The 32nd book in the Discworld series, Unseen Academicals is about football. Well, slightly about football. Mostly it's about people, but then, aren't they all?Unseen Academicals tells the story of what happens when the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork tries to bring civilisation to the ancient and tradition-laden game. Since said traditions include a generous measure of mob violence both on and off the pitch, this proves a somewhat dicey project.At the heart of the plot is the need for Unseen University to field a team (the eponymous Academicals), but as the story progresses this becomes almost academic.Preceded by Making Money, followed by Snuff. Preceded in the Wizards series by The Last Continent (or The Science of Discworld 3, if you're counting those).A Sky1 film adaptation has been in development since 2011 but has suffered repeated delays.
Actually That's My Assistant: Glenda mouthing off about Lady Margolotta to someone she thinks is her librarian. Who she thought was Lady Margolotta was the librarian, which makes the librarian Lady Margolotta.
All Psychology Is Freudian: Mr. Nutt's method of psychotherapy revolves around acknowledging repressed memories and emotions (especially vis-a-vis paternal/maternal conflict), and is based entirely on Uberwaldian philosophy which comes complete with nonsensical Germanesque names. He even adopts the stock gag-Austrian accent (with "ze" for "the"), explaining that it's "soothing."
Animal Athlete Loophole: Ain't No Rule saying an orangutan can't play football! Since the wizards are writing the rules of football themselves as they go along, of course, there wouldn't be. The climax relied on this (for non-ape reasons), with the twist that there actually was a rarely-used rule allowing it. It was implied there soon will be an Obvious Rule Patch.
Anti-Magic: The (former) Dean, as referee, puts up such a field around the pitch, to ensure that the wizards don't cheat via magic. Trev notices with dismay that he included himself in this effect. It notably doesn't hinder ghostly or divine possession.
Arc Words: "The leopard may change its shorts" and variations thereof.
Badass Boast: Ridcully has one near the end of the book about an assault on one of his people.
"Because if anyone has poisoned our Librarian, then, although I am not, by nature, a vindictive man, I will see to it that this university hunts down the poisoner by every thaumic, mystic and occult means available and makes the rest of their life not only as horrible as they can imagine it, but as horrible as I can imagine it. And you can depend on it, gentlemen, that I have already started work on it."
"One day I was a young boy... when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. Even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued... As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and the pink roes spilled out much to the delight of the baby otters. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior." — Lord Vetinari
The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Happens when Angua tosses Juliet's pin-on Dolly badge on the table next to Trev's hand. Even the narrative isn't sure if it's deliberate or not.
Brain Bleach: Glenda and those slightly-less-than-three seconds of orcs in combat.
Brain Drain: Brazeneck College seems to be trying this on Unseen University; their Archchancellor is the former Dean, and their Ponder Stibbons equivalent used to be Ponder's best student. They even offered Ponder the post of Bursar, but he never even asked what the salary was.
Brick Joke: The possessed whistle and "Come on if you think you're hard enough!"
Back in Feet of Clay, a Vimes fed up by a bigot's complaints remarks that he'd even sign up a gorgon. Now a Noodle Incident reveals that the Watch recently recruited a Medusa who'd accidentally stoned three people due to a gust of wind knocking off her sunglasses.
Mightily Oates' axe and unique way of bringing the good word.
Longest airtime for a brick, Sourcery - Unseen Academicals, 21 years. Rincewind attempts to get out of having to play on the team with the excuse that he'd had a note from his mother. Ridcully then reminds him that he knows already Rincewind's mother left him before he was born (Discworld. Don't ask how). Rincewind then asks to be excused to go look for her.
After the heated meeting between Ridcully and Henry, Former Dean and Current Archchancellor of Brazeneck, Rincewind is seen putting one of his socks back on. Way back in Sourcery, he stopped an Eldrich Abomination by hitting it with half a brick in a sock.
It's noted by Ponder that "it was probably the same sock."
Back in Reaper Man, there was a throw-away line about Ridcully wanting to get a team together for the 'Sity And Guild Match, which in the Companion is described as a slightly modernised version of Poor(e) Boys Fun.
