was queen now, and queens were hard to mislay. But... that meant that there were only two of them instead of three.

When you had three, you had one to run around getting people to make up when there'd been a row. Magrat had been good for that. Without Magrat, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax got on one another's nerves. With her, all three had been able to get on the nerves of absolutely everyone else in the whole world, which had been a lot more fun.

And there was no having Magrat back... at least, to be precise about it, there was no having Magrat back yet.

Because, while three was a good number for witches... it had to be the right sort of three. The right sort of... types.

Nanny Ogg found herself embarrassed even to think about this, and this was unusual because embarrassment normally came as naturally to Nanny as altruism comes to a cat.

As a witch, she naturally didn't believe in any occult nonsense of any sort. But there were one or two truths down below the bedrock of the soul which had to be faced, and right in among them was this business of, well, of the maiden, the mother and the... other one.

Excerpt from Feet of Clay

Chapter One

It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.

A man opened it and peered out into the street. There was mist coming off the river and it was a cloudy night. He might as well have tried to see through white velvet.

But he thought afterwards that there had been shapes out there, just beyond the light spilling out into the road. A lot of shapes, watching him carefully. He thought maybe there'd been very faint points of light ...

There was no mistaking the shape right in front of him, though. It was big and dark red and looked like a child's clay model of a man. Its eyes were two embers.

"Well? What do you want at this time of night?"

The golem handed him a slate, on which was written:

WE HEAR YOU WANT A GOLEM.

Of course golems couldn't speak could they?

"Hah. Want, yes. Afford, no. I've been asking around but it's wicked the prices you're going for these days . . ."

The golem rubbed the words off the slate and wrote:

TO YOU, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

"You're for sale?"

NO.

The golem lurched aside. Another one stepped into the fight.

It was also a golem, the man could see that. But it wasn't like the usual lumpen clay things that you occasionally saw. This one gleamed like a newly polished statue, perfect down to the detailing of the clothes. It reminded him of one of the old pictures of the city's lungs, all haughty stance and imperious haircut. In fact, it even had a small coronet molded on to its head.

"A hundred dollars?" the man said suspiciously. "What's wrong with it? Who selling it?"

NOTHING IS WRONG. PERFECT IN ALL DETAIL. NINETY DOLLARS.

"Sounds like someone wants to get rid of it in a hurry. . ."

GOLEM MUST WORK. GOLEM MUST HAVE A MASTER.

"Yeah, right, but you hear stories ... Going mad and making too many things, and that."

NOT MAD. EIGHTY DOLLARS.

"it looks ... new," said the man, tapping the gleaming chest. "But no one's making golems any more, that's what's keeping the price up beyond the purse of the small business-" He stopped. "Is someone making them again?

EIGHTY DOLLARS.

"I heard the priests banned making 'em years ago. A man could get in a lot of trouble."

SEVENTY DOLLARS.

"Who's doing it?"

SIXTY DOLLARS.

"Is he selling them to Albertson? Or Spadger and Williams? It's hard enough competing as it is, and they've got the money to invest in new plant-"

FIFTY DOLLARS.

The man walked around the golem. "A man can't sit by and watch his company collapse under him because of unfair price cutting, I mean to say...

FORTY DOLLARS.

"Religion is all very well, but what do prophets know about profits, eh? Hmm..." He looked up at the shapeless golem in the shadows. "Was that thirty dollars I just saw you write?"

YES.

"I've always liked dealing wholesale. Wait one moment." He went back inside and returned with a handful of coins. "Will you be selling any to them other bastards?"

NO.

"Good. Tell your boss it's a pleasure to do business with him. Get along inside, Sunny Jim."

The white golem walked into the factory. The man, glancing from side to side, trotted in after it and shut the door.

Deeper shadows moved in the dark. There was a faint hissing. Then, rocking slightly, the big heavy shapes moved away.

Shortly afterwards, and around the comer, a beggar holding out a hopeful hand for alms was amazed to find himself suddenly richer by a whole thirty dollars.

The Discworld turned against the glittering backdrop of space, spinning very gently on the backs of the four giant elephants that perched on the shell of Great A'Tuin the star turtle. Continents drifted slowly past, topped by weather systems that themselves turned gently against the flow, like waltzers spinning counter to the whirl of the dance. A billion tons of geography rolled slowly through the sky.

People look down on stuff like geography and meteorology, and not only because they're standing on one and being soaked by the other. They don't look quite like real science. But geography is only physics slowed down and with a few trees stuck on it, and is full of excitingly fashionable chaos and complexity. And summer isn't a time. It's a place as well. Summer is a moving creature and likes to go south for the winter.

Even on the Discworld, with its tiny orbiting sun tilting over the turning world, the seasons moved. In Ankh-Morpork, greatest of its cities, spring was nudged aside by summer, and summer was prodded in the back by autumn.

