Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Soul Music, Part IV

Rock and roll is here to stay, it will never die! But it might go away, though. From here.

Summary

Susan goes looking through Death’s house to find Albert, but the place is empty. She comes across the swing Death made for her, and realizes how her grandfather gets things wrong, how it’s part of his makeup when interacting with life. Albert check out the Klatchian Legion, finds out Death was definitely there but isn’t anymore, and he and the Death of Rats decide where to go next. The Band With Rocks In continues touring, and they get to Quirm, where the mayor tells them they’re not allowed in, but Glod makes up a music tax, saying they’ll give the city money from ticket sales for the ability to play. The gig goes great, but Glod is certain that the music will eventually kill them. Susan goes to the moment in time when her parents die and sees her Grandfather. She suggests he could have done something and he explains that her parents wanted mortality and all things end because they must. Albert and the Death of Rats go the Mended Drum to ask about Death and learn he was there but left. Out of the street, Albert is attacked by a member of the Thieves’ Guild, who accidentally smashes his lifetimer.

The music festival is about to begin in Ankh-Morpork and Dibbler is already making tons of money, but the band isn’t back in the city yet. When they do arrive, Glod insists on heading to the Artificer street first to pick up the order they made before leaving. They arrive backstage and Glod gives Buddy his old harp back—they had it fixed up. When they go out on stage, Buddy won’t play. He heads back to get his harp and asks to be allowed one song. He plays his song to the crowd and everyone feels sad and profound. Buddy takes up his guitar again and the band plays music with rocks in. He can tell that Susan is there again and so can Ridcully. He notices the Musicians’ Guild attempting another assassination and stops it with magic. The band finishes their set and leaves the stage, but instead of prepping to go out for an encore, they jump into the cart Glod made ready and leave the city (not realizing that they’ve got all the money with them). Dibbler sends Crash’s band on stage with the band gone.

The Death of Rats finds Death with the beggars and drags him to Albert. Death gathers up the sand from Albert’s lifetimer that’s left—only thirty-four seconds—and tells the Death of Rats to keep it safe. Death asks Albert to tell him where Susan is and Albert tells him what’s been going on. Death’s powers aren’t working quite right, being split between them, so he gets a horse to ride. The wizards who had been forbidden to go to the concert watch on a crystal ball and begin to notice the presence of very powerful magic once the band stops playing. In the cellar, they find a motorbike created by the Librarian, not of his own accord. The Dean makes to use the thing, but Death gets there first and insists on taking it himself. The guitar is screaming at the horses dragging the band’s cart, trying to force a crash that kills everyone, but Susan shows up and rescues them. Unfortunately, it’s not simple as all that, and even though the music isn’t supposed to be in their world, stopping their deaths doesn’t fix anything. The music tells Susan that it wanted Buddy to die for it, and in doing so, live forever.

Susan realizes that there’s nothing she can do, and calls for her grandfather. Death arrives, tells the music to bring back the people it took, and when the music disagrees, Death plays an empty chord, an end to sound. The music begs him to play something else, but Death can’t—only Buddy can. And if he doesn’t, the universe ends. Buddy plays the chord to bring the music back. Death thanks him, smashes the guitar to bits, and snaps his fingers. The band is alive and the timeline reorders itself. People saw a concert in the park, but they’re not quite sure of what. The wizards and bands all go home. The Musicians’ Guild members crash in their pursuit of the band and die. Susan asks Death why he was able to make all of this work, and Death tells her perhaps the rules of the universe really are more like guidelines. He also tells her that she’s been at school this whole time and sat her exams. He asks for a kiss goodbye, and she gives it to him, and tells him her childhood swing at his house was alright really. Buddy is in Quirm, it turns out, having not gone to the city. Susan drops by to say hello, and Death gets back to work, much to Albert’s relief.

Commentary

This book is fascinating to me because the stakes don’t really come to the fore until just a few pages from the end? Sure, the idea of Buddy dying is sad because he got chosen for a thing he never really intended to become a part of, but the whole thing doesn’t feel particularly dire until Death plays that chord.

I’d say the stakes are with Susan for this story, but they’re not really there either. To the point where, once everything is fixed, she’s like “you want the job back? I’m rubbish at it” and Death is like “yeah, guess I better.” Part of this is down to the fact that Susan is so sensible about everything that it’s easy to forget where her emotions lie in this. She’s doing that thing sensible characters (and people) do, where they insist that all their actions are rational and bound by logic when they’re not; at its core, this is a story about a young woman grieving her family and learning about Death. Trouble is, she is partly Death, and she’s also very adamant that no one know she has feelings about things like family.

Which is part of the reason why the crush on Buddy reads so awkwardly. If there were some acknowledgement of this being a coping mechanism following the death of her parents, it would make a bit more sense. I think it’s relevant that Pratchett never bothers with love interests for Susan after this; we’re in a very specific moment in time, perhaps the only one when Susan might be susceptible to this sort of thing. Of course, the other reason that it reads awkwardly is because Buddy’s not much of a character himself—he’s a stand-in for an idea more than anything. Glod and Cliff and Asphalt have more character than he does. Buddy is just being manipulated by a universal force that’s much larger than he is.

This is one Death book where I find myself wishing that Death were a bigger part of things. He’s typically used to tackle much bigger ideas within the Discworld oeuvre, but here he’s a bit more incidental. For my preferences, I tend to wish the book was weighted in the other direction—more about Susan coming to terms with her lineage and relationship to her grandfather, and less about rock and roll’s brief turn on the Disc.

But seriously, all the most moving stuff is between the two of them. Even to the point of Susan—endlessly practical, always in control Susan—actually calling out to her grandfather to fix this mess when she realizes that there’s nothing she can do. How often do we imagine Susan ever cried out for aid from anyone, given how she was raised? Their exchanges are brief, and the emotions carefully reined in, but every conversation between them cuts right to the thick of things.

It’s all good, though. We get Hogfather later to make up for everything we miss on our first go. And at least we get one forehead kiss, and one acknowledgment that the swing is good.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • Dibbler’s thought that the merchandising gambit is like “watching sheep shear themselves,” is uncomfortably true. I have a lot of shirts with musicians on them, is what I’m saying. *blinks down at the David Bowie on me*
  • As always, the references are endless and various, but the “American Pie” one that occurs because Death rides out “in a coat he borrowed from the Dean” will always top that list, because you have to work for that one.
  • The scenes with Nobby and Colon are some of my favorites, really, because they’re such perfect asides to everything going on, and really showcase Pratchett’s comedic sense. “Susan Death” indeed.

Pratchettisms:

It was all rather sad. Death clearly had picked up an idea of what a gentleman should have on his dressing table, without confronting one or two fundamental questions.

Glod raised the horn to his lips. The sound that emerged was like burning black velvet in a windowless room.

It was called Hide Park not because people could, but because a hide was once a measure of land capable of being plowed by one man with three-and-one-half oxen on a wet Thursday, and the park was exactly this amount of land, and people in Ankh-Morpork stick to tradition and often to other things as well.

A haystack heaved, and gave birth to a Glod.

He hung from his master’s arm like a cheap suit.

Modo didn’t hear about most things, because he wasn’t listening. He liked compost.

You could say to the universe this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.

There was no word for it. Even eternity was a human idea.

Next week we start with Interesting Times! We’ll read up to: “Oh, urinating dog,” he said before passing out.

citation

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