Quoth tells Susan about the profession of candle dribbler in Soul Music. It's not until this book that we find out the raven wasn't pulling her leg.
An earlier Discworld book describes "anti-crimes," and Hix can be said to be committing one: planting tickets for his amateur theater group's productions in people's pockets is the opposite of pickpocketing (especially since it's implied his group isn't very good).
At the beginning of the book, the Faculty are congratulating themselves on the successful Hunt of the Megapode. At the end of the book, when discussing the rampage of the Blit-Chicken in Pseudopolis, Ponder and Ridcully agree that they don't need to hurry to help, as they have better things to do than run around after birds.
Centipede's Dilemma: Trev makes it clear that many of the amazing tricks he can do kicking a can don't work if he thinks about them.
Chainmail Bikini: Implied at the fashion show. Complete with a false beard, and a running gag of the "chafing" issue.
Changing of the Guard: Between Ponder's ascent to the University Council (most of it, in fact; Ponder holds enough different positions to form a quorumnote IE, no-one else on the Council has to show up for the vote to be legitimate and a majority all by himself), Nutt's implied future as Mightily Oats's successor, Adrian Turnipseed's professorship, and the youth of the cast in general, this book builds upon other recent Discworld novels in bringing a fresh generation of characters to the fore.
Soundly averted in the case of Lord Vetinari's faithful servant, Drumknott. After countless appearances as a flat background character, the reader finally learns more about him — and he's just as dull as a career bureaucrat could be. Pertinent facts include:
His hobby is collecting stationary.
He takes pride in owning his own paperclips, rather than swiping them from the Palace.
He may have a fetish for manilla envelopes, although this is almost certainly a joke on Vetinari's part.
Color-Coded Wizardry: Parodied with UU's late sports instructor, Evans the Striped. Presumably he wore black and white stripes, as per referees.
Continuity Porn: At least, by Discworld standards; it contains maybe ten times as many Continuity Nods as the average Discworld novel, and some that reach much further back into the series than has been the norm. One of the few to recognize the events in Sourcery, even. In this case, however, the rapid-fire Continuity Nods don't so much detract from the story as decorate it.
There may even have been (possibly?) an oblique reference to Esk from Equal Rites when Ridcully concedes that "possibly one, two at most" of the wizards at UU wear "garters". If so, it's the first reference to Esk outside of Equal Rites in the entire Discworld series. (Eskarina also appears as an important side character in I Shall Wear Midnight, written later.)
Does Not Know His Own Strength: Inverted when Trev insists Nutt punch his arm, then admits that he didn't know Nutt's own strength while favoring his bruised biceps.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Someone throwing a banana to the Librarian while on the field is reminiscent of real-world racist insults to black football players by throwing bananas at them.
Dramatic Irony: Anyone reading Discworld books in the first place is probably Genre Savvy enough to realize that Glenda is talking to Lady Margolotta after roughly the third paragraph at the latest, though some of us probably recognized her immediately.
Early-Bird Cameo: The birds in question are the Sisters, whose species (Furies) was briefly mentioned in Eric.
Everybody Lives: Unusual for a Discworld story, Death only shows up once to tell a character he's not dead yet. Then again... some things you don't want to live through.
Expospeak Gag: Nutt's erudite and verbose way of answering questions.
Expy: Glenda has rather a lot in common with Agnes Nitt, albeit with a less downtrodden main personality and a better integrated Perdita-analogue (which is also in her case released by large amounts of sherry, not innate magical ability.) Her relationship with Juliet also echoes Agnes's relationship with Christine, though Juliet is a somewhat more sympathetic version of a Brainless Beauty.
Food Porn: Just read those descriptions of Glenda's pies.
Foreshadowing: The Actually That's My Assistant scene is hinted at early, when the woman Glenda identifies as Lady Margolotta but is actually her librarian complains that it's too noisy in the coaching house.
A Friend in Need: Glenda, Juliet, Mr Nutt, and Trev help each other through the events.