Geographically speaking, there was not a lot of difference within the city itself, although in later spring the scum on the river was often a nice emerald green. The mist of spring became the fog of autumn, which mixed with fumes and smoke from the magical quarter and the workshops of the alchemists until it seemed to have a thick, choking fife of its own.

And time moved on.

Autumn fog pressed itself against the midnight windowpanes.

Blood ran in a trickle across the pages of a rare volume of religious essays, which had been torn in half.

There had been no need for that, thought Father Tubelcek.

A further thought suggested that there had been no need to hit him either. But Father Tubelcek had never been very concerned about that sort of thing. People healed, books didn't. He reached out shakily and tried to gather up the pages, but slumped back again.

The room was spinning.

The door swung open. Heavy footsteps creaked across the floor - one footstep at least, and one dragging noise.

Step. Drag. Step. Drag.

Father Tubelcek tried to focus. "You?" he croaked.

Excerpt from Hogfather

Chapter One

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder aloud how the snowplow driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of the words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, raveling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that here, here, is the point where it all began ...

Something began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things differently from other people was in seeing other people as things (later, Lord Downey of the Guild said, "We took pity on him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that").

But it was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving*), and then wondered where the stories went.

And earlier still when something in the darkness of the deepest caves and gloomiest forests thought: what are they, these creatures? I will observe them ...

* That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids.

And much, much earlier than that, when the Discworld was formed, drifting onward through space atop four elephants on the shell of the giant turtle, Great A'Tuin.

Possibly, as it moves, it gets tangled like a blind man in a cobwebbed house in those highly specialized little space-time strands that try to breed in every history they encounter, stretching them and breaking them and tugging them into new shapes.

Or possibly not, of course. The philosopher Didactylos has summed up an alternative hypothesis as "Things just happen. What the hell."

The senior wizards of Unseen University stood and looked at the door.

There was no doubt that whoever had shut it wanted it to stay shut. Dozens of nails secured it to the door frame. Planks had been nailed right across. And finally it had, up until this morning, been hidden by a bookcase that had been put in front of it.

"And there's the sign, Ridcully," said the Dean. "You have read it, I assume. You know? The sign which says 'Do not, under any circumstances, open this door'?"

"Of course I've read it," said Ridcully. "Why d'yer think I want it opened?"

"Er ... why?" said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.

"To see why they wanted it shut, of course."*

* This exchange contains almost all you need to know about human civilization. At least, those bits of it that are now under the sea, fenced off or still smoking.

He gestured to Modo, the University's gardener and odd-job dwarf, who was standing by with a crowbar.

"Go to it, lad."

The gardener saluted. "Right you are, sir."

Against a background of splintering timber, Ridcully went on: "It says on the plans that this was a bathroom. There's nothing frightening about a bathroom, for gods' sake. I want a bathroom. I'm fed up with sluicing down with you fellows. It's unhygienic. You can catch stuff. My father told me that. Where you get lots of people bathing together, the Verruca Gnome is running around with his little sack."

"Is that like the Tooth Fairy?" said the Dean sarcastically.

"I'm in charge here and I want a bathroom of my own," said Ridcully firmly. "And that's all there is to it, all right? I want a bathroom in time for Hogswatchnight, understand?"

And that's a problem with beginnings, of course. Sometimes, when you're dealing with occult realms that have quite a different attitude to time, you get the effect a little way before the cause.

From somewhere on the edge of hearing came a glingleglingleglingle noise, like little silver bells.

At about the same time as the Archchancellor was laying down the law, Susan Sto-Helit was sitting up in bed, reading by candlelight.

Frost patterns curled across the windows.

She enjoyed these early evenings. Once she had put the children to bed she was more or less left to herself. Mrs. Gaiter was pathetically scared of giving her any instructions even though she paid Susan's wages.

Not that the wages were important, of course. What was important was that she was being her Own Person and holding down a Real Job. And being a governess was a real job. The only tricky bit had been the embarrassment when her employer found out that she was a duchess, because in Mrs. Gaiter's book, which was a rather short book with big handwriting, the upper crust wasn't supposed to work. It was supposed to loaf around. It was all Susan could do to stop her curtseying when they met.

A flicker made her turn her head.

The candle flame was streaming out horizontally, as though in a howling wind.

She looked up. The curtains billowed away from the window, which flung itself open with a clatter.

But there was no wind.

At least, no wind in this world.

Images formed in her mind. A red ball ... The sharp smell of snow ... And then they were gone, and instead there were ...

"Teeth?" said Susan, aloud. "Teeth, again?"

