Pratchett's "Going Postal": Graft, hackers, and a semaphore Internet

I've just finished Terry Pratchett's latest (and finest!) Discworld book, "Going Postal," which concerns itself with the re-opening of the Ankh-Morpork post office as a competitive check against the sempahore tower monopoly. Pratchett's hilarious Discworld novels are parables about issues of modern day, and work on multiple levels: as comedic novels, as stories and as political commentary, and Going Postal is no exception.

There are three elements of Going Postal that I completely loved:

  1. (Nearly) all-new characters. The Discworld books have the signal virtue of being comprehensible no matter what order they're read in, but that said, there are a number of recurring characters, some of whom are getting a little shopworn. For Going Postal, Pratchett invents a suite of new and extremely likable characters, including an obsessive collector, a wonderfully cynical activist woman, and a pair of con-men (see below).
  2. The Big Con. I'm a sucker for stories about cons and graft (see my review of the canonical text in the field), and Going Postal revolves around a fantastic and daring series of cons that are by turns nail-bitingly tense and gut-wrenchingly funny.
  3. Tech savvy. Going Postal's mcguffin is the "clacks," a system of mechanical semaphore towers that have been strung across the continent in a kind of primitive telegraph/Internet. Pratchett completely nails the pioneering spirit, hacks, grift, and ingenuity present at the birth of every network, and his accounts of the technical workings of the clacks are nearly as gripping as classic real-world accounts of hacking derring-do.

Pratchett's name is a household word in the UK, but he's still relatively obscure in the US. There are dozens of Discworld novels out there, and this one is as good an entry as any -- I was totally hooked from page one.

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