In British educational and social convention, the Gap Year occurs when a person has finished their school-level education, usually around age eighteen (which is also the age of majority in Britain). Usually the person will have satisfactorily completed advanced school exams and be sitting on a university offer or else a firm offer of employment. The Gap Year - which may sometimes even be funded by the person's own earned income, and not subbed out by parents - is an accepted break in which the person gets to go touring, to see the world, and to take it easy after fourteen years of Education.
In this story by A.A. Pessimal, set in the Discworld, two new graduates of the Assassins' Guild School go on a walkingnote holiday while they figure out what to do next with their lives. Mariella and Rivka opt to cross an entire continent, the Disc's Howondaland, a place with many suspicious similarities to our Middle East and Africa.
It takes them the best part of eighteen months. But they do it: Howondaland, from Hubwards to Rim-most. In some places, people are still twitching.
The tale can be found here on Fan Fic Net.
Tropes emerging from a journey of self-discovery and a necessary rite of passage include:
- All There in the Manual: Practically everything in this tale comes out of canon: most of the countries visited are explicitly named in the Compleat Discworld Atlas, and even White Howondaland is hinted at in canon. Red Indians in the middle of Howondaland may seem odd and out of place - but according to Reaper Man, that's exactly where Pratchett himself put them.
- Amoral Afrikaner: Mariella Smith-Rhodes, up to a point. Very definitely the brash and unsubtle Horst Lensen. And the road trip ends in Rimwards Howondaland, a whole nation of Amoral Afrikaners.
- Arranged Marriage. Something the girls want to put off and avoid. However, life has other plans for them. Rivka has a Yenta pusuing her across a continent to keep reminding her it's now time to find a husband who should preferably be a good Om -fearing Cenotian boy in a profession. Klatchian graduate Assassin Miriam bint-Alhazred is sympathetic, explaining how the first thing that happened to her on graduating as an Assassin was to be trapped into an arranged marriage. note Mariella Smith-Rhodes becomes horribly aware that her own mother has plans for her. Mother has graciously accepted she isn't that into Tim Bellamy. However, Horst Lensen is expressing an interest in you, and he's a good boy with a stake in a vineyard and winery. Then her brother Danie is sent to Ankh-Morpork to court a very acceptible young woman from a good Boer farming family, who is therefore a very good catch as a daughter-in-law.note As both his parents put it - Boer soek'n vrou! - the farmer needs a wife. Danie is therefore given a one-way ticket to Ankh-Morpork to reacquaint himself with Heidi van Kruger.
- Badass Israeli: Rivka ben-Divorah Bechstein, a young lady who hails from a nation variably known as Istanzia or these days as Cenotia, a country known for golems, gefiltefisch and Yentas.
- Bleak Border Base: these recur throughout the story. The Klatchians plotting trouble over the Cenotian border have one; the Klatchian Foreign Legion cetainly have one, on the remote desert border with Ymitury.
- Bathtub Bonding: touring Assassins Mariella Smith-Rhodes and Rivka ben-Divorah share a typical Klatchian bath whilst house-guests in Klatch. Whilst wary of their hostess's motives and not entirely trusting her, both agree this is a hell of a lot better as a place to stay. The alternative is shivering under a blanket on the side of a sand-dune next to an insanitary oasis.
- Bluff the Eavesdropper: Horst Lensen and Mariella Smith-Rhodes are placed in "administrative detention" by the local police in Smith-Rhodesia. Horst, who has just been searched, loudly apologises to Mariella that all his weapons and equipment have been discovered and taken away. Aware Mariella has not been searched yet as the local police cannot find any qualified female personnel to conduct a search, they conduct a second conversation in Assassin sign-language and finger-code in which Horst suggests it would be a good idea if she slips him some of hers, so that one of them has some weapons available.