She blinked. When she opened her eyes the window was, as she knew it would be, firmly shut. The curtain hung demurely. The candle flame was innocently upright. Oh, no, not again. Not after all this time. Everything had been going so well --

Excerpt from Jingo

Chapter One

It was a moonless night, which was good for the purposes of Solid Jackson.

He fished for Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about them.

Shortly after they got curious about the lantern that Solid had hung over the stern of his boat, they started to become curious about the way in which various of their number suddenly vanished skyward with a splash.

Some of them even became curious -- very briefly curious -- about the sharp barbed thing that was coming very quickly toward them.

The Curious Squid were extremely curious. Unfortunately, they weren't very good at making connections.

It was a very long way to this fishing ground, but for Solid the trip was usually well worth it. The Curious Squid were very small, harmless, difficult to find and reckoned by connoisseurs to have the foulest taste of any creature in the world. This made them very much in demand in a certain kind of restaurant where highly skilled chefs made, with great care, dishes containing no trace of the squid whatsoever.

Solid Jackson's problem was that tonight, a moonless night in the spawning season, when the squid were especially curious about everything, the chef seemed to have been at work on the sea itself.

There was not a single interested eyeball to be seen. There weren't any other fish either, and usually there were a few attracted to the light. He'd caught sight of one. It had been making through the water extremely fast in a straight line.

He laid down his trident and walked to the other end of the boat, where his son Les was also gazing intently at the torch-lit sea.

"Not a thing in half an hour," said Solid.

"You sure we're in the right spot, Dad?"

Solid squinted at the horizon. There was a faint glow in the sky that indicated the city of Al-Khali, on the Klatchian coast. He turned round. The other horizon glowed, too, with the lights of Ankh-Morpork. The boat bobbed gently halfway between the two.

"'Course we are," he said, but certainty edged away from his words. Because there was a hush on the sea. It didn't look right. The boat rocked a little, but that was with their movement, not from any motion of the waves. It felt as if there was going to be a storm. But the stars twinkled softly and there was not a cloud in the sky.

The stars twinkled on the surface of the water, too. Now that was something you didn't often see.

"I reckon we ought to be getting out of here," Solid said.

Les pointed at the slack sail. "What're we going to use for wind, Dad?"

It was then that they heard the splash of oars.

Solid, squinting hard, could just make out the shape of another boat, heading toward him. He grabbed his boat-hook.

"I knows that's you, you thieving foreign bastard!"

The oars stopped. A voice sang over the water.

"May you be consumed by a thousand devils, you damned person!"

The other boat glided closer. It looked foreign with eyes painted on the prow.

"Fished 'em all out, have you? I'll take my trident to you, you bottom-feedin' scum that y'are!"

"My curvy sword at your neck, you unclean son of a dog of the female persuasion!"

Les looked over the side. Little bubbles fizzed on the surface of the sea.

"Dad?" he said.

"That's Greasy Arif out there!" snapped his father. "You take a good look at him! He's been coming out here for years, stealing our squid, the evil lying little devil!"

"Dad there's--"

"You get on them oars and I'll knock his black teeth out!"

Les could hear a voice saying from the other boat "-see, my son, how the underhanded fish thief--"

"Row!" his father shouted.

"To the oars!" shouted someone in the other boat.

"Whose squid are they, Dad?" said Les.

"Ours!"

"What, even before we've caught them?"

"Just you shut up and row!"

"I can't move the boat, Dad, we' re stuck on something!"

"It's a hundred fathoms deep here, boy! What's there to stick on?"

Les tried to disentangle an oar from the thing rising slowly out of the fizzing sea.

"Looks like a ... a chicken, Dad!"

There was a sound from below the surface. It sounded like some bell or gong, slowly swinging.

"Chickens can't swim!"

"It's made of iron, Dad!"

Solid scrambled to the rear of the boat.

It was a chicken, made of iron. Seaweed and shells covered it and water dripped off it as it rose against the stars.

It stood on a cross-shaped perch.

There seemed to be a letter on each of the four ends of the cross.

Solid held the torch closer.

"What the--"

Then he pulled the oar free and sat down beside his son.

"Row like the blazes, Les!"

"What's happening, Dad?"

"Shut up and row! Get us away from it!"

"Is it a monster, Dad?"

"It's worse than a monster, son!" shouted Solid, as the oars bit into the water.

The thing was quite high now, standing on some kind of tower ... "What is it, Dad! What is it?"

"It's a damned weathercock."

There was not, on the whole, a lot of geological excitement. The sinking of continents is usually accompanied by volcanoes, earthquakes and armadas of little boats containing old men anxious to build pyramids and mystic stone circles in some new land where being the possessor of genuine ancient occult wisdom might be expected to attract girls. But the rising of this one caused barely a ripple in the purely physical scheme of things. It more or less sidled back, like a cat who's been away for a few days and knows you've been worrying.

