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Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Review by Drew Bittner
Harper Collins  ISBN/ITEM#: 0060013133
Date: List Price 0.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Moist von Lipwig never had a chance. A career as a successful conman aside, the daring and intrepid scoundrel met his match when he met Ankh-Morpork's rather skewed sense of justice. Welcome to Going Postal, the newest excursion into the Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

Following an unpleasantly brief encounter with a cheery hangman, Moist awakens to a second chance in life. He is given a choice by Lord Vetinari. On the one hand, he can become the city's new postmaster and make the long-defunct civil service functional again. The other choice is? well, not one designed to give him extensive retirement options. And he's saddled with a golem babysitter to boot.

It would be hard enough if his efforts were unopposed. Sadly, there are those who do not want Moist to succeed. For one thing, he represents competition to the syndicate that runs the extensive Grand Trunk "clacks" network, which uses a type of high-speed semaphore to send messages the length and breadth of the continent. However, there are dire rumblings and dark deeds afoot in the clacks network ... a situation that may play to Moist's advantage, if he can only figure out how.

Then there is the matter of Miss Adora Belle Dearheart, who runs a "temp agency" of sorts. Moist turns to her for help, and ends up with a bit more than he bargained for ... particularly since she has a singular way with a shoe.

Given his extremely limited resources (a pair of incompetent junior postmen, no budget, and a vast mausoleum packed full [literally] of unsent letters), plus the venomous enmity of Reacher Gilt, sinister head of the clacks syndicate, it might almost be worth the alternative?

But giving up is not in Moist's character. Instead, he rallies (reluctantly) to the cause. In the course of his struggle to make the post office live again, he dredges up the secret history of Ankh-Morpork's once-elegant, once-admired institution, how it all went wrong (sometimes it's possible to aspire to too much efficiency), and why a handful of folk have gone mad in a building packed with undelivered mail. Having a knack for forgery, a large streak of audacity and a golden suit doesn't hurt his cause either. Not to mention acquiring the services of a postman who's 18,000 years old.

Now all he has to do achieve the impossible: beat the clacks in a cross-country race.

Good luck, postmaster.

As always, Pratchett delivers a funny, deftly handled tale full of memorable characters, diabolical dilemmas and inspired "thinking outside the box" problem-solving (which may seem like sheer lunacy to the uninitiated). Similar to previous Discworld novels such as Jingo and Guards! Guards!, this book takes a lighthearted view on resurrecting and restoring dignity to the city's severely dysfunctional civil services. There is something touching about stories that demand respect for civic institutions (in this case, the post office) that may seem out of date. Though his writing is humorous, Pratchett never finds humor at the expense of his subjects. Instead, the comedy arises from bursting stereotypes and clichés of the organizations (and those who seem inevitably found working there) with an almost savage iconoclasm. But always with respect. And footnotes.

Moist, like several Pratchett heroes, is a pragmatist with a bit of scoundrel in him. He's acquired some useful skills from his life outside the law, all of which stand him in good stead when he frames his problems in a criminal context. Once he reaches that point, he knows how to proceed. He comes to a moment wherein his choices are laid bare. The moment is well-realized, particularly given the unconventional decisions facing him at the end.

Pratchett demonstrates his knack for constructing solid, believable characters whose must fight to rise to the occasion. Their brand of heroism is rarely flashy, but in that way, Pratchett has made himself the champion of the Everyman in fantasy ... the fellow who puts in a hard day's work and only wants to be able to look himself in the mirror afterward. (And have a few coins to show for it, of course.)

Discworld remains one of the most fascinating and fully-realized fantasy environments ever created. Despite that, Pratchett does not require that the reader know the extensive backstory of Ankh-Morpork, the Discworld, its denizens or its inner workings. Everything one needs is right in the text. But of course, if you like Going Postal, there's plenty of others just as good waiting for you?

Highly recommended.

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