Terry Pratchett,
Small Gods
(Victor Gollancz, 1992; HarperPrism, 1994)

Back in the days before I'd read my first Terry Pratchett book, I was somewhat intimidated by the vast display of Discworld novels on the bookstore shelf. Since I couldn't find, back then, the first books in the series, I worried that I'd read something from the middle and be utterly confused.

Try Small Gods, I was told. It's a good place to start. So I picked up a copy at the store and opened to page one. I read the first passage, then headed quickly for the cashier, book in hand.

If The Colour of Magic isn't available to you, Small Gods is indeed a great place to begin exploring Terry Pratchett's madcap world. You don't need to know about the city of Ankh-Morpork, the wizard Rincewind, the Luggage, the witch Granny Weatherwax, or even much about the ubiquitous Death. Small Gods starts you off in a new locale, with completely new characters, allowing novice readers to get their feet wet before diving into the wonderful prose adventure that is the Discworld series.

And this one's a hoot. It revolves around the Great God Om, now manifested upon the disc as a small, one-eyed tortoise. He didn't mean to, he swears, and he says he doesn't know how it happened....

But after three years munching leaves and dodging eagles (You did read that excerpt, cited above in the second paragraph, right?) he meets Brutha, a novice in Om's mighty temple. Brutha, a simple-minded lad, seems to be the only one who can hear him ... and, verily, a mighty lot of excellent curses and damnations are piled on Brutha's convenient head! Of course, none of them work, unless you count a mildly singed eyebrow.

Imagine the discomfiture a god might experience if confronted with some of the beliefs taught in his name -- and some of the "divinely inspired" actions taken by his followers as a result. Om, in his little tortoise shell, also comes to the disconcerting realization that, while his religion is vast and has many zealous worshippers, he has very few actual honest-to-Om believers. One, actually. And belief, he now understands, is what sustains a god. So if anything happens to Brutha....

So it probably isn't a good thing for either of them when Brutha comes to the attention of Vorbis, the sadistic exquisitor of Om's temple. Of course, Brutha is ordered to accompany Vorbis on a not-so-diplomatic embassy to a neighboring country, populated by a bunch of friendly philosphers and heathens.

Small Gods is, as usual in a Pratchett book, a non-stop laugh riot. It's also deeply philosophical in its own right, musing in subtle (and not-so-subtle ways) the true nature of religion and the responsibilities of a deity to his flock. If you read no other Discworld book, read this one ... and, I'll wager, you'll soon find yourself plundering your neighborhood bookshop for more.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Small Gods from Amazon.com.