Around the shores of the Circle Sea a large wave, only five or six feet high by the time it reached them, caused some comment.

Excerpt from The Last Continent

Chapter One

Against the stars a turtle passes, carrying four elephants on its shell.

Both turtle and elephants are bigger than people might expect, but out between the stars the difference between huge and tiny is, comparatively speaking, very small.

But this turtle and these elephants are, by turtle and elephant standards, big. They carry the Discworld, with its vast lands, cloudscapes, and oceans.

People don't live on the Disc any more than, in less hand-crafted parts of the multiverse, they live on balls. Oh, planets may be the place where their body eats its tea, but they live elsewhere, in worlds of their own which orbit very handily around the center of their heads.

When gods get together they tell the story of one particular planet whose inhabitants watched, with mild interest, huge continent-wrecking slabs of ice slap into another world which was in astronomical terms, right next door -- and then did nothing about it because that sort of thing only happens in Outer Space. An intelligent species would at least have found someone to complain to. Anyway, no one seriously believes in that story, because a race quite that stupid would never even have discovered slood.

People believe in all sorts of other things, though. For example, there are some people who have a legend that the whole universe is carried in a leather bag by an old man.

They're right, too.

Other people say: hold on, if he's carrying the entire universe in a sack, right, that means he's carrying himself and the sack inside the sack, because the universe contains everything. Including him. And the sack, of course. Which contains him and the sack already. As it were.

To which the reply is: well?

All tribal myths are true, for a given value of "true."

It is a general test of the omnipotence of a god that they can see the fall of a tiny bird. But only one god makes notes, and a few adjustments, so that next time it can fall faster and further.

We may find out why.

We might find out why mankind is here, although that is more complicated and begs the question "Where else should we be?" It would be terrible to think that some impatient deity might part the clouds and say, "Damn, are you lot still here? I thought you discovered slood ten thousand years ago! I've got ten trillion tons of ice arriving on Monday!"

We may even find out why the duck-billed platypus.

Snow, thick and wet, tumbled on to the lawns and roofs of Unseen University, the Discworld's premier college of magic.

It was sticky snow, which made the place look like some sort of expensive yet tasteless ornament, and it caked around the boots of McAbre, the Head Bledlow, as he trudged through the cold, wild night.

Two other bledlows stepped out of the lee of a buttress and fell in behind him on a solemn march towards the main gates.

It was an old custom, centuries old, and in the summer a few tourists would hang around to watch it, but the Ceremony of the Keys went on every night in every season. Mere ice, wind and snow had never stopped it. Bledlows in times gone past had clam-bered over tentacled monstrosities to do the Ceremony; they'd waded through floodwater, flailed with their bowler hats at errant pigeons, harpies and dragons, and ignored mere faculty members who'd thrown open their bedroom windows and screamed imprecations on the lines of "Stop that damn racket, will you? What's the point?" They'd never stopped, or even thought of stopping. You couldn't stop Tradition. You could only add to it.

The three men reached the shadows by the main gate, almost blotted out in the whirling snow. The bledlow on duty was waiting for them.

"Halt! Who Goes There?" he shouted.

McAbre saluted. "The Archchancellor's Keys!"

"Pass, The Archchancellor's Keys!"

The Head Bledlow took a step forward, extended both arms in front of him with his palms bent back towards him, and patted his chest at the place where some bledlow long buried had once had two breast pockets. Pat, pat. Then he extended his arms by his sides and stiffly patted the sides of his jacket. Pat, pat.

"Damn! Could Have Sworn I Had Them A Moment Ago!" he bellowed, enunciating each word with a sort of bulldog carefulness.

The gatekeeper saluted. McAbre saluted.

"Have You Looked In All Your Pockets?"

McAbre saluted. The gatekeeper saluted. A small pyramid of snow was building up on his bowler hat.

"I Think I Must Have Left Them On The Dresser. It's Always The Same, Isn't It?"

"You Should Remember Where You Put Them Down!"

"Hang On, Perhaps They're In My Other Jacket!"

The young bledlow who was this week's Keeper of the Other Jacket stepped forward. Each man saluted the other two. The youngest cleared his throat and managed to say:

"No, I Looked In ... There This ... Morning!"

McAbre gave him a slight nod to acknowledge a difficult job done well, and patted his pockets again.

"Hold On, Stone The Crows, They Were In This Pocket After All! What A Muggins I Am!"

"Don't Worry, I Do The Same Myself!"

"Is My Face Red! Forget My Own Head Next!"

Somewhere in the darkness a window creaked up.

"Er, excuse me, gentlemen--"

"Here's The Keys, Then!" said McAbre, raising his voice.

"Much Obliged!"

"I wonder if you could--" the querulous voice went on, apologizing for even thinking of complaining.

