The Truth - Terry Pratchett

Here we go again, maybe slightly earlier than expected: Another Discworld book.

Having worked through all the Vimes books, this is my foray into the industrial revolution books. It's time-travel back to somewhat earlier in the series, the novel that followed The Fifth Elephant. The plot is a bit less weavy than some of the others I've read recently, consisting of William de Worde creating the newspaper, and a plan to depose Vetinari featuring some suspiciously Kray-brothers-like characters.

The attempt to overthrow Vetinari feels a little cookie-cutter, not unlike the poisoning in Feet of Clay, or the dragon in Guards, Guards. Vetinari remains surprisingly passive and comes out ok, again. I guess it's his indirect approach, but generally... Vetinari feels less developed in this book than the Watch books. Similarly, Vimes has a rather different feel.

To be honest, I'm not sure if this is deliberate or not - I wouldn't put it past Pratchett. The Watch books take the view of Vimes, and his view of the Patrician. This book, from the point of view of William de Worde, see Vimes and the Patrician as an outsider might, and that puts a different spin on things. So maybe it's deliberate.

This is the first book to really focus on change happening. The improvement of the Watch has been the slow-burn, background change in the ways of Ankh-Morpork. The Clacks then sidled in, representing the introduction of the information economy, without being in the foreground. This book, finally, brings Change to the foreground, with moveable type replacing engraving (with the permission of the Patrician).

I find this extremely notable because earlier books raised the threat of beings from the Dungeon Dimensions appearing whenever earth-like technologies risked emerging. It's a pivotal moment, and the change in philosophy is significant. I think it represents Terry becoming confident enough with the world to let it evolve. The irony is clearly not lost on Pratchett - he has the Patrician turn up to question William de Worde about the magical risks of the press, specifically name-checking the events of Moving Pictures and Soul Music!

As usual, Terry uses the novel to put out a thesis on the book's theme: Here, it's much about the simultaneous power and banality of The News, the credulity of the public, and the somewhat liquid nature of "Truth" in the press. William de Worde is an enjoyable, if not particularly pleasant character, strongly driven by a sense of... something he's not entirely clear on, but he knows he's right. He makes a great Stereotypical Editor, and simultaneously has a powerful belief in telling the truth, and doing so in a way that stretches the truth right to its breaking point.

This book also introduces Otto von Chriek, a rather good vampire who also crops up from time to time later in the series. Lots of the regular characters get a look-in, and it does feel like a regular Discworld novel. However, it's a little... pedestrian. I felt the tension never really rises (and resolves), in the way that it does in a number of the others. I'm not sure why that is - perhaps Terry is still finding his feet in a world where change happens? Is this a weakness with the structure of the industrial revolution novels? It's not a problem with late Discworld books, since I didn't feel this was a problem with the later Watch novels. I guess I'll find out as I read the others.

When it comes down to it, mediocre Discworld is still good. I would also say this book is several notches above how I felt about e.g. Jingo - it just doesn't match books like Snuff. Onward to the industrial revolution!

Posted 2021-07-28.