At their best, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are inspired comic creations: funny, pointed, irreverent, and endlessly entertaining. This entry, appropriately entitled The Truth, is the 25th installment since the series began in 1983, and I'm pleased to report that it's as deeply deranged as any of the previous 24.
Discworld, for the benefit of newcomers, is a flat, disc-shaped planet carried on the backs of four giant elephants, who are themselves carried by the giant turtle called Great A'Tuin. The principal metropolis of Discworld -- and the site of most of the stories -- is Ankh-Morpork, a cosmopolitan city populated by an uneasy combination of humans, vampires, trolls, werewolves, zombies, gnomes, gargoyles, and imps. Typically, the Discworld novels reflect fractured versions of instantly recognizable events, trends, and cultural phenomena, and The Truth is no exception. This time out, investigative journalism gains a foothold in Ankh-Morpork, with predictably bizarre results.
The hero of The Truth is William de Worde, disenfranchised member of the wealthy -- and arrogant -- nobility. William earns a meager living selling highly specialized "news letters" to selected subscribers. With the belated advent of moveable type, business picks up rapidly, and William finds himself manning the helm of a revolutionary publication: The Ankh-Morpork Times, whose erroneously typeset motto is "The Truth Shall Make You Fret." It shall, indeed.
William and his fledgling staff start out by covering a variety of mundane subjects: weddings, weather, fires, and flower shows, as well as "human interest" stories, such as the unusual -- i.e., genital-shaped -- vegetables grown by an enterprising farmer. But before you can say Woodward and Bernstein, William uncovers a major political scandal, as the anonymous members of "The Committee to Un-elect the Patrician" attempt to incriminate and depose the legal ruler of Ankh-Morpork, Havelock Vetinari, and replace him with a more amenable candidate of their own.
William's pursuit of the elusive, subtly shifting concept known as "truth" takes him from the highest levels of Ankh-Morpork society to the lowest, and bring him into contact with a wide variety of allies and opponents, including: a talking dog named Gaspode, a pair of imported hit men, a fast-talking lawyer who happens to be dead, and -- my own favorite -- a vampiric photographer with a peculiar allergic reaction to sudden flashes of light. The result of all this is an illuminating excursion into the origins of journalism, Discworld-style, and a first-rate entry in the most consistent series of comic fantasies currently available in the English-speaking world.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).