"All Safe And Secure" shouted the gatekeeper, handing the keys back.

"-- perhaps keep it down a little --"

"Gods Bless All Present!" screamed McAbre, veins standing out on his thick crimson neck.

"Careful Where You Put Them This Time. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Ho! Ho! Ho!" yelled McAbre, beside himself with fury. He saluted stiffly, went About Turn with an unnecessarily large amount of foot stamping and the ancient exchange completed, marched back to the bledlows' lodge muttering under his breath.

Excerpt from Carpe Jugulum

Chapter One

Through the shredded black clouds a fire moved like a dying star, falling back to earth --the earth, that is, of the Discworld -- but unlike any star had ever done before, it sometimes managed to steer its fall, sometimes rising, sometimes twisting, but inevitably heading down.
Snow glowed briefly on the mountain slopes when it crackled overhead.
Under it, the land itself started to fall away. The fire was reflected off walls of blue ice as the light dropped into the beginnings of a canyon and thundered now through its twists and turns.
The light snapped off. Something still glided down the moonlit ribbon between the rocks.

It shot out of the canyon at the top of a cliff, where meltwater from a glacier plunged down into a distant pool.
Against all reason there was a valley here, or a network of valleys, clinging to the edge of the mountains before the long fall to the plains. A small lake gleamed in the warmer air. There were forests. There were tiny fields, like a patchwork quilt thrown across the rocks.
The wind had died. The air was warmer.

The shadow began to circle.
Far below, unheeded and unheeding, something else was entering this little handful of valleys. It was hard to see exactly what it was; furze rippled, heather rustled, as if a very large army made of very small creatures was moving with one purpose.

The shadow reached a flat rock that offered a magnificent view of the fields and wood below, and there the army came out from among the roots. It was made up of very small blue men, some wearing pointy blue caps but most of them with their red hair uncovered. They carried swords. None of them was more than six inches high.
They lined up and looked down into the new place and then, weapons waving, raised a battle cry. It would have been more impressive if they'd all agreed on one before, but as it was it sounded as though every single small warrior had a battle cry of his very own and would fight anyone who tried to take it away from him.

"Nac mac Feegle!"
"Ach, stickit yer trakkans!"
"Gie you sich a kickin'!"
"Bigjobs!"
"Dere c'n onlie be whin t'ousand!"
"Nac mac Feegle wha hae!"
"Wha hae yersel, ya boggin!"

The little cup of valleys, glowing in the last shreds of evening sunlight, was the kingdom of Lancre. From its highest points, people said, you could see all the way to the rim of the world.

It was also said, although not by the people who lived in Lancre, that below the rim, where the seas thundered continuously over the edge, their home went through space on the back of four huge elephants that in turn stood on the shell of a turtle that was as big as the world.
The people of Lancre had heard of this. They thought it sounded about right. The world was obviously flat, although in Lancre itself the only truly flat places were tables and the top of some people's heads, and certainly turtles could shift a fair load. Elephants, by all accounts, were pretty strong too. There didn't seem any major gaps in the thesis, so Lancrastrians left it at that.

It wasn't that they didn't take an interest in the world around them. On the contrary, they had a deep, personal and passionate involvement in it, but instead of asking "why are we here?" they asked "is it going to rain before the harvest?"
A philosopher might have deplored this lack of mental ambition, but only if he was really certain about where his next meal was coming from.

In fact Lancre's position and climate bred a hard-headed and straightforward people who often excelled in the world down below. It had supplied the plains with many of their greatest wizards and witches and, once again, the philosopher might have marveled that such a four-square people could give the world so many successful magical practitioners, being quite unaware that only those with their feet on rock can build castles in the air.

And so the sons and daughters of Lancre went off into the world, carved out careers, climbed the various ladders of achievement, and always remembered to send money home.
Apart from noting the return addresses on the envelope, those who stayed didn't think much about the world outside.
The world outside thought about them, though.
The big flat-topped rock was deserted now, but on the moor below, the heather trembled in a V-shape heading toward the lowlands.

"Gin's a haddie!"
"Nac mac Feegle!"

There are many kinds of vampires. Indeed, it is said that there are as many kinds of vampires as there are types of disease. And they're not just human (if vampires are human). All along the Ramtops may be found the belief that any apparently innocent tool, be it hammer or saw, will seek blood if left unused for more than three years. In Ghat they believe in vampire watermelons, although folklore is silent about what they believe about vampire watermelons. Possibly they suck back.

Two things have traditionally puzzled vampire researchers. One is: why do vampires have so much power? Vampires're so easy to kill, they point out. There are dozens of ways to dispatch them, quite apart from the stake through the heart, which also works on normal people so if you have any stakes left over you don't have to waste them. Classically, they spent the day in some coffin somewhere, with no guard other than an elderly hunchback who doesn't look all that spry and should succumb to quite a small mob. Yet just one can keep a whole community in a state of sullen obedience . . .

