Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

It's been a while since I've read some Discworld, but this popped up in a second-hand bookshop, so I took the opportunity. It's a funny one.

It's clearly Late Discworld. The appearance of modern football on the Discworld is not seen as a risk that may call forth the Dungeon Dimensions, but something to be absorbed, like in the Moist von Lipwig books. Yet at the same time it doesn't at all feel modelled on our history, like in Making Money or Going Postal. Football is largely presented as organised violence, with plenty of hooliganism. Whether this is a commentary on Ankh-Morpork, or football, I don't know.

This kind of thing makes me wonder about why these subjects crop up in the Discworld. Is it because they've appeared on Earth, and the Discworld mirrors the Earth, or because the same concepts crop up across the multiverse? It never seems clear to me.

The rise of football is a little weird. Early on, you think it might be controlled by Vetinari, acting as Terry's stand-in within the universe to manipulate the plot into existing, but he denies repsonsibility. It seems to be some kind of magic, and there's a hint at the gods' involvement (and the religious experience of football), yet it never really comes to fruition.

Rincewind and the Luggage return as extremely minor characters, which is actually rather pleasant, since... I've got to admit, I never found them that great. The world was the initial attraction, and other characters have become favourites since. (Ironically, my favourites are Vimes and Vetinari, those who face their challenges head-on, unlikely the cowardly Rincewind!)

The book weaves together plots around football, fashion and the identity of the mysterious Mr. Nutt. The first two sub-plots are a little aimless and lack suspense, so the novel's really driven forward by Nutt's identity. The rest, well, it's just fun reading.

As always, there's plenty of that, with some lovely little jokes. Nutt, as the team manager, epitomises the deeply philosophical manager pulling complex meaning out of a popular sport. Elsewhere, the superhero trope is subtly mocked when a highly distinctive character is apparently completely disguised by a simple false beard. There are a billion jokes of greater and lesser subtlety.

In short, it's not particularly well put together, covering a subject I care little about in a lacklustre way. A mildly disappointing story in the hands of any other author, this was still pretty darn enjoyable.

Posted 2022-11-21.