- Famous Ancestor: over a century before the "present", a peniless farm-boy with ambition left the town of Scrote in the Sto Plains to seek fame and fortune in Howondaland. Cecil Smith managed it on both counts. Marrying a girl called Mary Roydes and hyphenating their names, which were mis-spelt by a disinterested Immigration bureaucrat as "Smith-Rhodes", he bought land in an area previously ignored as too poor to be farmed, and discovered gold and diamonds. Cecil Smith-Rhodes used this as collateral to fund a rag-tag mercenary army and conquered a black Howondalandian region known to its inhabitants as Rumbabwe. With superb modesty, he named this Smith-Rhodesia after himself. Scroll forward, and his great-great grand-daughter Mariella Smith-Rhodes becomes squirmingly mortified on entering Smith-Rhodesia, a country named after her family. To add to her discomfort, just about everywhere has a statue of the illustrious Founding Father Of Our Nation, Sir Cecil Smith-Rhodes. Who clearly looks like a relative of Mariella. note
- Flamethrower Backfire: This happens to a ship mounting a Klatchian Fire Engine as its main weapon. Shortly afterwards, a similar weapon explodes in mysterious circumstances in a military compound. This is linked to the activities of two young graduates of the Assassins' School who are on holiday in the area and who know how to, for instance, improvise crossbow bolts with incendiary explosive Devices attached.
- Girls Behind Bars: Rivka ben-Divorah's first experience of the country of Smith-Rhodesia is a prison cell. It's all to do with a forgotten lump of Klatchian bhong resin discovered in her luggage by Customs. Rivka shrugs and reflects that for seven years she was a boarding pupil at the Assassins' Guild School. Prison therefore holds no terrors for her. And she has some annoyance to work off, as the cell's Queen Bitch soon discovers. Her time in prison is brief, instructive and entertaining. Meanwhile, Mariella (who the system insists should be segregated as she is clearly white whilst Rivka counts as "coloured", is detained elsewhere, but with a little outside help, gets the charges dropped.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rivka and Mariella have grown up together from the age of eleven to the age of eighteen at the toughest school on the Disc. They are effectively bonded for life after seven years in Black Widow House.
- Hungry Jungle: visited by Mariella and Rivka.
- Israel: Taken Up to Eleven as Cenotia/Istanzia. The girls stay at a kibbutz on the war-threatened Golem Heights, for instance.
- Jewish Mother: Rivka's mother, who is pleased her daughter has got an ology and professional accreditation as an Assassin, but is keen to remind her she is of marriagable age and is doing nothing about the lack of husband. By proxy, the matchmaker Yenta Goldberg who pursues Rivka all the way across the continent just to remind her.
- Jews Love to Argue: their experience in Cenotia where the girls find themselves on a struggling newly-established kibbutz. Mariella who was brought up on a farm in Rimwards Howondaland finds herself, by default, as Most Experienced Person in charge. She is utterly exasperated by the tendency of the kibbutzim to down tools and argue rather then get down to collective farming. Rivka is more realistic about this.Two Cenotians, three arguments.
- Jewish Smartass: The work finds two backpacking graduates exploring the Disc's most underexplored continent just for the hell of it. Having illegally entered Klatch, the girls have just been verbally abused by an over-privileged and under-talented Ankh-Morporkian consular official who has flatly refused to help them in anyway. National Stereotypes figured in his abuse. Rivka, from a Discworld country that has many suspicious points of similarity with Israel on our world, cheerfully agrees her nose is far too big, that Cenotians get everywhere, and that her Vondalaander best friend has a terrible aversion to soap. Then their vengeance for the ethnic slurs involves sending a stranded Dwarf with a big axe to ask the Consul for help in getting home. They listen, with satisfaction, to the ensuing thumps and grunts of pain.
- Lawful Stupid: the customs officer who arrests the girls for "irregularities", despite their having just fought a battle against an enemy armed with a vastly advanced weapon Rimwards Howondaland cannot match. The same customs officer also notes that in The Apartheid Era, Rivka classifies as "coloured". She is therefore segregated to the appropriate prison cell, regardless of the fact the Cenotian government will almost certainly lodge a diplomatic protest. The Customs man has proceeeded in accorance with the Rules and Laws. All of them.
- Made a Slave: This fate befalls attitudinal Horst Lensen. Horst has to be rescued, whether they like it or not, by Mariella and Rivka; they hit on a way of effecting a sort of rescue which is unorthodox, breaks no laws, does not involve killing anybody, and which involves an educative experience which Horst desperately needs.
