It's autumn, which must mean it's time for a new Terry Pratchett book. Now that I'm caught up with the old ones, I must admit this yearly wait is very agonizing. So when I finally got my hands on Going Postal, I was almost drooling. Thankfully I didn't drool all over the pages, but I could have! The good thing is that Pratchett made it well worth the wait. A bit of dragging in the middle couldn't keep me from saying this is yet another wonderful book.
Moist Van Lipwig (don't laugh) is a con man at the end of his rope. Literally. However, he doesn't hang from the rope for long enough to kill him, just long enough for his various aliases to die. He is then whisked to the office of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Vetinari. Vetinari is his guardian angel, giving him two choices: get the long-abandoned Ankh-Morpork Post Office up and running, or walk out the door behind him. Since Moist knows what awaits him outside that door (or, better yet, what doesn't await him, like a floor), he chooses the first option. Of course, he doesn't do it completely willingly. He has a golem guarding him, willing to track him down however far he runs if he should do so. Moist shows up at the Post Office to find it almost buried in old letters, some as old as a hundred years. However, letters speak, and letters that are put together into sentences and put onto paper speak even more. They speak to Moist of their desire to get to where they are supposed to have gone. As Moist begins to make the Post Office more and more of a success, the conglomerate running the Clacks system into the ground becomes very interested. The Clacks are a series of towers stretching from one city to another so that messages can be sent quickly. Can the power of the Post ever beat the power of electronics?
Once again, Pratchett makes wry observations about the human condition and writes a very amusing story around it. As time has gone on, Pratchett has avoided doing parody and instead takes a modern day situation and turns it just enough on its head for it to be funny and speak to the reader. It's yet another book (like The Truth) that has one man start up something that exists in our world but doesn't exist (or, in this case, hasn't for some time) on the Discworld. In this case, it's the Post Office. Some have seen a parallel to the telegraph as far as the Clacks are concerned, but I almost see it as more of an email thing. I think that also makes the book more timely, as the whole "mail versus email" contrast is a real issue. People complain that nobody writes letters anymore when they can just send an email.
However, this is not a book that demonizes the Clacks. It's actually about power corrupting ruthless businessmen who will do anything for control. The Clacks company was taken over (stolen would be more appropriate) by a group of men who will do anything for money. Yes, it's the evil businessmen again, which is getting old but it's something that Pratchett has avoided until now, so I'll forgive him. It's also a novel about the human quality of hope. Moist, in his past as a con man, has used that hope to further his schemes. He ends up using that hope for the good in this book as he finds himself actually doing what's right for a change.
The characters are all wonderful as usual. Moist is a man torn between his previous self and the person he seems to be becoming. He keeps thinking about running away, but he doesn't. In fact, he ends up using his abilities for the Post Office instead of his own greedy needs. Miss Adora Bell Dearheart is probably the best character in the book. She's an advocate for Golem rights, and she is steely on the outside. She's used to protecting herself and not allowing anybody in. Moist wants nothing but to worm his way underneath that stony exterior. Watching these two interact is a highlight of the book. The other characters are also winners, but especially Vetinari. He is as devious as ever, a benevolent tyrant (and aren't those the best kind?) who will do anything for the good of the city that he runs. Watching his mind work is a treat.
Other than Vetinari, Going Postal doesn't feature any of the older characters, but there are some scenes with various others from previous books, from a couple of wizards to a scene or two with some of the City Watch. Thankfully, Pratchett's ability to create compelling characters means that these characters stand on their own two feet and the cameos are good enough.
The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it does drag in the middle. At least it did for me. I can't put a specific place to it, but the pace just seemed to dip. It quickly picked up, though, and the last eighty pages are a real treat as Moist challenges Gilt (the head of the Clacks consortium) to a race to see who can get a message to Genua, two thousand miles away. The pace is frenetic here, and the end result is wonderfully done.
There are a couple of oddities in this one, and while I'm sure they are intentional, I'm not sure what those intentions are. First, there are actually chapters, which don't exist in Pratchett books besides the young readers series (Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky). Secondly, these chapters have short little teaser sub-headings before the chapter actually starts. These take a bit of getting used to, but they actually work out really well.
This is definitely a must read for any Pratchett fan. It's also a book that can be read by almost anybody. The social commentary is wonderful, the writing and wit has to be seen to be believed, and it's just an enjoyable book.