The other puzzle is: why are vampires always so stupid? As if wearing evening dress all day wasn't an undead giveaway, why do they choose to live in old castles which offer so much in the way of ways to defeat a vampire, like easily torn curtains and wall decorations that can readily be twisted into a religious symbol?

Excerpt from The Fifth Elephant

Chapter One

They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.

They say that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.

They say that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split continents and raise mountains.

No one actually saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical point: When millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, but there is no one to hear it, does it - philosophically speaking - make a noise?

And if there was no one to see it hit, did it actually hit?

In other words, wasn't it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting natural occurrences?

As for the dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people, they say that there is a grain of truth in it.

On a clear day, from the right vantage point on the Ramtops, a watcher could see a very long way across the plains, If it was high rock and iron in their dead form, as they are now, but living rock and iron. The dwarfs have quite an inventive mythology about minerals, summer, they could count the columns of dust as the ox trains plodded on at a top speed of two miles an hour, each two pulling a train of two wagons carrying four tons each. Things took a long time to get anywhere, but when they did, there was certainly a lot of them.

To the cities of the Circle Sea they carried raw material, and sometimes people who were off to seek their fortune and a fistful of diamonds.

To the mountains they brought manufactured goods, rare things from across the oceans, and people who had found wisdom and a few scars.

There was usually a day's traveling between each convoy. They turned the landscape into an unrolled time machine. On a clear day, you could see last Tuesday.

Heliographs twinkled in the distant air as the columns flashed messages back and forth about bandit presence, cargoes and the best place to get double egg, treble chips and a steak that overhung the plate all around.

Lots of people traveled on the carts. It was cheap, it beat walking, and you got there eventually.

Some people traveled for free.

The driver of one wagon was having problems with his team. They were skittish. He'd expect this in the mountains, where all sorts of wild creatures might regard the oxen as a traveling meal. Here there was nothing more dangerous that cabbages, wasn't there?

Behind him, down in a narrow space between the loads of cut lumber, something slept. It was just another day in Ankh-Morpork ...

Sergeant Colon balanced on a shaky ladder at one end of the Brass Bridge, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares. He clung by one hand to the tall pole with the box on top of it, and with the other he held a homemade picture book up to the slot in the front of the box.

"And this is another sort of cart," he said. "Got it?"

"'S," said a very small voice from within the box.

"O-kay," said Colon, apparently satisfied. He dropped the book and pointed down the length of the bridge.

"Now, you see those two markers what has been painted across the cobbles?"

"And they mean ... ?"

"If-a-cart-g's-tween-dem-in-less'na-minute-'s-goin-too-fas'," the little voice parroted.

"Well done. And then you ... ?"

"Painta pic-cher."

"Taking care to show ... ?"

"Drivr's-face-or-cart-lisens."

"And if it's nighttime you ... ?"

"Use-der-sal'mander-to-make-it-brite ...

"Well done, Rodney. And one of us will come along every day and collect your pictures. Got everything you want?"

"What's that, Sergeant?"

Colon looked down at the very large, brown upturned face, and smiled.

"Afternoon, All," he said, climbing ponderously down the ladder. "What you're looking at, Mister Jolson, is the modern Watch for the new millenienienum ... num."

"'S a bit big, Fred," said All Jolson, looking at it critically. "I've seen lots of smaller ones."

"Watch as in City Watch, All."

"Ah, right."

"Anyone goes too fast around here and Lord Vetinari'll be looking at his picture next morning. The iconographs do not lie, All."

"Right, Fred. 'Cos they're too stupid."

"His Lordship's got fed up with carts speeding over the bridge, see, and asked us to do something about it. I'm Head of Traffic now, you know."

"Is that good, Fred?"

"I should just think so!" said Sergeant Colon expansively. "It's up to me to keep the, er, arteries of the city from clogging up, leadin' to a complete breakdown of commerce and ruination for us all. Most vital job there is, you could say."

"And it's just you doing it, is it?"

Excerpt from The Truth

Chapter One

The Rumor spread through the city like wildfire (which had quite often spread through Ankh-Morpork since its citizens had learned the words "fire insurance").The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...

It buzzed through the fetid air of the Alchemists' quarter, where they had been trying to do the same thing for centuries without success but were certain that they'd manage it by tomorrow, or next Tuesday at least, or the end of the month for definite.

It caused speculation among the wizards at Unseen University, where they knew you could turn one element into another element, provided you didn't mind it turning back again next day, and where was the good in that? Besides, most elements were happy where they were.

It seared into the scarred, puffy, and sometimes totally missing ears of the Thieves' Guild, where people put an edge on their crowbars. Who cared where the gold came from?

