by Terry Pratchett
Whenever I feel the need for something light and humorous yet still complex and thoughtful enough to keep me reading, I turn and return to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. By my count, there are 32, not including his books for kids and teens. And of all the characters who inhabit Pratchett’s imaginary universe — the witches, a talking suitcase, Death, Death’s granddaughter Susan, the librarian at the Unseen University who’s an orangutan, and various wizards — my favorites are the members of the Night Watch police force led by Sam Vimes. In Feet of Clay, Sam and his cohorts, who include a werewolf, a zombie, a dwarf, and several lovable if minimally intelligent humans, have to try to stop a killer who leaves shards of what appears to be clay behind him. What I love about all of Pratchett’s novels (and it’s so evident in Feet of Clay) is his brilliant imagination, and how detailed and complex and real he’s made Discworld. Who else could have thought of a Dwarf–Bread Museum, in which some of the items on exhibit are drop scones — a perfect weapon to throw at your enemy? For some reason, that just makes me chuckle. Pratchett is always writing about something serious under the surface of, or by means of, the humor he employs. So in Feet of Clay, there are echoes of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a history of golems, ideas about race relations (a topic that runs through many of the Discworld novels), personal responsibility, man’s relationship to God, and so on. These days, what makes reading Pratchett’s novels such a bittersweet experience is that his dazzling mind is being lost to early–onset Alzheimer’s. When I learned that, I thought of how Iris Murdoch, another extremely intelligent writer, was felled by that dreadful disease.