Review: The Last Continent
, by Terry Pratchett
This is the 22nd Discworld novel and follows Interesting Times
in internal continuity. Like some of the other
Rincewind novels, it stands alone well enough that you could arguably
start reading here, but I have no idea why you'd want to.
When we last saw Rincewind, he was being magically yanked out of the
Agatean Empire. The intent was to swap him with a cannon and land him
back in Ankh-Morpork, but an unfortunate expansion of the spell to three
targets instead of two meant that a kangaroo had a very bad day. Ever
since then, Rincewind has been trying to survive the highly inhospitable
land of FourEcks (XXXX), so called because no one in Ankh-Morpork knows
where it is.
The faculty at the Unseen University didn't care enough about Rincewind to
bother finding him until the Librarian fell sick. He's feverish and
miserable, but worse, he's lost control of his morphic function, which
means that he's randomly turning into other things and is unable to take
care of the books. When those books are magical, this is dangerous. One
possible solution is to stabilize the Librarian's form with a spell, but
to do that they need his real name. The only person who might know it is
the former assistant librarian: Rincewind.
I am increasingly convinced that one of the difficulties in getting people
hooked on Discworld is that the series starts with two Rincewind books,
and the Rincewind books just aren't very good.
The fundamental problem is that Rincewind isn't a character, he's a gag.
Discworld starts out as mostly gags, but then the characterization
elsewhere gets deeper, the character interactions become more complex, and
Pratchett adds more and more philosophy. That, not the humor, is what I
think makes these books worth reading. But none of this applies to
Rincewind. By this point, he's been the protagonist of six novels, and
still the only thing I know about him is that he runs away from
everything. Other than that, he's just sort of... there.
In the better Rincewind novels, some of the gap is filled by Twoflower,
the Luggage, Cohen the barbarian, the Librarian (who sadly is out of
commission for most of this book), or the Unseen University faculty. But
they're all supporting characters. Most of them are also built around a
single (if better) gag. As a result, the Rincewind books tend more
towards joke collections than the rest of Discworld. There isn't a
philosophical or characterization through line to hold them together.
The Last Continent
is, as you might have guessed, a parody of
Australia. And by that I mean it's a mash-up of Crocodile Dundee
, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
and every dad joke about Australia that you've heard. Pratchett loves
movie references and I do not love movie references, so there's always
part of his books that doesn't click for me, but this one was just Too
Much. Yes, everything in Australia is poisonous. Yes, Australians talk
funny. Oh look, there's another twist on a Crocodile Dundee
Yes, yes, that's a knife. Gah. The Rincewind sections were either
confusing (there's some sort of drug-trip kangaroo god because reasons) or
cliched and boring. Sometimes both.
The second plot, following the Unseen University faculty in their inept
attempts to locate Rincewind, is better. Their bickering is still a bit
one-trick and works better in the background of stronger characters (such
as Death and Susan
), but Pratchett does make
their oblivious overconfidence entertaining. It's enough to sustain half
of the book, but not enough to make up for the annoyances of the Rincewind
To his credit, I think Pratchett was really trying to say something
interesting in this novel about Discworld metaphysics. There are bits in
the Australian plot that clearly are references to Aboriginal beliefs,
which I didn't entirely follow but which I'm glad were in there. The
Unseen University faculty showing up in the middle of a creation myth and
completely misunderstanding it was a good scene. But the overall story
annoyed me and failed to hold my interest.
I don't feel qualified to comment on the Priscilla
I've never seen the movie and have only a vague understanding of its role
in trans history. I'm not sure his twists on the story quite worked, but
I'm glad that Pratchett is exploring gender; that wasn't as common when
these books were written.
Overall, though, this was forgettable and often annoying. There are a few
great lines and a few memorable bits in any Pratchett book, including this
one, but the Rincewind books just aren't... good. Not like the rest of
the series, at least. I will be very happy to get back to the witches in
the next book.
Followed in publication order by Carpe Jugulum
, and later
thematically by The Last Hero
Rating: 5 out of 10