Pratchett's Snuff: a rural/nautical tale of drawing-room gentility, racism, and justice

Snuff, Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel is an absolute treat, as per usual. It's a Sam Vimes book (there are many recurring characters in the Discworld series, whose life stories intermingle, braid and diverge -- Sam Vimes is an ex-alcoholic police chief who has married into nobility) and that means that it's going to be a story about class, about law, and about justice, and the fact that Pratchett can make a serious discourse on these subjects both funny and gripping and never trivial is as neat a summary of why we love him as much as we do.

In Snuff, Sam Vimes finds himself dragged off to the countryside for a first-in-his-life holiday, and of course, the holiday only lasts about ten seconds before Vimes is embroiled in local politics, which means local crime. The genteel countryside may be sleepy and backwards, but it is also seething with secrets, with privilege for the gentry, with class resentments, and with racism.

Goblins, you see, are universally reviled, thought incapable of rationality, and loathed for their weird religious habit of retaining all their snot, hair clippings, pus, fingernails and other castoffs (except urine, crap and teeth, strangely) in beautiful handmade pots that are buried with them. Also, they've been known to eat their young. Is it any wonder that they're classed as vermin in law?

Well, yes, because as Sam Vimes discovers, there's more to the story than the stuff "everyone knows" about goblins, and before you know it, he's deep underground in a story that includes all the aforementioned, plus a small boy obsessed with learning everything there is to know about poo; a novelist who writes wildly popular icky novels for kids; a clan of corrupt magistrates who make up the law as it suits them; and a clutch of sweet maidens who need to be convinced to leave the drawing room and make their way in the wider world.

And we're off -- fights, chases, riverboats, sea-ships, kidnapping, murder, revenge, and the world belowstairs and above all come to life in a Pratchett novel that has all the things you want from Discworld: compassion, humor, smarts, and action. Thank you, Terry, for another good literary friend to join the rest on my shelf.

Snuff: A Discworld Novel


  1. I ordered this soon as my book club offered it. I honestly can say I have not been disappointed with a single one of his nearly 40 books. Now all there is left is the waiting….

  2. Under normal circumstances I would be annoyed that this post is basically just an advert. 

    But if BB is going to do product placement for one thing, then by all means let it be Terry’s novels.  Go right ahead.

    1. You have confused “advert” with “recommendation.”

      If Random House wants to advertise Terry’s books on BB, we’ll happily take their money, but if we ever do, you can be absolutely, positively assured that any adverts they pay us to post will be clearly marked as paid material, will not be marked “review” and will not have my by-line on them.

      1. Fair enough; no insult was meant.  And of course it was an ill-considered thing to say; BB plug books all the time.  I have no problem with that.

        But, on your point about recommendations:  if the only difference between “recommendation” and “advert” is that one is paid for and one is not, then you have to admit that from the point of view of the *reader*, it’s almost impossible to tell the two apart.

        Which, of course, is what advertising companies count on with real adverts…

        1. Shadowfirebird wrote: “the only difference between “recommendation” and “advert” is that one is paid for and one is not”

          But that’s not the case. As Cory said: “any adverts they pay us to post will be clearly marked as paid material, will not be marked “review” and will not have my by-line on them.”

          It’s in our policies, linked under “more” up top, which are unchanged in this respect for ages.

  3. “Racism”?

    Races are perceived variations within the human species.

    Are the goblins in the book humans? 

    If not, and it’s prejudice against goblins that the novel depicts, then isn’t that something like species-ism, rather than racism?If they’re not human, and the prejudice against them allegorically represents racism among humans, then I could see the book dealing in that way with “racism” (but only by guessing that that’s what Pratchett is doing in this book).

    1. Pratchett’s way ahead of you, with words such as “speciesist”:

      “Racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because — what with trolls and dwarfs and so on — speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green.– (Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad)”

      And Vitalism (discrimination against the undead):

      “”On der other han’, everyone is still breathin’.’ That was Detritus.
      ‘That’s a vitalist remark–’ (Reg Shoe, a zombie)
      — (Terry Pratchett, Jingo)”

      1. So it sounds like Cory should’ve written speciesism rather than racism. Unless, as I mentioned, the book’s handling of speciesism allegorically represents real-world racism.

        1. Of course it is an allegory.  It is a fantasy/comic novel, it is hardly meant to be literal.  All of his books are a comment on some aspect of our society and culture, and almost all are hilarious.

        2. Well, the book’s not actually about specieism so he shouldn’t really write “specieism”. I have to agree that showing scenes of discrimination against fantasy characters based on their species is almost certainly a dirty big allegory for something in the real world today.

    2. Pratchett actually mentions this in an earlier book (‘Guards Guards!’ I think, quoting from memory): “black and white put aside their differences and ganged up on green”.

  4. I’ll be interested to see if this is an “even or odd” book. While all of Pratchett’s work is far better than your average fiction or satire, even he seems to have a cadence of “good-book-EXCELLENT-BOOK-good-book” and so on. For instance, Monstrous Regiment was a good book (if predictable from the first chapter), while Going Postal was an *excellent* book, to the point that I bought a horribly expensive copy in an English-language bookstore while on honeymoon (yes, that good).

