Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 10- Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

"Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleaning, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact."

So it turns out that updating a web blog with a five-hundred word book review once every 3-5 days is actually really difficult, physically and mentally tiring, and a big drain of resources. It's with this in mind that I admit to not updating my blog in about two weeks or something, because the sheer pressure crushed me like a lump of coal. Thankfully only about people ever read this site anyway, including me, so I don't think anyone will mind. To the review!

Amazingly, we've reached double-figures on this odyssey of a series and I haven't given up yet, which is like a lifetime record for me. After creating a bunch of beloved regular characters over the course of the last few books (Guards! Guards! and Wyrd Sisters, for example), Sir Terrence Pratchett attempted to repeat the trick with a brand new set, in a novel where he focuses on very specific satire to make the Disc mimic the Earth. To backtrack, I seem to remember writing a little while ago in a Discworld review that at that point Pratchett was about to embark on a run of about ten or more genuine comic fantasy classics. It's with a sad sigh that I'm going to rescind that statement a bit, because Moving Pictures doesn't quite reach his highest standards. It's still quite good though.

In the story of Moving Pictures, the inherent magic of the Discworld combined with the ingenuity and persistence of its many alchemists has led to alarming discoveries in the field of photography and camera, which itself has led to the foundation of a familiar sounding business in an even-more familiar-sounding place; the 'clickies' are here, promoted and created in a place called Holy Wood, where dreams come wildly true. Naturally people flock to be involved in the clickies, dreaming of stardom on a suspiciously spiritual level, including Victor Tugelbend, lead character and wizard in training. In no time at all, Victor becomes the biggest star in Holy Wood, and then really bad things start to happen regarding the very nature of reality. 

So, to the negatives; Victor Tugelbend isn't a very interesting character. He starts off as the same po-faced, innocent-yet-crafty young person on the verge of adventure as Mort, Esk of Equal Rites and Nijel from Sourcery, but doesn't seem to develop any further than that. Instead, Victor and his love interest exist more as plot devices and bases of satire for the story to progress further, while the actual charisma and funny dialogue comes from other sources. Here that's from series regular (mostly minor parts) Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler (Ankh-Morpork wheeler-dealer extraordinaire) and Gaspode the Wonder Dog (sarcastic talking dog). Victor kind of ends up as a situationist hero, who fights the real evil lurking behind Holy Wood almost because it's very similar to his job as a clicky star, but without any of the poise or charisma that's needed to keep the book interesting. Maybe it's kind of the point and theme of the whole book; that ordinary people are magically captivated by the idea of the movies to such an extent that we can't tell when art is imitating life or vice versa. On the Disc, of course, the distinction is utterly irrelevant.

To be more positive, Moving Pictures is pretty funny, and certain to be the Discworld book of choice for film buffs, as Pratchett references and parodies dozens of films, studios and performers from the very early days of Hollywood to more recent efforts. The book is very thematic, and probably fun to study, with an intriguing look at the effects of fame and fortune and its allure. Meanwhile, Gaspode becomes somewhat of a fan favourite character, and is one of the few new characters from this book to turn up in the future. Also, Pratchett's now very familiar style of prose is out in full force, having certainly been very well defined if not completely mastered by its originator.

Pratchett would write a spiritual followup to Moving Pictures in the utterly excellent Soul Music a few years later. This book remains a bit of a poorly-remembered oddity that most should enjoy, but doesn't really represent the author's full capabilities regarding characterisation and sheer sense of fun.