Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
Interesting Times opens on a deserted island where Rincewind is happily spending his days coping with boredom. We don’t know exactly how he got there, but that doesn’t really matter. He’s dealing with things like coconut surprise (surprise: it’s coconut), and the Luggage hunts sharks (although they don’t taste very good). The only thing the island seems to lack is potatoes. Of course, just as Rincewind seems about to be propositioned in a rather ridiculous fashion, he’s whisked away by the wizards at Unseen University, so they can send him across the Disc to the Agatean Empire (think the Discworld’s version of China).
Rincewind finds Cohen the Barbarian there with his Silver Horde (his gang of geriatric barbarian heroes), and the narrative diverges here as we follow both Rincewind and Cohen. Rincewind, of course, tries to run away and gets tangled up in the Red Army, who are really terrible at subversive slogans. Cohen and his gang are there to pull off a caper, and I quite liked what it turned out they were trying to steal. There are a lot of jokes about civilization, and you get to take them as deep as you like.
Although I’ll admit they were contrived by design, I was impressed at how well Terry Pratchett had interwoven his scene breaks early on in the novel. I’ve read this book so many times I don’t really know how to rate it. It just is, kind of like the platypus (wait, that’s a different book, never mind). Unusually for Discworld, there is a kind of tie-in to the next Rincewind novel, but it’s basically just a final joke scene.
Anyway, despite having read it multiple times, this book is still fun, with appearances by Rincewind (of course), all the wizards, Hex, and Cohen and brief cameos of the Lady, the Patrician, and Death. I always like Pretty Butterfly threatening Rincewind to keep him in line, and the Quantum Weather Butterfly, <i>Papilio tempestae</i>. And I can just picture the exchanges between Rincewind and the Silver Horde so clearly when they meet. And the exchanges between the wizards. And Rincewind ranting about running away from danger in order to run away another day. And stuff like this:
"‘Listen to me, will you?’ he said, settling down a little. ‘I know about people who talk about suffering for the common good. It’s never bloody them! When you hear a man shouting “Forward, brave comrades!” you’ll see he’s the one behind the bloody big rock and wearing the only really arrow-proof helmet! Understand?’
He stopped. The cadre were looking at him as if he was mad. He stared at their young, keen faces, and felt very, very old.
‘But there are causes worth dying for,’ said Butterfly.
‘No, there aren’t! Because you’ve only got one life but you can pick up another five causes on any street corner!’
‘Good grief, how can you live with a philosophy like that?’
Rincewind took a deep breath.
It also greatly amuses me that everyone kept trying to come up with rational explanation for the legendary Red Army from three thousand years ago, when it turns out they were magic red clay automatons.