Terry Pratchett,
The Colour of Magic
(Colin Smythe, 1983; Corgi, 1985)

The Colour of Magic does a lot of cool things. First and foremost, it introduces the world to Terry Pratchett's Discworld, home to an ever-growing series of hilarious novels by the popular British humorist. And, while it's possible to pick up the Discworld series almost anywhere in its long history without getting lost (at least, no more lost than the author intends you to be), sometimes it's nice to begin at the beginning. After reading several books from the series midpoint, I finally decided to go back to its origin.

The first book in the series is actually more like a series of four Discworld novellas, each picking up where the last left off but, at the same time, very distinct in its story. All focus on Rincewind, a basically inept wizard who is perpetually terrified of the world around him and who, because he accidentally memorized one Great Spell (which is too powerful to ever actually use), is unable to recall even the most basic of other spells. This makes him a fairly questionable wizard, but at least he has the wardrobe and basic attitude down right.

We also meet several other characters who will reoccur during the Discworld series. Among them is the very rich, very naive Twoflower, the Disc's first official tourist who inadvertently inflicts insurance on an unsuspecting populace, and the Luggage, a marvelously irritating and very stubborn chest made of sentient, multi-legged pearwood. We also meet Death, who isn't fleshed out the way he will be in future novels, but who still makes a strong impression -- particularly on Rincewind, a favorite target of Death's. And be prepared to see various gods at play, gaming with dice for the fate of the world.

This is also the book in which Pratchett devised the Discworld's unique cosmology -- a flat, magic-heavy world perched on the shoulders of four elephants, who in turn stand on the comet-scarred shell of Great A'Tuin, the space turtle of unknown purpose and gender.

The first story, "The Colour of Magic," is set in Ankh-Morpork, a twin city of dubious character, and largely revolves around the introduction of tourism and the city's destruction by fire. Various city officials and businessmen of uncertain morality play important roles in the plot, but this is, at its heart, a tale about Rincewind, Twoflower and Twoflower's luggage.

Next, leaving the burning city behind them, the small band sets off for further adventures in "The Sending of Eight," where they meet up with Hrun the Barbarian, discover flash photography and battle the tentacled demon Bel-Shamharoth; "The Lure of the Wyrm," which bears some similarities to Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series -- if McCaffrey had developed an addiction to regulated pharmaceuticals; and "Close to the Edge," where our heroes discover the Circumfence (the rope barrier which rings the edge of the Discworld) meet the tide-plagued watery being who guards the Edge, learn the true meaning of Sacrifice and dabble (unintentionally) in space flight.

Anyone who likes fantasy and enjoys a good laugh should pick up a copy of The Colour of Magic. Pratchett has not hit his full stride this early in the game, and he is perhaps a bit too punny (a la Piers Anthony) at times, but it's a great way to start the series. But be sure to set aside plenty of reading time; once you enter the Discworld, it's hard to leave.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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