    That said, being a Vimes book gives it a certain leg up, although the setting may preclude any time with Vetinari.

  5. Ever since Amazon started offering pre-order for books, we plunked Pratchett’s novels on the list as soon as they’re available. Can’t wait to read this one. I am tickled to see the cover suffers from that strange orange/blue palette malady that we discussed a couple weeks ago.

  6. The only thing I wonder is, in 2011 on Boing Boing, is it really necessary to explain what the Discworld is and who Sam Vimes is? I suspect the person who has been living in the Amazon rain forest for the last 30 years who has only just returned to civilization and goes to read BoingBoing first thing back can be forgiven for asking.

    1. Yes, it’s helpful. I do get around a lot, but before this review, I’d never heard of Discworld, nor Sam Vines. 

      1. Yes, it’s helpful. I do get around a lot, but before this review, I’d never heard of Discworld, nor Sam Vines.

        I think perhaps Pratchett might also be using dramatic sarcasm to illustrate the deeper fear of differences that drive humans to form up into pointless ranks of Us vs. Them. That the superficial differences between the Discworld species are more pronounced than those of our the human ‘races’ of our world, or that they are biological species rather than arbitrarily chosen cultural distinctions, doesn’t alter their superficial irrelevance to the discriminatory practices common in Discworld. If a goblin can’t get a job for which she’s qualified simply because she’s a goblin, then the discrimination is motivated by the same lack of reason as marginalizes minorities in the real world. So even if it’s in allegory, it may be one that points not only back to the thing it represents, but to the deeper causes.

        I’ve only read a few of the Discworld books, but, FWIW, they are absolutely bitingly, acerbically hilariously excellent social commentaries.

  7. You know, I’ve always wondered who would come up on top in a contest of wills between Vetinari and Granny Weatherwax. 

    1. My money’s on Granny. But I think Vetinari is too smart to go that route. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape…

    2. I think, perhaps, Vetinari just because he is a more circuitous thinker. Granny is pretty much an iron hammer approach. But, I suspect Vetinari just wouldn’t let it come to such a contest and find a way to sidetrack it, or enlist her assistance rather than oppose her straight out.

      1. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think Granny takes the approach that works. I seem to remember some pretty subtle maneuvering in Lords and Ladies dealing with the young wanna-be witches. Not to mention how she ultimately dealt with the vampires in Carpe Jugularum

  8. Thank you for the heads up; ordered it immediately. 

    I only hope if I get dementia I can be even half as productive. Wait, I’m not even half as productive now without dementia. Have to rethink that.

  9. Another heads up thank-you. Looking forward to reading, though with discworld I really like falling to sleep with the audio books like some childs bedtime story.

  10. Wikipedia says “Race is classification of humans into large and distinct populations or groups by factors such as heritable phenotypic characteristics or geographic ancestry, but also often influenced by and correlated with traits such as appearance, culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.”

    Fantasy and sci-fi, including Pratchett seem to imply the same, but with the word “humans” replaced with “sentient beings”.

    Race is a very common generic term used throughout most fantasy and sci-fi novels (at least that I have read) and is the standard term used in roleplaying games to denote what would effectively be species in our world.If somebody decided to discriminate against apes in our world, that may be speciest, but I think that Cory’s use of the term racism is entirely appropriate when viewed in context.

    1. I know! I just bought it today.

      I’d have say he is my absolute, without a doubt, favorite character in Discworld. Followed by (in order), Granny Weatherwax, Vetinari, Death, and Moist Van Lipwig.

  11. Pratchett had a line in an earlier book (damned if I can remember which one) which pointed out that in a world where there are humans, dwarves, elves, trolls, goblins, fairies, etc, etc… that “black and white get along in perfect harmony, and gang up on green.”

    That is to say, he’s using species as an allegory for race. And sometimes for class. In this story, I suspect it’s probably a bit of both.

  12. The Kindle version has a few problems: besides not capturing the decorated first letter of each section very well (it’s a single capital letter on its own line here), every instance of the word “people” is lacking a space before it, as if someone did a search and replace for ” people” with “people”. 

    Also, I don’t know if I’m projecting, but I get the feeling that this isn’t quite as well-jelled as his earlier stuff. He’s doing a bit more telling-not-showing (especially in terms of the decency and nobility of Vimes), the Goblins feel a bit more like “oh gee yet another discriminated group (that I don’t think we’ve heard much about?) that is really just a bunch of common good chaps after all”. 

    I hate having a negative message because Pratchett is still such an awesome talent, but I’m worried his condition is showing through a bit… or at least causing him to hurry up a bit too much.

  13. I imagine the best way to appreciate Pratchett at this point is to simply /accept/ that his condition is going to show through. He’s had to come to terms with having the condition; the least his fans can do is come to terms with seeing its shadow on his work.

  14. Can’t wait!

    Quick note: Sam Vimes is a ‘recovering alcoholic’, not an ‘ex-alcoholic’. The only ex-alcoholics are dead alcoholics – though even that might not be the case on the Disc.

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