Genius Bruiser: Again, Mr. Nutt. He's a member of a race of specially-bred super soldiers, and also read and memorized most of Lady Margolotta's library. Which means he can tell you just how much force note "three-to-five kiloBunns" it will take to snap your neck, and which muscles will get in the way.
Horses Hate Him: Mr. Nutt's aroma is distressing to horses; even the Horseman's Word only compels them to comply very, very unhappily.
Humans Are Bastards: People believe that orcs were created by magically and/or eugenically altering goblins. At the end, Vetinari reveals that, no, orcs are descended from humans. Goblins aren't vicious enough.
I'll Take Two Beers Too: After the wizards catch the Megapode, one of the maids asks them what they want to eat. Ridcully gives an impressive list of food (including "cheese boards one through five") and then says "Anyone else want to add anything?"
Implausible Deniability: The giant ever-burning candle known as the Emperor did not go out, even if Nutt's vision tricked him into thinking it did. This must be so, because Smeems insists as much... just like he did on the prior two occasions it's not gone out on his watch.
Improbable Age: Although no age is given for Glenda and Juliet, they seem to be quite young. Despite this Glenda is the boss of one of the two biggest kitchens in the city (and possibly on the planet). Of course, she does have a genius for pies. Also, Ankh-Morpork is in a kind of Regency setting verging on Steam Punk, so people start working very young (especially in poor families.)
The Night Kitchen, naturally, runs antisocial shifts and has a relatively small staff- just the sort of place one would put a teenage or twenty-something worker who had the makings of a future head cook, where she could have limited responsibility nobody else wanted (and Juliet and the 'vegetable women' aren't likely to ever want any, let alone handle it). Enterprises like big hotels would do pretty much the same thing to a 20-or-so year old with Glenda's attributes.
She is noted to be fairly mature for her age, to the point where people assume she's Juliet's mother rather than her friend. Part of that's her bossiness as well.
Insistent Terminology: Professor Bengo Macarona, after scoring the first goal for the Academicals, insists that any chanting of his name also includes his full name and list of honours. Since this in its entirety is "Professor Macarona D.Thau (Bug), D.Maus (Chubb), Magistaludorum (QIS), Octavium (Hons), PHGK (Blit), DMSK, Mack, D.Thau (Bra), Visiting Professor in Chickens (Jahn the Conqueror University (Floor 2, Shrimp Packers Building, Genua)), Primo Octo (Deux), Visiting Professor of Blit/Slood Exchanges (Al Khali), KCbfJ, Reciprocating Professor of Blit Theory (Unki), D.Thau (Unki), Didimus Supremius (Unki), Emeritus Professor in Blit Substrate Determinations (Chubb), Chair of Blit and Music Studies (Quirm College for Young Ladies)" and the crowd actually agrees to go along with it, this turns the football chant "One Makaronah, there's only one Makaronah, there's only one Makaronah, one Makaro-naah" into an Overly-Long Gag of absolutely EPIC proportions.
Also, continuing a gag from Making Money, it's Post-Mortem Communications, not "necromancy".
Instant Expert: Averted. Trev's skill with a can does not transfer to a football.
Interspecies Romance: Subverted, inverted, averted and every other kind of '"ted" you can think of (including playing it damn well straight with Glenda and Nutt... sortof), and working with Lady Margolotta and Vetinari.
Kaiju: An accident at Brazeneck's Higher Energy Magic building unleashes a seventy-foot chicken onto the streets of Pseudopolis.
And it's foreshadowed too. Early on, Ponder asks what Brazeneck is using to power their knockoff of Hex; the answer is chickens. Ponder's reaction to hearing that is to be mildly alarmed at first, and then rather smug - he knows what will happen, and clearly has no interest in giving them the advice they'd need to prevent it. But then, they did steal the design for Hex (not to mention the Dean) - he isn't really fond of them.
Karma Houdini: Defied. It looks like Andy Shank is going to get away virtually unscathed, but then the Camp Gay Pepe decides to make sure he gets what's coming to him.
Large Ham: Ridcully, as always, feels the need to declare to no one in particular "Change and decay! I am surrounded by traitors! They thwart me at every turn." when he sees the housekeeper's raided all his secret food stashes.
