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Saturday, February 22, 2014

GOING POSTAL – Terry Pratchett

Moist Van Lipwig, what a name and indeed what a book! I do enjoy the Pratchett Discworld books. Many a library and indeed many a reader insist on numbering the series in sequence as they were written, however, you honestly don't need to read them in such a way. Pick any one that suits your fancy and you will be delighted. All of the Discworld books, this one being the 29th, take place in an alternate world that is flat. There are some similarities to our world like cities, armies, ships, animals, greed, piracy, war, and pestilence. But, the technologies are different, and the culture, while similar, seems to be stuck in a past time of horse-drawn conveyances and superstition. This world also has any number of mythological creatures living and interacting with humans. There are werewolves, golems, banshees, vampires... you name it.

The supreme ruler of Discworld, Lord Vetinari rescues Moist Van Lipwig, a notorious con-man and criminal from execution. He then gives him a choice of death or being the new postmaster of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Moist knows nothing of mail service but he does know how to manipulate people and get things done. He also cannot escape his bodyguard golem who is made of clay, never eats or sleeps, and is always at his side, so he has no choice but to try to make his new job work. The post office went into decline decades before because of corruption, mismanagement, and a series of unsolved deaths of the previous postmasters. The invention of a series of towers that carry messages across the country, called “The Grand Trunk” also has contributed to the PO decline. The people of Ankh-Morpork are obsessed with sending messages using the clacks towers and no longer want to wait for mail delivery. Moist inherits two employees, an old man who never bathes covering himself in homeopathic salves and poultices, and an unstable young man obsessed with collecting pins. The building which once was a shining beacon of information transference is in decrepitude. The mail has piled up everywhere, the chandeliers have been taken, the place is a mess. The mail sorter has broken down after having gone amok creating a warp in time and space making mail that hadn't actually been written yet. The wizards of the land cannot fix it.

Reacher Gilt, a millionaire has taken over The Grand Trunk lines downsizing the operations and overworking the staff until the operation is in jeopardy. He is obsessed with keeping his investors happy by raking in profits but doesn't care about tower maintenance or the welfare of the craftsman who work the towers. Moist sees an opportunity to redeem the post office. He hires old postmen, a series of delivery coaches, and finds one Adora Belle Dearheart to supply him with golems to do labor and protect the mail carriers. Mail begins to be delivered, some 50-year-old mail makes a splash in the newspapers, and Moist invents stamps. Things begin to happen. Death, fire, espionage, heroics, love, this book has it all and you will laugh and be in a hurry to get to the next page. The characters are so well written as to be clearly visible in the mind. Who could not like characters like Miss Dearheart a gothic and cynical chain smoker, Iodine Maccalariat the iron fisted, double hairbunned office manager, Mr. Tiddles the cat, Tolliver Groat who is offended in the hospital when nurses give him a trouserectomy, to bathe him and who just might have been “Oggling my trumpet-and-skittles,” werewolf Captain Ironfounderson of the police, or Oscar the vampire?

I loved all of it even the dust jacket which looked like a postage stamp, down to the color put on in hashmarks like when you look up close to a stamp or a dollar bill. Pratchett is a genius. If you would like a fantastic story of a lying schemer realizing the satisfaction of being of service to others, learning to feel remorse, and leaving egocentricity behind, pick up Going Postal. The beginning of each chapter has illustrations too, how fun!

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