After all the serious stuff that I seem to have been reading over the past months I picked up Terry Pratchett's 'Soul Music'. It is good to be reminded how important it is to laugh, and also to feel a little smug when you get his references that others might miss.
" 'Who's the most famous horn player there ever was, Glod?'
'Brother Charnel,' said the dwarf promptly. 'Everyone knows that. He stole the altar gold from the Temple of Offler and had it made into a horn and played magical music until the gods caught up with him and pulled his -'
'Right,' said Buddy, 'but if you went out there now and asked who the most famous horn player is, would they remember some felonious monk or would they shout for Glod Glodsson?' " (p.219)
So in this tale Susan, the granddaughter of Death, has to take over while he has a bit of a breakdown. Meanwhile in Ankh-Morpork a group of musicians, Buddy, Cliff and Glod, get their first gig in The Cavern and start a bit of a riot. The wizards of Unseen University start reliving their youth with weird hairstyles and leather robes, and the local music store quickly sells out of guitars. It all starts to get a bit out of hand but Death of Rats and Albert (Death's butler) help pull the Discworld back into order. While the essence of Terry Pratchett's style is unmistakably familiar he always manages to come up with wild new ideas that stop the books feeling repetitive. Here we learn about Foul Ole Ron:
"In fact Foul Ole Ron was a physical schizophrenic. There was Foul Ole Ron, and then there was the smell of Foul Ole Ron, which had obviously developed over the years to such an extent that it had a distinct personality. Anyone could have a smell that lingered long after they'd gone somewhere else, but the smell of Foul Ole Ron could actually arrive somewhere several minutes before he did, in order to spread out and get comfortable before he arrived. It had evolved into something so striking that it was no longer perceived with the nose, which shut down instantly in self-defence; people could tell that Foul Ole Ron was approaching by the way their ear wax started to melt." (p.229-30)
Here Susan tries to get to the bottom of the musical phenomenon that is sweeping the land:
"There were other kinds of life. Cities had life. Anthills and swarms of bees had life, a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Worlds had life. Gods had a life made up of the belief of their believers.
The universe danced towards life. Life was a remarkably common commodity. Anything sufficiently complicated seemed to get cut in for some, in the same way that anything massive enough got a generous helping of gravity. The universe had a definite tendency towards awareness. This suggested a certain subtle cruelty woven into the very fabric of space-time.
Perhaps even a music could be alive, if it was old enough. Life is a habit.
People said: I can't get that darn tune out of my head ...
Not just a beat, but a heartbeat.
And anything alive wants to breed." (p.262-3)
So I laughed aloud every other page, and, as always, admired his awesome ingenuity. Then I was left sad, because he is a good writer and not merely a clever one, and you care about the characters, all of them:
"I SUPPOSE ... YOU HAVEN'T GOT A KISS FOR YOUR OLD GRANDAD?
Susan stared at him.
The blue glow in Death's eyes gradually faded, and as the light died it sucked at her gaze so that it was dragged into the eye sockets and the darkness beyond ...
... which went on and on, for ever. There was no word for it. Even eternity was a human idea. Giving it a name gave it a length; admittedly, a very long one. But this darkness was what was left when eternity had given up. It was where Death lived. Alone.
She reached up and pulled his head down and kissed the top of his skull. It was smooth and ivory white, like a billiard ball." (p.373)