Long List / Overly-Long Gag: Professor Macarona's full list of titles and honors goes on for about a full hardcover page. In reality it's only about an eight-line paragraph, but repeated so many times that it covers nearly two softcover pages - and audiobook readers may start to wonder if their file is stuck in a loop.
Ridcully asks Ponder what the wizards' problem is. The list takes up roughly the same space as the one above. Without repetition.
Lower Deck Episode: Many Discworld books have focused on the faculty of Unseen University; this is the first one in which the University's household staff are main characters. Although we also hear a lot about the staff in Equal Rites.
Meaningful Name: Juliet, obviously. There's also Andy Shank; "shank" can mean a stabbing weapon. Also see Stealth Pun below for Trev Likely.
Memetic Badass: Vimes, in-universe; as discussed in Night Watch, coppers in Ankh-Morpork (and the surrounding cities) are called "Sammies" or "Old Sam" for a reason. (On Roundworld, it's why British cops are "bobbies," or "Old Bill.")
Also, Mrs. Whitlow has an in-universe Memetic Domestic Badass reputation among the UU staff, which Glenda eventually sees through and subverts.
Misapplied Phlebotinum: Orcs. The Evil Empire created a race of Genius BruiserSuper Soldiers designed to excel in every field of warfare... and then drove them into battle in poorly-armed waves with men with whips to goad them on. Considering that Uberwald is the old and much-beloved home of Mad Science, it would probably have been more surprising if they had used them properly.
Never Gets Drunk: Lord Vetinari. Actually, he does get drunk, but he's very good at not acting drunk.
Well, he appears slightly tipsy. Meanwhile, heavy drinkers twice his size had actually passed out drunk after drinking around the same amount. Though it does take him an extra 50 seconds to solve the Times crossword the next morning, and he even admits to having to look up a few words in the dictionary. For him, that's probably the equivalent of getting married in Vegas.
Offing The Mouth: The intellectual but totally unstreetwise Orc Mr Nutt gets this treatment from a gang of proto-football hooligans. His mistake was to try to engage them in debate on mob psychology and the sociopathology of overcrowded juvenile male rats. Nutt gets stabbed and left for dead by the gang.
Probably anyone who deals with Vetinari is capable of faking/hiding an accent. Or maybe her Morporkian's just got better since The Fifth Elephant.
Our Nudity Is Different: The wizards are adamant they can't wear shorts that expose their knees, for fear of the effect this might have on women. The one woman who hears this has trouble keeping a straight face.
Passive-Aggressive Kombat: It's noted that high-ranking wizards cannot get into fights, at least not in public (which may or may not have magical consequences). Therefore it was only seemly to be polite in even the most severe confrontation.
Ridcully: Now we all understand this! It's a boy thing! It's like little girls and the colour pink! You know how to do this! Pick the teams alternately so one of you ends up with the weird kid and the other with the fat kid. Some of the fastest mathematics of all time have been achieved by team captains trying not to end up with the weird kid - stay where you are, Rincewind!
Playing Cyrano: Amusingly subverted, as Nutt ghost-writes a love letter to Juliet for Trev, who can't think of anything better to say than "I think you are really fit, want to go out? No hanky-panky, promise." This is, word for word, exactly how Glenda summarizes Nutt's poetic missive when Juliet asks her what all "Trev's" fancy words mean.
Every single time Bledlow Alf Nobbs is mentioned, it is mentioned, either in the dialogue or in the narration, that he's not related to Nobby Nobbs.
The whistle of former university sports master, Evans the Striped.
Serious Business: Football. Starts out as a subversion, as the only thing on the line seems to be a large portion of the wizard's food budget, and they don't even need to win the game to retain that. Then it seems like the stakes will be the Archchancellor's Hat. But finally, it turns out that the real stakes are the soul of the game itself.
And that of civilization. Can a reasoned will not only contain violence, but defeat the mob?
It doesn't help that Vetinari has essentially committed enough to stopping the mob, that should the mob prevail anyways it would be a HUGE blow to his influence in the city, and could lead to anarchy.
