20160119_104543As I previously mentioned on the first time around I had always intended on diving into the Discworld series and just somehow never really got around to it. This is a shortcoming that I am slowly trying to rectify.

Something that has always been a little tricky for me to get my head around is the order in which to read the Discworld novels. When selecting my second book, I decided to jump ahead to the next book in the series that featured Death as a main character. That meant jumping ahead from Mort (the fourth in the series) to Reaper Man (the eleventh).

It’s unclear exactly what the timing is between the two books, but with the exception of Death and his attendant, there are no other returning characters of import. So I guess if Pratchett intends on telling us more about what happens with Mort and Death’s daughter, it will come in another book.

I feel like Pratchett is always trying to get certain lessons or philosophies through to us through humour, and Reaper Man is no exception.

The first concept that we’re immediately confronted with is the idea of the Auditors of Reality. Basically, they are three ominous guys in cloaks who are in charge of keeping reality in check. Even if that reality has allowed for a planet to be flat, on the back of elephants, on the back of a turtle, flying through the cosmos. There still needs to be rules. One of those rules being that Death is to be a force of nature, fulfilling a specific task without fail or emotion. As we already know from Mort, Discworld’s Death has a personality, interests beyond death and has even failed in his duties a handful of times in his own interests.

Obviously, to the Auditors of Reality, this will not do. They take a quick vote and render Death a mortal, and so he becomes a farm hand for Miss Flitworth and takes up the name Bill Door (Death was never renowned for his imagination).

At this point, the story largely splits off into two sections. One follows Death (as Bill Door) through his misadventures in a small farming community as he discovers his humanity. The other follows Wizard Windle Poons who was supposed to die, but then didn’t. Wizards are supposed to reincarnate, but instead, Windle Poons just gets back into his old body and keeps going. The idea here being that without Death around, there’s nobody to send the souls off to wherever it is they go when they die.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before another Death appears to right that wrong, but until that happens, there is an overabundance of life on the Discworld. While Death is, for the first time in his existence, dealing with coping with a finite amount of time, he is also learning to enjoy the company of humans, the pleasure of a job well done and even getting a glimpse of what true affection feels like. All the while, there’s nobody ushering souls of the recently deceased off of the mortal plane.

This means that all sorts of paranormal activity begins to pop up all over the place. Things moving on their own, flying through the air, screws unscrewing, etc.

This also means that there’s so much life that cities will try to grow. It seems that cities in the Discworld can grow from snowglobe, to shopping cart, to shopping mall, to presumably, eventually a full city. We don’t get to see the stage after shopping mall, as a group of supernatural creatures (including zombies, vampires, a bogeyman and werewolves) team up with some Wizards to blow up the shopping mall.

I’ll be honest here, the parasitic city story line didn’t really grab me as much as the adventures of Death being a farmhand. It might have just been a matter of expectation. I was on board for another Death story, and the city story seemed to play out like a story mostly about the bumbling Wizards of the Unseen Academy. If I had known that there was a big Wizard element, I might have been more mentally prepared.

reapEither way, and this might have been a failing of myself as a reader, I didn’t quite understand the link between too many “loose souls” floating around and the rise of parasitic cities that mind control their populations by promising bargains. It wasn’t a bad story, I just didn’t make the link between the two.

Without spoiling anything more of the story, let’s take a look at what ideas and takeaways we can get from this adventure.

First of all, there’s yet another example of finding satisfaction in your job, which is a bit of a through-line from Mort. The Auditors of Reality presume that since the job (death) needs doing, there is no room for flair or independent thought. Of course, Death sees things differently. He argues that as long as the job gets done diligently and correctly, it is not wrong to “make it your own” so to speak. This also echoes true when Death is in a mortal form, finding a way to obtain satisfaction from the simple job of harvesting, making it his own to his delight. I think that Pratchett is trying to tell us that no matter what our mundane 9to5 (ha!) jobs are, we can find something in them to make it our own and get through a day.

The other part I guess is that Pratchett is maybe not a fan of big cities. Or at least, the over commercialized, cookie cutter brand name saturated cities. Reaper Man was published in 1991 so Pratchett’s feelings may have been heavily influenced by the late 80’s capitalist commercial boom. The difference is clear between his beloved Ankh Morpork with all its winding roads and nooks and crannies and little shops and the mindless commercial (literal) monstrosity that the city parasite. From useless trinket, to shopping cart, to shopping mall full of deep discounts the grotesque progression rendering the citizens mindless consumers is a pretty clear condemnation of that culture.

So what did I think? Well, as I mentioned above, the city story seems a little out of place and I would’ve preferred a novel called “Reaper Man” be more focused around Death (as it is, the Death story is about 50% Death and 50% Windle Poons). I would rank Mort above Reaper Man personally. Not to say it was bad by any means, I just think that Mort was a more relatable human protagonist than the undead old Wizard Windle and his storyline.

So where to next? Well, after two forays into Discworld, I think I’m going to go back to the beginning of it all. Next Discworld novel that I’ll read will be The Colour of Magic.

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.