Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
Selected from Starburst #275

Selected this month: Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time and Jonathan Carroll's novel, The Wooden Sea

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Thief of Time
by Terry Pratchett • Published by Doubleday
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Reviewer: Barbara Davies

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

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‘Terry Pratchett is a superb wordsmith; he paints pictures so vividly you’d swear you’d seen the film’

It’s always fascinating to see what has caught Terry Pratchett’s wonderfully skewed gaze! While the focus of Thief of Time, his 26th Discworld novel, is (naturally) Time herself, Dava Sobel’s Longitude, the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and the Beatles (when they were five) also influence the hilarious mix. Not to mention one of the deadliest weapons known to humankind: chocolate!

The Auditors want a tidy (ie dead) universe, so they hire the obsessive Jeremy Clockson to rebuild the mythical Glass Clock of Bad Schüschein. When the clock starts, the tick of the Universe will cease. Death realizes he’ll soon (next Wednesday, in fact) be riding Binky to the Apocalypse; he can’t intervene, but his reluctant granddaughter, Miss Susan, can. Fortunately, wily History Monk Lu-Tze and his oddly talented apprentice Lobsang Ludd are also on the case. And the human forms assumed by the Auditors will have their own important contribution to make.

Thief of Time is initially hard going – when it comes to Time, the teachings of Wen the Eternally Surprised are a little baffling (though never as baffling as Stephen Hawking’s). But gradually the leading characters are introduced, the reader’s sympathies engaged, and the plot begins to grip. Then the chuckles start coming thick and fast (accompanied by an embarrassingly overwhelming urge to quote passages to your friends!).

You undoubtedly already know this by now, but Terry Pratchett is a superb wordsmith; he paints pictures so vividly you’d swear you’d seen the film. His puns and jokes (and, of course, the footnotes) are witty and inventive, but his great strength is the humour of recognition. His books also make the reader think – not something you can say about much comic fantasy. Does form define content, the body influence the mind? Read Thief of Time and find out.

Starburst rating: 9 / 10

The Wooden Sea
by Jonathan Carroll • Published by Gollancz
247pp hardback, May 2001

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll

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'The plot has the kind of internal logic that makes perfect sense during the dream but later has you going: ‘huh?’'

It’s hard to describe The Wooden Sea, the final novel in Jonathan Carroll’s ‘loosely connected sequence’ which began with Kissing the Beehive and continued with The Marriage of Sticks. Straightforward genre fantasy it isn’t. ‘Weird’ perhaps... or ‘dreamlike’. Certainly the plot has the kind of internal logic that makes perfect sense during the dream but later has you going: ‘huh?’

Forty-eight-year-old Frannie McCabe is happily married to his second wife and content in his job as Crane’s View’s Police Chief, when his life is turned upside down. It starts small: Old Vertue, Frannie’s recently acquired and very disreputable pitbull, won’t stay dead and buried. Next there’s the oddly coloured feather that keeps turning up (in person and as a tattoo), the compelling smell, the disappearances… Finally Frannie’s thuggish 17-year-old self appears, as do some very peculiar aliens.

Frannie has a week to work out what’s going on in Crane’s View and how it involves him; the aliens ‘help’ by whisking him around in time. Experiencing your own death and meeting your father as a fellow adult might freak out a less well-balanced person, but Frannie and young Frannie are made of sterner stuff. Together they set about unravelling the puzzle, which involves God, the Beatles, and a Dutch industrialist from the future…

The Wooden Sea (a reference to the featured riddle: ‘How do you row a boat across a wooden sea?’) is a well-written, thoughtful, and deeply humane book. In Frannie, Carroll has created an immensely likeable and real protagonist who can accept and appreciate his earlier ‘selves’ in spite of their many shortcomings. By turns vividly off-the-wall and down-to-earth, this wryly humorous and surreal novel reveals an acute understanding of what it’s like to be young, middle-aged, and old. Carroll is one of a kind.

Starburst rating: 9 / 10

Reviews © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction