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Discworld: Interesting Times

"May you live in interesting times!"
supposedly a traditional Chinese curse

Interesting Times is the 17th Discworld novel, and the first since Eric which returns to Rincewind as the central character. However, thematically it's much more a look back at the first two Discworld books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, and how much the setting has changed since then.

Rincewind the wizard, peacefully bored at last, finds adventure nipping at his reluctant heels again due to a mysterious albatross received by the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, asking for the "Great Wizzard" to be sent to the Counterweight Continent - an Expy of the Orient. Strangely enough, while the Continent is well known to be wealthy and cultured, it's also known for extreme violence and overweening control of its citizens. Rincewind is fired off by magic to the unknown land with no idea of where he's going, what he's doing, or indeed which of the many, many people he meets is trying to kill him. Hint  He may be surprised to see some of the familiar faces who've ended up there, though...

Preceded by Soul Music, followed by Maskerade. Preceded in the Rincewind series by Eric, followed by The Last Continent.
Contains examples of:
  • Accidental Misnaming: Cohen keeps calling huge Dumb Muscle guardsman One Big River "One Big Mother".
  • The Ace: Deconstructed with Lord Hong. He's excellent at everything he attempts, but only because his civilization is so stagnant that the standards for almost every activity have declined hugely.
  • Action Girl: Butterfly, who knocks out palace guards with her bare hands/feet ("Can you all do that?")
  • Aerith and Bob: The noble families of the Agatean Empire: Hong, Sun, Fang, Tang, and McSweeney. (Very old-established family.)
  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: Butterfly, Lord Hong, the Ninja, even the proprietor of the eating house where Rincewind asks for Agatean food as it is known in Ankh-Morpork.
  • All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: Rincewind discovers this to be truth when evading pursuit - he dons such a hat to look indistinguishable from everyone else and stands there with head bowed, waiting for the pursuit to pass him by.
  • Androcles Lion: Kind of. Rincewind reluctantly saves the Quantum Weather Butterfly from drowning, which 'repays' him by creating a cloud over his head, raining on his hat until the small added weight makes him crash through the floor. However, this ultimately means he finds the Terracotta Army and saves the day.
  • Answer Cut: Ridcully asks what kind of sad, hopeless person would need to write "WIZZARD" on his hat. The scene immediately cuts to Rincewind.
  • Appeal to Obscurity:
    'Like, supposing the population is being a bit behind with its taxes. You pick some city where people are being troublesome and kill everyone and set fire to it and pull down the walls and plough up the ashes. That way you get rid of the trouble and all the other cities are suddenly really well behaved and polite and all your back taxes turn up in a big rush, which is handy for governments, I understand. Then if they ever give trouble you just have to say "Remember Nangnang?" or whatever, and they say "Where's Nangnang?" and you say, "My point exactly."'
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Genghiz Cohen. Doer of mighty deeds. Slayer of dragons. Ravager of cities. He once bought an apple.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Lord Hong.
    "Fetch me another tea girl. One with a head."
    • Given this, it's unsurprising that he's eventually killed by a means no-one could possibly have predicted or planned for—Rincewind being randomly teleported away and replaced with a Barking Dog about to fire.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Lord Hong.
  • Badass Grandpa: Several characters note that a barbarian hero who lives as long as the Silver Horde did must be a very good barbarian hero indeed.
  • Bad Butt: After he's been given the list of acceptable words, Truckle the Uncivil becomes this.
  • Bait and Switch: When Rincewind and Mr Saveloy are talking about being a teacher versus being a barbarian hero.
  • Barbarian Hero: As before, Cohen and his similarly ancient friends are a deconstruction - they've all had years of experience in not dying. They also turn out to be the last heroes left in the world, a point which will form the plot for the later work The Last Hero.
  • Berserk Button: It turns out that self-professed cynical coward Rincewind really, really doesn't like the idea of matyrdom for a cause, going on a fairly vitriolic rant about how pointless it is to sacrifice yourself for a cause.
  • Beware the Honest Ones/Beware the Nice Ones: To the max.
  • Boomerang Comeback: When Rincewind ends up at Fourecks, the natives decide to test him by offering him a boomerang. Rincewind has no idea what it is and, (correctly) assuming it's just another plot hook, angrily throws it away and announces that he's done with adventures. The natives start grinning at something behind him, and the book ends with him being interrupted mid-sentence.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: The suggestions for how Mr. Saveloy is to be buried include a longship set on fire, a big pit atop the bodies of his enemies, a burial mound, and a longship set on fire on top of the bodies of his enemies under a burial mound.
  • Brick Joke: When Twoflower starts telling Rincewind how Cohen intends to reward him for his help, Rincewind denies it's possible that he'll ever seen such benefits: as soon as his back's turned, his usual bad luck will sneak up behind him and bang! Sure enough, on the very last page, something comes up behind him....
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Twoflower knows Lord Hong has no idea his soldiers killed his wife, and as far as he's concerned that makes it worse.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Repeated theme. The story is ultimately a game played by the gods on Dunmanifestin, and the Quantum Weather Butterfly (known to evade predators by creating small, localized tornados) is how The Lady enacts her will - by, example, depositing pollen on Hex to make its ants pause to lick it and thus throw off its calculations, or by creating a very small rain shower to wet Rincewind's hat and the tiny addition in weight to make him fall through the earth. One of the covers even has a butterfly on it, to encourage this trope.
  • Call Back: Twoflower mentions the belief that history goes in cycles, which reminds Rincewind of a drawing he'd seen in one of Leonard of Quirm's notebooks. Presumably he's thinking of the motorcycle sketch which inspired the Librarian to build one in Soul Music.
    • Putting on the boots he found in One Sun Mirror's tomb, Rincewind recalls how UU's experimental Seven-League Boots didn't work out so well. One of the wizards who'd chased him and Twoflower in The Light Fantastic suffered a serious accident with such boots.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: One of the Silver Horde took exception with "venerable".
  • Call to Agriculture: Parodied, when one of Cohen's horde confronted him with the fact that one time he stole a farm and wanted to settle down. It lasted about three hours.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: In having Twoflower's wife killed, Pratchett really underscores the shift from Discworld as a lighthearted fantasy to a darker satire (albeit one which still has a lot of jokes).
  • The Chessmaster: Lord Hong. Unfortunately for him, he and his usual opponents are so locked into this way of thinking that the Horde (who we are told think "The king and pawns rush up the board and set fire to the opposing rooks" is a good opening gambit) complete blind-sides and dominates him. He almost wins anyway, but it's due to sheer numbers after all his plans and strategies have failed.
  • Chekhovs Cannon: The wizards eventually give back the Barking Dog.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Cohen and his men — at one point they defeat some Agatean samurai by claiming they can match their feat of cutting a silk cloth in three in midair with an Absurdly Sharp Blade. Cohen throws the cloth in the air then the Horde decapitate the samurai while they're looking up.
  • Completely Missing the Point:
    Mr Saveloy: You ate someone?
    Hamish: Just a leg.
    Mr Saveloy: That's terrible!
    Hamish: Not with mustard.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Played with in the lead-up to the Horde's big stand. The fact that people (e.g, Twoflower) think the Horde have any chance at all infuriates both Lord Hong and Rincewind - "If it was seven against seventy, everyone would know who would lose. Just because it's seven against 700,000, everyone's not so sure."
    • Teach points out that even if the Horde kill a few thousand each, the enemy will have fresh troops and they'll be tired. Cohen retorts that the fresh troops will also be tired, as they'll be running uphill at that stage.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • One of the few books which mention the events of Sourcery. This is explained by saying that the wizards are all uncomfortable about what happened and try to pretend that they, personally, were nowhere near the University at the time. It also further explains why they made Ridcully Archchancellor: he really wasn't there at the time.
    • There's the revival of the joke from Guards! Guards! — "Lord Snapcase was hung up by his figgin", which is apparently 'a small currant bun'; "either the meaning of words has changed over time, or there really is some horrifying aspect to suspending a man alongside a teacake".
    • Somewhat unusually for Discworld, it accounts for the current Emperor being ancient when the last time we saw the Emperor as a boy in Mort by saying this Emperor murdered his nephew to gain the throne. Usually this sort of discrepency is just attributed to 'alternative pasts'.
  • Cosmic Chess Game
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Twoflower, of all people.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    "Can't leave your village without a chit. Can't get married without a chit. Can't even have a sh - Ah, we're here."
    • Rincewind, upon being teleported to the Counterweight Continent also never gets to finish his Oh Crap.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The punishment for putting up revolutionary posters? Getting your hands and feet cut off. If you're lucky.
  • Don't Try This at Home: A footnote about fireworks safety to avoid exploding your nose.
  • End of an Age: The old tradition of barbarian heroism and adventuring is dying out as the Disc becomes more civilised; even the (comparatively) young Hrun, the mighty warrior and adventurer from The Colour of Magic has settled down and taken a steady job... as a city watchman, no less.
  • Evil Chancellor: Lord Hong is the Grand Vizier. This being Discworld, Rincewind and Cohen lampshade the hell out of him.
    Rincewind: Grand Viziers are always —
    Cohen: — complete and utter bastards. Give 'em a turban with a point in the middle and it just erodes their moral wossname. I cut their heads off soon as I meet 'em, saves trouble later.
    • Lord Hong himself attempts to defy this trope, at least in the sense of striving to be sane and self-controlled. He's arguably Vetinari, minus Vetinari's redeeming feature of caring about his city.
    • Later more successfully defied by Cohen, when he appoints Twoflower as his Grand Vizier.
  • Evil Counterpart: Lord Hong is this with respect to Lord Vetinari, having the latter's magnificent bastardy and talent for Awesomeness by Analysis, but lacking his redeeming qualities and his clear insight into human nature, at least so far as guessing how the common folk will react to him or his plans. Of course, Hong considers peasants' nature to be less than human, so never saw any need to understand them in the first place.
  • Exact Words: Lord Hong promises an informant that he will never write or speak an order for his execution. He then folds an origami figure of the man... but doesn't have quite enough paper for a head.
    • There's also the soothsayer who predicts the enemy will be defeated, but neglects to mention whose enemy. Then he gets right the hell out of town in case Lord Hong figures it out. (A reference to the Delphic Oracle telling King Croesus of Lydia that 'a great empire would fall' after an upcoming battle, but neglecting to mention that said empire was Croesus`, not the enemy's).
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: Cohen fights multiple ninja and rolls cigarettes at the same time.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Agatean Empire is China mixed with Japan, and Xxxx is more or less Australia.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Played pretty straight - the Agateans' Barking Dogs are primitive cannon (which the wizards understandably fail to recognise) yet they lack handheld firearms, which it didn't take the real China long to discover. Lord Hong himself ponders whether Barking Dogs might actually be more reliable if the Empire selected its gunsmiths based on practical metallurgical skill, rather than the ability to write poems about dew-dappled flower petals.
  • Friend or Foe: The Silver Horde feels up to taking on odds of 700,000-to-7 because the opposing soldiers, probabilistically speaking, are more likely to hit each other than the heroes.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Rincewind can't help but remark on how the government the Red Army plans on setting up will be no different than the one they want his help overthrowing.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages:
    • Agatean is a language in which tone and inflection play a large part. Getting either wrong but using the right syllables will lead to weird interpretations. This is not an exaggeration, either; as someone on the Annotated Pratchett File recounted, a friend was learning Chinese and tried to tell some friends who were native speakers "I am tired and want to go to bed." He got the inflections and/or tones wrong and said "I stand by where the elephant urinates." By comparison, someone saying 'Antique chicken coops' when the same syllables are also applied to the male sexual organ ("Tell them if they don't hurry up they'll be kicked in the antique chicken coops.") is fairly tame.
    • A huge book-long running joke begins with a footnote saying that 'Aaargh' is not actually a universal scream. In some Disc languages, it means things like 'Highly enjoyable!', 'Your wife is a big hippo!' or 'I would like to eat your foot!' among other things. Therefore, those terms are substituted for screams. For at least one tribe, it is said to mean, "Quick! More boiling oil!", thus earning them a reputation for cruelty which is quite undeserved.
    • In the complex Agatean written language (seven thousand pictograms), their version of an exclamation point is a dog passing water. So when Rincewind reads some Agatean things, it counts the number of exclamation points by saying, for example, "He spoke ill of the city ruler and the guard present did not disembowel him [urinating dog, urinating dog, urinating dog, urinating dog] This enables a Brick Joke; Rincewind says "!" in an earlier book, and says "Urinating dog" in this one.
    • [Complicated pictogram]
    • There's also a bit of Fun With Latatian when Ponder Stibbons attempts to identify the etymology of the word "teleport." "It comes from tele, meaning 'I see,' and porte, meaning 'to go', the whole meaning I see it's gone."
  • Genre Savvy: It's Discworld. The most notable example of Genre Savvy, though, has got to be Cohen picking Twoflower to be Grand Vizier on the grounds that he didn't know how to be a grand vizier. Anyone who did know would be evil. Because it's Discworld.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives: Rincewind sics the sumo wrestlers on the pursuing guards.
  • Give Me a Sword: At least twice, and the second time is EPIC.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Mr. Saveloy presents Truckle the Uncivil with a list of civilized swear words, forcing him to speak like this for the rest of the book.
    • Since Mr. Saveloy is the one who made the list, and the only one who knows what various words translate to in Truckle-speak, readers can still look at his reactions to get a pretty good idea of just how shocking some of the things Truckle is saying are.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: The Silver Horde. Even Mr. Saveloy is frighteningly blasť about mass murder.
  • He's Dead, Jim: The "really obvious injury" version.
    "He is dead, Cohen. Really, really dead. Alive people have more body."
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Along with Death, War makes an appearance along with his sons Terror and Panic (i.e., Mars, Phobos and Deimos) and his daughter Clancy.
  • I'm Thinking It Over!: A spy's response when Cohen asks if he would rather die than betray Lord Hong.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Twoflower, to some extent, after Lord Hong's men killed his wife.
  • King on His Deathbed: One of the central plot drivers. "The Emperor wasn't simply at death's door but well inside the hallway, admiring the carpet and commenting on the hatstand." He's still as insane as ever, but everyone around him is getting ready to vent grudges and / or fight for the throne the second he finally passes away.
  • Klingon Promotion: The Unseen University faculty still practiced it the last time Rincewind was around, making some suspect that his return means it will come back.
  • Land Down Under: Rincewind ends up in the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of it at the end of the book.
  • Least Rhymable Word: Two Little Wang was promoted to Master of Protocol while trying to find a rhyme for "orange blossom".
  • Literal-Minded: You'd rather die than betray your emperor? Okay! Cohen'll hold you to your word.
  • Magitek: The introduction of literal Magical Computer Hex.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Due to the aforementioned tonal nature of Agatean, many of Rincewind and Cohen's attempts to speak it.
  • Mythology Gag: Cohen's creed about "Always choose a bigger enemy, it makes him easier to hit" was previously used as Arc Words in The Carpet People.
  • Never Wake Up A Sleepwalker: One of the wizards says that his grandmother always claimed that if you woke a sleepwalker their legs would fall off. A more sceptical wizard asks "How many times did she see it happen?"
  • Noodle Incident: The Horde makes vague references to earlier adventures of theirs that probably happened decades previously. Some of them apparently involved killing people in rather gruesome ways.
  • Nothing but Skulls: After Teach mentions them, Truckle becomes obsessed with the idea of having a mountain of skulls.
  • Odd Name Out: Partly due to Retcons, almost everything Agatean introduced in The Colour of Magic (the character Twoflower with no space, the city of Bes Pelargic) doesn't fit with the more Chinese-like naming system used here.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: At the beginning, Rincewind is stuck on a tropical island and is found by a tribe of lovely Amazons (a regional curiosity for their white skins and blonde hair) who have lost all their men to a highly specific plague and require him to repopulate their tribe. Sadly, Rincewind is magically "rescued" before he can obtain his greatest fantasy... although, because Rincewind is a graduate of Unseen University (making him more or less a Celibate Hero) and is currently daydreaming about potatoes due to not having eaten them for ages, he gets... rather confused by the offer. From that incident onwards, Rincewind has basically confused pretty women and/or sex with potatoes.
    • A footnote notes that, eventually, Rincewind will undergo therapy to get over this confusion, which will involve a pretty woman, a huge plate of potatoes, and a big stick with a nail in it.
  • Outscare the Enemy:
    [The Lord Chamberlain] risked looking up and found the point of Cohen's sword just in front of his eyes.
    "Yeah, but right now who're you more frightened of? Me or this Lord Hong?"
    "Uh... Lord Hong!"
    Cohen raised an eyebrow. "Really? I'm impressed."
  • Pose of Supplication: It's a good position to launch into a sprint from...
  • Pretty Butterfly: Even battlefields, although the ensuing thunderstorm caused by the flapping of the wings is less so.
    • The character called Pretty Butterfly is a subversion; she is pretty, but she's also a badass rebel who scares Rincewind. (Not that scaring Rincewind is difficult.)
  • Pun:
    "The wrestlers are wrestless!"
  • Rage Helm: Some of the palace guards have actually cultivated the art of going to sleep on their feet, confident of not being detected behind the expressions of metal rage on their visors.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Well, the Silver Horde are old men, getting on in age, not quite what they used to be and in need of occasional reminders in what order to do them, and that it's rape the women, burn the houses. (When Rincewind goes "Er," at the prospect of the Horde's performance in that first area Cohen tells him not to ruin an old man's dreams.)
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Chinese Civil Service exams did involve writing complex poetic essays about irrelevant subjects. Much like British Civil Service exams focusing on Classical languages, they were looking for the ability to learn something technical and apply it extremely precisely. Both countries ended up having small bureaucracies governing vast stretches of the world with a reasonable level of skill, so they can't have been all that wrong.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Silver Horde's preferred way of doing things.
    "You know that thing we came to steal?"
    "Yes?"
    "It's the Empire".
  • Reincarnation: The Agateans believe in preincarnation — you'll be reborn as one of your ancestors. "Always respect your ancestors, in case one day you become them."
  • Repetitive Name: Cities in the Agatean Empire, such as Hunghung and Nangnang.
  • Retcon: In The Light Fantastic, Twoflower got his Luggage from The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday and had apparently never seen one before. Here, they're a fairly common commodity within the Empire.
  • Reverse Psychology: Used by Rincewind to intimidate the Agateans before facing the Silver Horde. He mentions certain techniques, such as using specific numbers ("There are NOT 2,300,009 of them") and that the best way to make people believe something is to tell them that you've been told to tell them it's not true.
  • Running Gag:
    • "Whut?"
    • Translations of the word "Aargh!" and other linguistic troubles (see Fun with Foreign Languages).
    • Rincewind associating pretty women with potatoes.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Lord Hong. And later, Twoflower.
  • Seppuku: The local Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler equivalent is called Disembowel-Meself-Honourably Dibhala.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Cohen accuses a group of mooks of "milling around like a lot of millers".
    • The thing that went "parp" went parp.
    • The Dean considers a tyrannical and repressive government an example.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: The Emperor is a very dark take on this trope. Because he was isolated from birth and no one has ever contradicted him, he ends up as a sadistic Caligula type who has people horribly tortured to death or rewarded based on a whim.
  • Shout-Out: The user interface for the golem army resembles the user interface of Lemmings. Pratchett confirmed this was intentional, and in fact said this about the game:
    "Not only did I wipe Lemmings from my hard disk, I overwrote it so's I couldn't get it back."
  • Shrouded in Myth
  • Smouldering Shoe: How Lord Hong ends up.
  • Spanner in the Works: A two-for-one when the Wizards try to retrieve Rincewind. First, Hong's plans for dealing with Rincewind are thwarted as he is teleported away. Then, the Barking Dog is returned, fuse lit, which kills Hong when it goes off. The actions of the Quantum Weather Butterfly could be considered to make it a three-for-one, as it keeps Rincewind from being teleported at high-speed into the UU wall, sending a kangaroo in its place, but stranding Rincewind on Fourecks.
  • Stealth Pune, or play on words: Wearing glasses is considered making a spectacle of yourself.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "There are not 2,300,009 invisible vampire ghosts."
    • Also, the albatross that didn't give Vetinari a message which wasn't from the Counterweight Continent.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink:
    • Tried on Cohen, ends with an annoying courtier suffering a rather terminal case of indigestion.
    • It's the one thing the Silver Horde refuses to do (Even Heroic Sociopathy has standards), saying that if they needed to kill people at dinner, they'd serve perfectly edible food and murder all the men with weapons once they were drunk. Poisoning is just cowardly, and you never know when you'll need that food yourself.
  • Tele-Frag: Rincewind is afraid this will happen when he's transported to the Counterweight Continent. Ponder's assurance that this trope will be averted by displacement of matter at his arrival-point doesn't do much to alleviate his fears.
  • Teleporter Accident: The twenty foot wide, one inch thick, and extra crispy kangaroo.
  • Tempting Fate: Near the end when Twoflower stands up to Lord Hong because someone has to, "Whatever happens to them", the villain sneers "Yes, let everyone see what happens." Hong is then blown up by the Barking Dog sent back to counterbalance Rincewind, who had been whisked away by a teleport spell.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: One Big River. "I think I rather live". He is noted to be a guard instead of a tsimo wrestler because he failed the entrance test. By not eating the table.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: This book introduces Rincewind's potato obsession. For which he eventually needed therapy.
  • Translation Convention: As per Fun with Foreign Languages above, all of the dialogue in the Agatean Empire scenes is written as it is heard by a native speaker, including the various foreigners' attempts to get the pitches correct.
  • Unfortunate Names: Two Little Wang. (Because, of course, Two is a very unlucky number.)
  • Valkyries: One comes to escort Mr. Saveloy to the afterlife. Complete with a horned helmet and Breast Plate.
  • Viking Funeral: One is discussed for Mr. Saveloy, and eventually taken Up to Eleven.
  • We Win Because You Didn't: In the great game of the gods, the Lady isn't playing to win. She's playing not to lose.
  • We Have Those Too: Rincewind and the local Dibbler equivalent: since Ankh-Morpork is much less xenophobic than the Empire ("We hardly ever kill foreigners, it makes it much harder to sell them stuff"), they have the edge in almost everything.
    • Rincewind tries to impress Butterfly by telling her about the Luggage, only for her to show him they're pretty common over here.
  • Who's on First?: Rincewind's encounter with a troupe of Noh actors:
    "Noh Actors are allowed to move around."
    "Aren't they?" said Rincewind.
    "You do not understand. We are Noh actors."
    "Oh, you weren't too bad."
    "Great Wizard, "Noh" is a non-realist, symbolic form of theatre employing archaic language, stylized gestures and an accompaniment of flutes and drums. Your pretence of stupidity is masterly. So much so that I could even believe that you are no actor."
    Nanki-Poo: What if, after all, I am no musician?
    Yum-Yum: There! I was certain of it directly I heard you play!
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Gold is so common in the Agatean Empire it has very little value. Inverted as well; when introduced to the concept of paper money, all Rincewind can think of is that his homeland hosts some very skilled and enthusiastic engravers...

Soul MusicLiterature/DiscworldMaskerade
An Instance of the FingerpostLiterature of the 1990sIn the Time of the Butterflies

alternative title(s): Interesting Times
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