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Reviews Comments: Pratchett shoots... and misses. Unseen Academicals issue/book review by Jethro Q Walrustitty

Unseen Academicals continues the Discworld tradition of taking a real life phhenomenon and applying Disc logic to it. On paper it does sound like a good idea, football being something very quintessentailly british, and the culture around it being more than enough material for satire. Similarly, the idea of seeing what goes on behind the scenes at the university; the kitchens and such.

Unfortunately, it falls short.

The new characters are flat, and too flawless. The book spends too much time pondering about the nature of football, and repeating the running gags ("Skull ring", Bedlow Nobbs (No Relation), *Gloing*, Mr. Nutt's speech pattern, "doesn't chafe" etc.). In my view, there's also Character Derailment for Lord Vetinari, who seems to be laughing uncharstically much in the book (usually, he just gives a hidden smirk at Vimes' Refuge In Audacity). Also, the narration is too repetitive, and too muddles with dialect.

The book is not without merit, of course. Ponders as the faculty busybody and the magic of the gym whistle are the up points of the book.


  • Karalora
  • 13th Jan 10
I have to agree with this review. The book felt uncharacteristically crowded for a Discworld novel, with four new main characters, each with his or her own little subplot that barely touches the other three, and no indication as to which one is the "real" plot. It's a case of Four Lines All Waiting, which makes it very difficult to stay interested in the book.

I get the feeling it would work better as a movie, and I have to wonder whether this is what Pterry had in mind, given the recent film productions of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. The handful of epilogues certainly seem like the sort of thing you would see in vignette form over the closing credits of a film.
  • DrSivana
  • 26th Jan 10
Honestly, I think it shows that only Pterry is Pterry and that the amount of ghostwriting needed to fill in his own (admitted) mental gaps is starting to show. My question is who was ghostwriting on this one? His Daughter is a perfectly competent fantasy writer, but I doubt it was her.

Back on point, I see there possibly being 2 or 3 more Novels like this before they're either ended or completely ghostwritten, and I'd hate to see how the new fella takes on the Witches or The Watch given the Ascended Fan Fic feeling of portions of this one.
  • Camacan
  • 27th Jan 10
I also agree with your review.

My main problem was with the multiplicity of plots: the Football team, the run-up matches, the final, the character development of Nutt and Glenda, the two romances, the mystery of Nutt's past, Juliet's fashion career, and more ... none of them got the screentime they needed to be properly explored or resolved. Many of these just died on the vine, or got abrupt conclusions. I enjoyed the book, but I felt there was two or maybe three much better books in there.
  • Desertopa
  • 29th Jan 10
I've felt that the series has been deteriorating for the last few books at least, but this one definitely feels like a new low.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I started the book was the outrageous, fanatical outlook that football (or rather, foot-the-ball) had among the masses. Yes, I understand that this is actually reflective of how seriously people take football in much of the world, but it would make a lot more sense if there had been any indication whatsoever in any of the previous books that football enjoyed this sort of popularity. I expected that football would become popular over the course of the book, something I was looking forward to since Pterry has a good history with stories showing the impact of a new development on Disc society.

Instead, football appears from the beginning as a time honored (or at least time tolerated) massive cultural phenomenon, despite being conspicuously absent from previous books. The only prior indication that Discworld football existed was the part in Jingo where Captain Carrot managed to talk two opposing armies into having a football match rather than fighting, easily forgotten since it was played as a joke and the sport was never mentioned again.

Aside from that, I have to register my agreement with all the other criticisms thus far.

I have to wonder if it's that Pterry's writing abilities are deteriorating, or he's simply nearing the point of having exhausted what he can do with Discworld. I found Nation to be his best work in years by a considerable margin, so perhaps it would improve matters if he shifted his focus to works outside the Discworld series.
  • 7th Feb 10
Dr Sivana: the dedication page says the book's typed by Rob Wilkins. Pterry has a form of Alzheimer's that primarily affects the back of the brain, which deal with vision - he has said he can plot, but he can't type. Therefore the book has been dictated. Considering that he has been giving perfectly coherent interviews, what makes you assume any part of the book's been ghostwritten?
  • 20th Feb 10
Desertopa: To me the memorable thing in Unseen Academicals is the crab-bucket storyline - what people have to do to stop keeping themselves in the narrative they were born into.

Terry Pratchett said in some interview he had thought for a bit that Wintersmith was the best book he had written, but now (whenever that was) thought it was probably Nation. I think all three Tiffany Aching books are original and powerful, and will last.

I have also had a huge amount of pleasure from Moist Lipwig. The Pratchett golem has a profound dignity. I don't see any falling off at all.

