Terry Pratchett was known for his quirky, funny writing. I’ve only ever read his collaboration with Neil Gaiman before, Good Omens. I’d heard of Pratchett’s Discworld series and I decided to give his first novel in the series, The Color of Magic, a try. There can be little doubt that Pratchett was a clever writer with great turns of phrase and imaginative plots. Something I’m discovering about myself, however, is that fantasy as a genre isn’t working well. I suppose a case could be made for calling Discworld science fiction, but the world-building seems definitively fantasy—warriors, dragons, supernatural beings—the whole lot. The story is well told and the writing’s great. It just didn’t grab me as I hoped it might.
Having said that, one thing I noticed was that Pratchett realized something I’ve written about many times before—if you’re going to do world-building incorporating religion makes it believable. There are gods here, often distant and mainly unconcerned with human beings (and various other beings), but clearly part of the diegesis. And, of course, magic. Maybe that’s the part of fantasy that I find disconcerting. I read through the Harry Potter series, and although it was funny in parts, it was mostly played straight. Was it fantasy? I’ve been writing quite a lot about genre lately, and I’m beginning to run up against its limitations. Discworld is clearly a fantasy environment. Rincewind and Twoflower are great characters, and so is the luggage (if you haven’t read it yet, let that be an enticement).
I ran into the same sense of disbelief recently with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, and there’s little doubt that it’s science fiction. Maybe as I’m aging I’m getting more and more mired in this familiar, if not tired, world in which I find myself. Horror, however, retains its fascination. The Color of Magic follows the hapless wizard Rincewind and how his life changed forever after he met the tourist (a rarity on Discworld), Twoflower. Together they face and overcome (with sometimes a little deus ex machina) obstacles of others with agendas that simply don’t accept misfits. The literally cliff-hanging ending does encourage the reader on to book two and the characters won’t soon be leaving my mind. It’s just with fantasy too much seems possible. Anything can happen and it’s almost a matching of wits with the writer. Not that that’s bad, but maybe it just isn’t the escapism I tend to think fantasy is intended to be.