The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...

It reached the cold but incredibly acute ears of the Patrician, and it did that fairly quickly, because you did not stay ruler of Ankh-Morpork for long if you were second with the news. He sighed and made a note of it, and added it to a lot of other notes.

The dwarfs can turn lead into gold ...

It reached the pointy ears of the dwarfs.

"Can we?"

"Damned if I know. I can't."

"Yeah, but if you could, you wouldn't say. I wouldn't say, if I could."

"Can you?"

"No!

"Ah-ha!"

It came to the ears of the night watch of the city guards, as they did gate duty at ten o'clock on an icy night. Gate duty in Ankh-Morpork was not taxing. It consisted mainly of waving through anything that wanted to go through, although traffic was minimal in the dark and freezing fog.

They hunched in the shelter of the gate arch, sharing one damp cigarette.

"You can't turn something into something else," said Corporal Nobbs. "The Alchemists have been trying it for years."

"They a can gen'rally turn a house into a hole in the ground," said Sergeant Colon.

"That's what I'm talking about," said Corporal Nobbs. "Can't be done. It's all to do with ... elements. An alchemist told me. Everything's made up of elements, right? Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and ... sunnink. Well-known fact. Everything's got 'em all mixed up just right."

He stamped his feet in an effort to get some warmth into them.

"If it was possible to turn lead into gold, everyone'd be doing it," he said.

"Wizards could do it," said Sergeant Colon.

"Oh, well, magic," said Nobby dismissively.

A large cart rumbled out of the yellow clouds and entered the arch, splashing Colon as it wobbled through one of the puddles that were such a feature of Ankh-Morpork's highways.

"Bloody dwarfs," he said, as it continued on into the city. But he didn't say it too loudly.

"There were a lot of them pushing that cart," said Corporal Nobbs reflectively. It lurched slowly around a comer and was lost to view.

"Prob'ly all that gold," said Colon.

"Hah. Yeah. That'd be it, then."

And the rumor came to the ears of William de Worde, and in a sense it stopped there, because he dutifully wrote it down.

It was his job. Lady Margolotta of Uberwald sent him five dollars a month to do it. The Dowager Duchess of Quirm also sent him five dollars. So did King Verence of Lancre, and a few other Ramtop notables. So did the Seriph of AI-Khali, although in this case the payment was half a cartload of figs, twice a year.

All in all, he considered, he was onto a good thing. All he had to do was write one letter very carefully, trace it backwards onto a piece of boxwood provided for him by Mr. Cripslock, the engraver in the Street of Cunning Artificers, and then pay Mr. Cripslock twenty dollars to carefully remove the wood that wasn't letters and make five impressions on sheets of paper.

Of course, it had to be done thoughtfully, with spaces left after "To my Noble Client the," and so on, which he had to fill in later, but even deducting expenses it still left him the best part of thirty dollars for little more than one day's work a month.

A young man without too many responsibilities could live modestly in Ankh-Morpork on thirty or forty dollars a month; he always sold the figs, because although it was possible to live on figs you soon wished you didn't.

And there were always additional sums to be picked up here and there. The world of letters was a closed bo- mysterious papery object to many of Ankh-Morpork's citizens, but if they ever did need to commit things to paper quite a few of them walked up the creaky stairs past the sign "William de Worde: Things Written Down."

Dwarfs, for example. Dwarfs were always coming to seek work in the city, and the first thing they did was send a letter home saying how well they were doing. This was such a predictable occurrence, even if the dwarf in question was so far down on his luck that he'd been forced to eat his helmet, that William had Mr. Cripslock produce several dozen stock letters which only needed a few spaces filled in to be perfectly acceptable.

Excerpt from Thief of Time

Chapter 1

According to the First Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised, Wen stepped out of the cave where he had received enlightenment and into the dawning light of the first day of the rest of his life. He stared at the rising sun for some time, because he had never seen it before.

He prodded with a sandal the dozing form of Clodpool the Apprentice, and said: “I have seen. Now I understand.”

Then he stopped and looked at the thing next to Clodpool.

“What is that amazing thing?” he said.

“Er . . . er . . . it's a tree, master,” said Clodpool, still not quite awake. “Remember? It was there yesterday.”

“There was no yesterday.”

“Er . . . er . . . I think there was, master,” said Clodpool, struggling to his feet. “Remember? We came up here, and I cooked a meal, and had the rind off your sklang because you didn't want it.”

“I remember yesterday,” said Wen, thoughtfully. “But the memory is in my head now. Was yesterday real? Or is it only the memory that is real? Truly, yesterday I was not born.”

Clodpool's face became a mask of agonized incomprehension.

