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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Terry Pratchett
The Colour of Magic
Harper Collins

Rating: 9/10 ?

April 22, 1999
My favourite book? Well, of course I could go on about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings for ever and a day, but what is there to say about it that has not already been said - and elaborately so - by someone more eloquent than me? Right, not much. So what I'll do is tell you about my momentary all time-favourite English writer, Terry Pratchett.

If that name does not sound a bell, don't despair. He's been known on the English island for a while, but he hadn't broke into the literary consciousness of the continent until about two years ago. And I guess he's still working on a raft big enough to bring his books over the big lake to the United States.

What is there to say about the author? I'll just let him introduce himself and quote the author's description from his books:

Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 and is still not dead. He started work as a journalist one day in 1965 and saw his first corpse three hours later, work experience meaning something in those days. After doing just about every job it's possible to do in provincial journalism except of course covering Saturday afternoon football, he joined the Central Electricity Generating Board and became press officer for four nuclear power stations. He'd write a book about his experiences if he thought anyone would believe it.
All this came to an end in 1987 when it became obvious that the Discworld series was much more enjoyable than real work. Since then the books have reached double figures and have a regular place in the bestseller lists. He also writes books for younger readers. Occasionally he gets accused of literature.

Well, I guess you get the spirit. It's a blast to read his works; he writes fantasy, all right, but it's not the Conan the Barbarian style where an oiled-down Austrian giant starts sweating in the face of pronouncing words with more than two syllables. Pratchett is an astonishingly accurate observer of our own world and society, packing all the little unbelievably hilarious and astonishing experiences of our own into his fantastic extra-stellar worlds. It's not only fun to read, it makes you think sometimes as well. Not too terribly much, though; not nearly enough to take the fun out of it.

Let me tell you about the Discworld, the best way of doing such being to quote the prologue from the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic:

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and .....


Great A'Tuin the Turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly the Destination.

In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.

Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and star-tanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.

Astropsychology has been, as yet, unable to establish what they think about.

The Great Turtle was a mere hypothesis until the day the small and secretive kingdom of Krull, whose rim-most mountains project out over the Rimfall, built a gantry and pulley arrangement at the tip of the most precipitous crag and lowered several observers over the Edge in a quartz-windowed brass vessel to peer through the mist veils.

The early astrozoologists, hauled back from their long dangle by enormous teams of slaves, were able to bring back much information about the shape and nature of A'Tuin and the elephants but this did not resolve fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of the universe.

For example, what was A'Tuin's actual sex? This vital question, said the astrozoologists with mounting authority, would not be answered until a larger and more powerful gantry was constructed for a deep-space vessel. In the meantime they could only speculate about the revealed cosmos.

There was, for example, the theory that A'Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time. This theory was popular among academics.

An alternative, favoured by those of a religious persuasion, was that A'Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. when they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.

Thus it was that a young cosmochelonian of the Steady Gait faction, testing a new telescope with which he hoped to make measurements of the precise albedo of Great A'Tuin's right eye, was on this eventful evening the first to outsider to see the smoke rise hubward from the burning of the oldest city in the world.

Later that night he became so engrossed in his studies he completely forgot about it. Nevertheless, he was the first.

There were others...

And that's how the first of what, at the moment, is about 25 Discworld novels begins. I'm not going to tell you completely what it's about, as I don't want to spoil the fun of reading it. But I will allow myself to say that in the first novel, a formerly unknown species - the tourist - gets introduced to the inhabitants of the Discworld, that curious breed of humans which consider everything that has a suspect and scrabby air about it as "ethnic" or even "picturesque", and are completely oblivious to any sense of danger, because, after all, they're "not involved". And Rincewind, one of the most pathetically failed wizards of the disc, gets employed as a tourist guide, learning everything about enchanting topics like reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits or echo-gnomics on the way.

Did I already mention that magic plays quite an important role on the disc? What on our world is science, is magic on the disc. Take Rincewind's opinion about the tourist's picturebox, which is carried around everywhere, proudly snapped around his neck: "Even a failed wizard knew that some substances were sensitive to light. Perhaps the glass plates were treated by some arcane process that froze the light that passed through them? Something like that, anyway. Rincewind often suspected that there was something, somewhere, that was better than magic. He was usually disappointed."

But what is it that makes Pratchett so great to read? For one thing, it's of course the stories he writes. It's not just another of these dull jump-and-run-and-kill-the-dragon-and-save-the-girl kind of fantasy story. No, not at all. Pratchett's novels have got a strong philosophical air about them - and not just during those passages when death broods in capital letters about the sense of living. That's just one side. What really makes these books stand out is his special kind of humour. Everyone could write about what he writes about. But no one else could do it in just such a hilarious manner. It's just the way he puts things - taking a commonly normal thing, but describing it with such a twist that it is not an uncommon thing to be considered the madman around your place, sitting there, reading a book, and uncontrollably giggling.

I can't really describe it without giving you examples. So I'll just quote some of the shorter examples of Pratchett's second Discworld novel, The Light Fantastic. The first one is about the side effects of improperly used magic:

The cottage was in turmoil, because not only did the wizards want to follow the escapees, they also wanted to prevent each other from doing so, and this led to several regrettable incidents. The most spectacular, and certainly the most tragic, happened when one Seer attempted to use his seven league boots without the proper sequence of spells and preparations. Seven league boots, as has already been intimated, are a tricky form of magic at best, and he remembered too late that the utmost caution must be taken in using a means of transport which, when all is said and done, relies for its effectiveness on trying to put one foot twenty-one miles in front of the other.

Ouch. But let's take a look at some of the Discworld's numerous religious orders:

The druids of the Disc prided themselves on their forward-looking approach to the discovery of the mysteries of the Universe. Of course, like druids everywhere they believed in the essential unity of all life, the healing power of plants, the natural rhythm of the seasons and the burning alive of anyone who didn't approach all this in the right frame of mind, but they had also thought long and hard about the very basis of creation and had formulated the following theory:

The universe, they said, depended for its operation on the balance of four forces, which they identified as charm, persuasion, uncertainty and bloody-mindedness.

Thus it was that the sun and moon orbited the Disc because they were persuaded not to fall down, but didn't actually fly away because of uncertainty. Charm allowed trees to grow and bloody-mindedness kept them up, and so on. Some druids suggested that there were certain flaws in this theory, but senior druids explained very pointedly that there was indeed room for informed argument, the cut and thrust of exciting scientific debate, and basically it lay on top of the next solstice bonfire.

Small excerpts won't be able to give you a good picture of Pratchett's work. Get to the next good bookstore or library and pick up a handful of his novels. Most of his Discworld series can be read as stand-alone volumes, just the first two are kind of connected. But I would still recommend reading them in the order of publication, just because it's a nicer experience when running into characters introduced in earlier books. It's not that you won't get the story if you don't read them in a certain order. It's just that you'll get a lot more out of them if you do. So start with the first two novels, The Colour of Magic, and The Light Fantastic, and then start working your way through the rest of his books, like Equal Rites, Mort, Sorcery, and so on. C check them out, get an impression, but most of all: have a lot of fun reading his books. Terry Pratchett is the perfect summer reading.

Reviewed by Samuel Klaus
Samuel Klaus, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is a legal expert and a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other reviews by Samuel Klaus



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