Severed Head Sports: There is a rule explicitly stating that any object that has been kicked by at least three players in a row during an official football match is to be considered the ball. Guess which kind of object triggered the creation of this rule...
Shoot the Dog: It's important that Mr Nutt does not harm anyone, and publicly refrains from harming Andy when he'd be quite justified in doing so. However it's also important that Andy gets his just deserts, so Pepe obliges.
Juliet ("Jules"), a woman in dressed in golden-shining chainmail, is supported after the game by the whole Ankh-Morpork team in red shirts — this is clearly meant to resemble the Jules Rimet Trophy, awarded for the Football World Cup (up to 1970). ◊
Professor Bengo Macarona is evidently a nod to Diego Maradona, a famous football (soccer for Americans) player. There was also a player named Macarone in Genoa, which is the right city, give or take a letter.
It is my job to reduce this metaphysical overhead, as it were, and to give my lads some acceptable paradigm, such as, it might be, whack it right down the middle, my son, and at least if the goalie stops it you will have given him a hot handful he won't forget in a hurry.
Stealth Pun: Trev works in the university dribbling candles for wizardly pursuits. By the end of the book, he's dribbling footballs instead.
He's also "Dave Likely's son"... or Likely's lad; a "likely lad" being either a skilled sportsman or a known troublemaker - and Trev's both.
Un-stealthed in the back-cover copy, which calls him "a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can". (The pre-release blurb had much the same phrase, but called him an "urchin".)
The three-eyed teddy, described as "more enlightened than the average bear" is an obvious reference to both the "third eye" of Eastern mysticism and Yogi Bear. Now think about where the title "yogi" comes from...
Hix is Unseen University's Token Black Magician.
Straight Gay: Professor Bengo Macarona of Genua, star football player, with 13 doctorates from Unki, QIS and Chubb and a visiting professorship at Bugarup, cited in two hundred and thirty-six papers... and one divorce petition.
Ridcully: Angry husband? Stibbons: Angry wife, as I heard it. Ridcully: Oh, he was married, was he? Stibbons: Not to my knowledge, Archchancellor.
Possibly Bi the Way, given that the end of the book implies Macarona is flirting with Madame Sharn. Or not, since even if they are dressed as females, all dwarfs look like ultra-masculine and thickly bearded barbarian warriors.
Given some of the implications, it is possible that Madame Sharn is physically male (not merely a bearded female) and a cross-dresser or transvestite
Supreme Chef: Glenda. Her grandmother was the cook at the Assassins' Guild when Vetinari was a student; he still remembers the pies fondly, and practically (for Vetinari) salivates when he learns that the recipes were passed down. He's also the one to realize that Glenda would never even think of poisoning a pie; it would be practically sacrilegious. He mentions at the end that he had been planning on offering her a job if things had turned out differently.
Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: The aforementioned Professor Macarona D.Thau (Bug), D.Maus (Chubb), Magistaludorum (QIS), Octavium (Hons), PHGK (Blit), DMSK, Mack, D.Thau (Bra), Visiting Professor in Chickens (Jahn the Conqueror University (Floor 2, Shrimp Packers Building, Genua)), Primo Octo (Deux), Visiting Professor of Blit/Slood Exchanges (Al Khali), KCbfJ, Reciprocating Professor of Blit Theory (Unki), D.Thau (Unki), Didimus Supremius (Unki), Emeritus Professor in Blit Substrate Determinations (Chubb), Chair of Blit and Music Studies (Quirm College for Young Ladies)
Worthy Opponent: Mr. Hoggett, captain of Ankh-Morpork United. Despite the fact that his team contains a number of jerks, cheats, and Andy Shank, he tries to play a fair game, apologizes to the ref for his team's illegal moves, and punches out Andy Shank for mucking up what would otherwise have been a fair and square game in a personal Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Xtreme Kool Letterz: Dr. Hix was really Dr. Hicks, but "any man who wears a black robe and a skull ring isn't going to pass up the chance to have an X in his name".
Your Princess Is in Another Castle: "You think it's over?" Done three times. A reference to a famous remark by the commentator at the end of the 1966 World Cup final: "They think it's all over..." (Whistle blows) "It is now!"