“Dear stupid Clodpool, I have learned everything,” said Wen. “In the cup of the hand there is no past, no future. There is only now. There is no time but the present. We have a great deal to do.”

Clodpool hesitated. There was something new about his master. There was a glow in his eyes and, when he moved, there were strange silvery-blue lights in the air, like reflections from liquid mirrors.

“She has told me everything,” Wen went on. “I know that time was made for men, not the other way around. I have learned how to shape it and bend it. I know how to make a moment last forever, because it already has. And I can teach these skills even to you, Clodpool. I have heard the heartbeat of the universe. I know the answers to many questions. Ask me.”

The apprentice gave him a bleary look. It was too early in the morning for it to be early in the morning. That was the only thing that he currently knew for sure.“Er . . . what does master want for breakfast?” he said.

Wen looked down from their camp, and across the snowfields and purple mountains to the golden daylight creating the world, and mused upon certain aspects of humanity.

“Ah,” he said. “One of the difficult ones.”

*****

For something to exist, it has to be observed.

For something to exist, it has to have a position in time and space.

And this explains why nine-tenths of the mass of the universe is unaccounted for.

Nine-tenths of the universe is the knowledge of the position and direction of everything in the other tenth. Every atom has its biography, every star its file, every chemical exchange its equivalent of the inspector with a clipboard. It is unaccounted for because it is doing the accounting for the rest of it, and you cannot see the back of your own head.*

Nine-tenths of the universe, in fact, is the paperwork. And if you want the story, then remember that a story does not unwind. It weaves. Events that start in different places and different times all bear down on that one tiny point in space-time, which is the perfect moment.

Suppose an emperor was persuaded to wear a new suit of clothes whose material was so fine that, to the common eye, the clothes weren't there. And suppose a little boy pointed out this fact in a loud clear voice . . .

Then you have The Story Of The Emperor Who Had No Clothes.

But if you knew a bit more, it would be The Story Of The Boy Who Got A Well-Deserved Thrashing From His Dad For Being Rude To Royalty, And Was Locked Up.

Or The Story Of The Whole Crowd That Was Rounded Up By The Guards And Told “This Didn't Happen, Okay? Does Anyone Want To Argue?”

Or it could be a story of how a whole kingdom suddenly saw the benefits of the “new clothes,” and developed an enthusiasm for healthy sports in a lively and refreshing atmosphere that gets many new adherents every year, which led to a recession caused by the collapse of the conventional clothing industry.

It could even be a story about The Great Pneumonia Epidemic of '09.

It all depends on how much you know.

Suppose you'd watched the slow accretion of snow over thousands of years as it was compressed and pushed over the deep rock until the glacier calved its icebergs into the sea, and you watched an iceberg drift out through the chilly waters, and you got to know its cargo of happy polar bears and seals as they looked forward to a brave new life in the other hemisphere where they say the ice floes are lined with crunchy penguins, and then wham'tragedy loomed in the shape of thousands of tons of unaccountably floating iron and an exciting soundtrack . . .

. . . you'd want to know the whole story.

And this one starts with desks.

This is the desk of a professional. It is clear that their job is their life. There are . . . human touches, but they are the human touches that strict usage allows in a chilly world of duty and routine.

Mostly they're on the only piece of real color in this picture of blacks and grays. It's a coffee mug. Someone somewhere wanted to make it a jolly mug. It bears a rather unconvincing picture of a teddy bear, and the legend “To The World's Greatest Grandad,” and the slight change in the style of lettering on the word “Grandad” makes it clear that this has come from one of those stalls that have hundreds of mugs like these, declaring that they're for the world's greatest Grandad/Dad/Mum/Granny/Uncle/Aunt/Blank. Only someone whose life contains very little else, one feels, would treasure a piece of gimcrackery like this.

It currently holds tea, with a slice of lemon.

The bleak desktop also contains a paper knife in the shape of a scythe, and a number of hourglasses.

Death picks up the mug in a skeletal hand . . .

. . . and took a sip, pausing only to look again at the wording he'd seen thousands of times before, and then put it down.

Top

Subsections

Index


How to buy stuff not listed on SP and still give SP credit


Sorcerer's Place Book Reviews


Series:

D&D PnP Books
(p. 2, 3)


Dragonlance
(p. 2, 3, 4)


Dungeons & Dragons


Eberron


Forgotten Realms
(p. 2, 3)


Greyhawk


Planescape


Authors:

Anthony, Piers


Eddings, David


Erikson, Steven


Gemmell, David


Goodkind, Terry


Hobb, Robin


Jordan, Robert


Lewis, C. S.


Martin, George R. R.


Paolini, Christopher


Pratchett, Terry
(p. 2)


Pullman, Philip


Rowling, J. K.


Tolkien, J. R. R. (p. 2)


Miscellaneous Books




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