Terry Pratchett,
The Last Continent
(Doubleday, 1998;
HarperPrism, 1999)

Terry Pratchett takes the hapless Rincewind and the wizards of the Unseen University on a wild and woolly ride to The Last Continent.

The Librarian is sick; moreover, his sneezes cause him to morph into a variety objects covered with orange fur. The wizards are genuinely concerned for him, but they have a bigger problem -- without the Librarian to keep them in check, the books in the library have become unruly. The wizards decide that the only course of action to take is to try to remove the spell that rendered the Librarian into a simian state, but for that they need his real name. This bit of information has mysteriously vanished from all Unseen University archives -- accompanied by a faint scent of banana, actually -- but it occurs to the wizards that the Librarian's former assistant, Rincewind, might know. The only question is that remains is this: where is Rincewind?

After his adventure in the Agatean Empire (Interesting Times), Rincewind was supposed to be returned to the Unseen University through magical teleportation. However, due to a tiny miscalculation -- OK, a whopping mistake -- he and the Luggage were sent all the way to EcksEcksEcksEcks, a.k.a. Fourecks, the last continent, way down under. Er, over Rimward. Whatever. But when the wizards visit the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography to find out more about the mysterious continent, they find he's gone, leaving only a portal overlooking a warm and sunny beach. The wizards -- Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, young Ponder Stibbons, the Bursar, the Dean, the Senior Wrangler, and the Librarian, as well as the very proper Mrs. Whitlow, the Housekeeper -- go through the portal, and suddenly, they're not in Ankh-Morpork any more. They're very close to their goal, as it turns out -- just back at the beginning of time is all. No worries, though -- they handle their situation in true wizardly style, and manage in spite of it.

Meanwhile, Rincewind, as usual, is not having a happy time. After subsisting on grubs and other delicacies and spending a lot of time falling into waterholes, he gets pressed into yet another quest. He doesn't have specific instructions or a specific direction, but when he gets it right, the rain will come back. This time, his quest involves him with a talking kangaroo named Scrappy, beer, too many sheep, homicidal dwarves, vegamite, not enough water, and more beer. As always, though, Rincewind's adventures make a strange sort of sense, right up to the culmination of the story.

The Last Continent is smooth and funny, with plenty of the cultural allusions of which Pratchett is so fond. They work very well here; most readers should get them, but they aren't blatant and are neatly worked into the story. Certainly, a familiarity with Australiana would help -- although Fourecks really isn't Australia -- honest -- but it isn't required. Much of the humor goes over the top, but Pratchett knows where to draw the line and exhibit respect where it is due. The last two pages of the book are just lovely.

As Discworld books go, The Last Continent stands fairly well on its own and doesn't require much background, so if you're a newcomer to Discworld, you're likely to get hooked faster than you can say "Waltzing Matilda"!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy The Last Continent from Amazon.com.