Discworld is a place where you can put any kind of story - Fantasy, Detective, I don't know what. The one story I have not seen the point of so far is The Last Continent, which was written ages ago.

  • SickleYield
  • 23rd Oct 10 I don't know about Dr. Sivana, but in my case it's not the assumption that the work IS ghostwritten so much as the desperate HOPE that this is the case. The book's quality is so poor after the first third compared to other works that it absolutely does not hold up. I'd really like to think this is because P Terry didn't write it rather than because he's really writing this way now - because then it wouldn't be the fault of an author I've loved for years.

Before P Terry, I never read an atheist author who seemed to me to have a point. Before P Terry, I never read a male author who was so deft at writing female characters (nor, indeed, many female authors it has been my misfortune to read). Before P Terry, I thought there was no such thing as well-written fantasy humor. And before P Terry, I never would have believed it was so very possible for an author to create crowning moments of funny, heartwarming, and awesome on the same page of the same book.

With the latter part of Unseen Academicals, this great splendid whole is present only in glimpses and fragments. That's a tragedy. And I want it to be the poor choice of a publisher or relative, some ghost writer who doesn't know his business, and not a great author not knowing when he has ceased to be great.
  • gneissisnice
  • 16th Nov 10
I actually really enjoyed the book. The characters really did show quite a lot of growth (except Juliet), and Glenda is probably one of my favorite characters in the series. All the characters were great, I think, and while the plot did feel a bit disjointed at times, it came together by the end. I think there should have been a bit more focus on the wizards though. After the first third or so of the book, we didn't really hear much about them, and the conflict between the Dean and Ridcully didn't really go anywhere (it had a resolution, but it was kind of a brief moment at the end of the book). But I thought it was a great read. Not one of Pratchett's best works (certainly not in the same league as Reaper Man, Night Watch, or Thud!, my three favorite Discworld books), but a very fun book nonetheless.
  • DoktorvonEurotrash
  • 22nd Feb 11
I thought it wasn't perfect, but better than Thud (which was more angsty than I prefer Discworld, and had an obvious twist ending) or Making Money (which was a completely pointless sequel to the wonderful Going Postal).

And Desertopa, while I agree that the popularity of football comes a bit out of nowhere in this book, football was mentioned earlier in Jingo (when Carrot trained the street kids in it, setting up the army game at the end). Also, I don't see your problem with the word "foot-the-ball". It's only used by the wizards, who learned it from an old document; everyone else in Ankh-Morpork says "football" like in Jingo.
  • 24th Feb 11
Hi.....Sivana again.....

As to the Ghostwriting/quality thing, it's honestly a bit of both. On the one hand, you have the fact that the book itself is simply not as good as his few previous (Adult Discworld & Tiffany Aching as well). If it was Written In Infirmity that might provide a better reasoning than simply him writing a bad book.

It honestly reminded me most of all of The Color Of Magic, it was slow, meandering, and and so far the ONLY Discworld book i've yet to actually finish.
  • LilMaibe
  • 24th Apr 11
I have to agreed with almost every negative review for this book that exists. The most bothersome thing about the book IMHO is...well... actually are several things: We have, as said, flat borderline sue-ish characters (I really can't understand how some people can find the orc or glenda well-done), plotholes so big you can walk an elephant through, jokes that just won't work (unless you laugh because 'it's a joke, you have to find it funny' and don't think about it) and really really dragged out jokes that don't even fall under the Overly Long Gag category anymore. Don't get me wrong, I liked the sideplot about Brazeneck, but that's actually it. One minor plot out of roughly nth bazillion plotthreads in the whole book. But one of the most bothersome things to me are those people who claim I 'just don't get the book' and that 'it was about the whole crabbucket thing and therefore is ingenius'. Sorry folks, but the whole 'crabbucket' thing, that one isn't bound to anything because of social status, race/species, upbringing, abilities, etc has been done in various other Discworld novels before. Without being so anvillicious and forced and gettign shived in ones face as it is here. Just think about it: Rincewind, Ponder, Carrot, Verence, Susan, Brutha, Dorfl, just to name a few characters who are what they are now despite none of them actually starting from a point that woud have lead to it. And talking about Ponder: IMHO this book does not have what some claim to be characterdevelopment for him. Instead it's characterderailment. The Ponder in UA acts like he would have acted if he would have never went to Lancre or the Mono-Isle. UA shows him like he would have become if he would have never known things are a lot weirder than they seem: stuck-up, precocious and not caring if things go wrong because others failed to be as intelligent as he is.

All in all UA continues down a very, very unsettling route: The Disc becoming just another generic fantasy world.

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