- Portal Network: In possibly the most remote corner of Klatch, an oasis settlement shunned by right-thinking folk and used as a place for inconvenient people to be exiled or for the convenient disposal of embarrassing, problematical or just awkward things, the travellers make a discovery of great interest. Apparently anywhere on the Discworld that is called, in the local language, The Place Where The Sun Doth Not Shine is connected, by its own Portal Door and Portal Network, to every other place which is called in the local language That Place Where The Sun's Rays Do Not Reach. A Dwarf who falls through The Place Where The Sun Does Not Shine near Slice, in Lancre, resurfaces in the insanitary oasis of En-El-Sams-la-Raisa, three or four thousand miles away in Klatch, virtually instantaneously.
- Redheads Are Uncool: Mariella's experience in every country and culture they visit.
- Road Trip Plot: The rationale for the story.
- Rugby Is Slaughter: a sub-plot deals with Mariella's older brother Danie, who goes in the opposite direction, emigrating to Ankh-Morpork to try his luck there. He finds a niche in a local fifteen-a-side club composed of Rimwards Howondalandian emigrés and becomes a keen player of one of the most energetic contact sports on the Disc.
- Shout Outs:
- The Blues Brothers: on entering Klatch (illegally) the girls note that they are wearing dark clothing and sunglasses, each has a fully-fuelled camel, and it is 140 miles to Al-Khali. Later on, they even discover there is a mission from Glod.
- Crosby, Stills & Nash - the girls meet other young people of the same age who are also doing Gap Years. In this case heading to Ymitury on the, err, Marrakesh Express. Patti Smith is also referenced.
- The African Queen: The girls have an eventful river trip courtesy of a Captain Walnut. This involves a right-of-way dispute with an unfriendly ship carrying superior armament.
- The Goldbergs: The Yenta who relentlessly pursues Rivka across a whole continent is called Mrs B. Goldberg. She has a daughter who has moved to Ankh-Morpork to work as a musician, who has changed her name to Ricki Gold (So it doesn't sound so Cenotian). Her husband apparently has to be prompted to put trousers on if people are expected.
- Heart of Darkness; Urabewe, the Heart of Insufficient Light.
- Riotous Assembly: Mariella's home town is called Piemberg. This has many points of correspondence with Tom Sharpe's sleepy backwater town in South Africa, including an unpleasant Signature Scent from the local abbatoir/meat cannery.
- Tarzan: Tarquin of the Apes, who believes all women are called Jane.
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: After an exploit in Cenotia which makes the newspapers, a song from faraway Howondaland briefly grips the imagination of Ankh-Morpork and is performed in music halls. As it is not in Morporkian, people guess at the meaning of the words. The repetition of a phrase in the language spoken in Howondaland must be important. Morporkians speculate on why this bloke called Marcus Fontayne is so important. Others say no, you've got it wrong, it's a woman. Margot Fontayne. You know, the ballerina at the Opera House. The fact it's a placename with special significance — Magersfontein — is not realised by people who don't quite get the cultural reference, and in any case were on the losing side in a long-ago war. Characters called Boris Kriger (boereskryger = farmer-fighter) and Stan Your Man (staan jou maan, "face your foe") and his mate Stan Fast (staan vas! = Stand firm!) also come into the song. note Mariella, who is responsible for popularising the song in Ankh-Morpork, is duly mortified with embarrasment.
- South Africa: the road trip ends at Cape Terror, looking out to the Rimfall at the edge of a flat world. The human settlement at Cape Terror is a respectably-sized city called Caarp Town. Mariella has relatives who live here, in some comfort and ease.
- Third Wheel: After seven years at school followed by over a year of travelling together, Mariella becomes one when Rivka meets the Cenotian exchange student Aaron, sent to Rimwards Howondaland to learn agricultural management. Mariella does not like the feel of this very much, especially when she realises it makes it less socially awkward to make up a four. And the only available man is Horst Lensen.
- Zimbabwe: appears here as a reflection of its pre-1980 incarnation, as, err, Smith-Rhodesia.