0191F: Moving Discworld Forward

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of books has a little something for everyone. As much as all books take place within then same universe (or perhaps on the back of the same space-faring turtle), it's easy to pick up individual novels and jump right into the adventure without the need for too much backtracking to prior titles. And given the sheer number Discworld novels out there, it's also possible to just find characters that you like and generally follow their adventures independently.

For example, Discworld has some major arcs that involve particular recurring characters. A lot of books are focused on the Wizards of the Unseen University. Of course there's the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. There are the Witches of Lancre. And more recently there's the various adventures of Moist von Lipwig - a criminal who is now almost permanently indentured to the service of Ankh-Morpork's patrician.

What has made the Moist-related books so interesting is how they all seem to address moving Discworld forward in time. As much as Discworld has traditionally been a comedic take on fantasy novels, it seems more and more of the books - particularly those involving everyone's favorite civil servant, Moist, are determined to add various modern elements to the world. And you can trace this behavior back to novels like The Truth, where Ankh-Morpork's first newspaper was introduced, the latest novel, Raising Steam, is quite literally taking the Discworld into the steam age.

And while many Discworld novels have talked about taking various steps forward, I think this was most strongly felt with The Truth, especially given how the newspaper has become a regular feature in other Discworld stories. As much as this was essentially a one-shot adventure within the larger Discworld framework (since William de Worde has yet to become the protagonist of another novel), you still seem the journalists in a lot of the other stories, constantly documenting the news and making life a little miserable for the City Watch.

And while you could just say that a book series as long-lived as Discworld is bound to move forward, the recent efforts seem a lot more deliberate, as if Sir Pratchett is trying to reach a particular goal. Sure he's also known for trying to discuss modern concepts through Discworld "science" time and again in the same way we've seen the giant semaphore towers known as the Clacks (first seen in The Fifth Elephant and more prominently discussed in Going Postal) is clearly a sort of metaphor for the internet, or perhaps just telecommunications in general. But I wonder if there's more to all this.

With the news that Sir Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, which is very sad news for anyone. The slow loss of memory or general cognitive skills is a killer blow for any writer and just considering what kind of a challenge that represents for anyone is pretty sad. And while it was always inevitable that the Discworld novels might eventually come to an end. this diagnosis sort of accelerated the timetable a bit in the public eye. The effects of the disease on the cognitive part of his brain have been minimal thus far, but it's still worrisome.

And so I can't help but feel like he's trying to map out a "clean" way to end Discworld, perhaps a way to bring the story a lot closer to modern times so he can gracefully step away. This is a bit of a wild theory and is really more of a feeling than a logical conclusion, but it's something interesting to consider. Perhaps Discworld's eventual "ending" may lead us to a more modern view of these citizens and life being a lot closer to our own in both form and not just spirit.