Terry Pratchett,
The Light Fantastic
(Colin Smythe, 1986; Penguin/Roc, 1988)

"When the red star lights the sky Rincewind the wizard will come looking for onions. Do not bite him." -- from a trollish legend, Discworld, The Light Fantastic

Terry Pratchett's second excursion into the Discworld, The Light Fantastic, picks up exactly where The Colour of Magic left off. (Somehow Tethis, the water-troll, has vanished from the space-faring Potent Voyager, but that isn't important now.) Twoflower the tourist is exploring space and Rincewind the wizard is plummeting through the void after him, albeit without the benefit of a spaceship. But great things are afoot and the Great Spell locked in Rincewind's brain -- the only spell the would-be wizard has, because all of the others are too scared of it to stay in his mind for long -- is needed. So there's a great reality shift and Rincewind is brought back to the Discworld. Twoflower is, too, for reasons never made exactly clear. And, as a side effect of the magical revisionism needed to bring those two characters back to the world, the head librarian of the Unseen University is morphed into an orangutan.

This novel gives readers a much clearer look into the Unseen University, home and school for wizards. Let's just say that this isn't the sort of place where a Merlin or Gandalf would fit in comfortably. And it is these wizards who, realizing that they need Rincewind and his spell but not knowing exactly why, set forth in small, primarily inept search parties and attack squads to find the rogue almost-wizard. It is also there at the university that we meet Trymon, who is working to replace the eccentricities of the place with his own brand of bureaucracy.

Other new characters in this book include Cohen, the feisty and snaggletoothless barbarian, Bethan, the disappointed virgin would-be sacrifice, and Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan who, despite cover art to the contrary, dressed in sensible light chainmail.

Death makes a few welcome reappearances, at one point learning to play bridge with his fellow apocalyptic horsemen, and we meet his perky adopted daughter, Ysabell, who's mad.

It's in this book that Pratchett begins what will become a time-honored tradition in his Discworld novels -- footnotes. His small-printed asides, usually explaining (or, more often, further clouding) some tidbit from the passage above, are often more funny than the text they support.

Otherwise, The Light Fantastic contains a lot of imminent worldwide destruction, zombie-eyed religious zealots, overly mobile souvenir shops, aimless travels through the world's varied geography and various near-death experiences for poor Rincewind. If anything, the writing and plotting are even better than the first book in the series. Rincewind even gets a heroic moment or two by the end, and things actually look like they may improve for the poor bugger in future novels. Knowing Pratchett, however, I highly doubt it.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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