In response to differing opinions about Terry Pratchett's recent publication, Jingo, Leo Breebaart and Richard Bryant attempt a full and frank exchange of views - over to you, Sergeant Leo and Corporal Bryan...

It had been a dull night, just the way they liked it. No spammers1 had shown their ugly faces, no crackers2 had attacked lspace.org3, and no imbeciles had posted anything especially moronic to alt.fan.pratchett. Of course, they could have gone and patrolled around wibble.org4 but some things are even worse than the Shades.

Having slouched around most of the mirror-sites, they wandered past the fringes of alt.books.pratchett and, indeed, became [R]5 in accordance with Quantum Theory.

"Hey Sarge," said Bryan, in a characteristically thoughtful tone. "You've read the latest Discworld novel, right? Didn't you think it was great? Old Vimes, he's basically got the whole novel to himself. Classic, I call that. It must be as hard as an actor doing one of them One Man Shows."

Sergeant Leo raised an eyebrow.

"Corporal," he replied, "you hit the nail right on the head: I didn't think it was great! Sure made a change from all the other thirty-seven books the man wrote, I can tell you that. So Old Vimes was the star of the book. But what happened to the other Ankh-Morpork citizens? Demoted to caricature, cardboard, token, crowd-pleasing, cameo status, that's what! Or did you feel that dragging the Watch all the way over to Klatch on a flimsy pretext, and then doing absolutely nothing interesting with them for the remainder of the book, until they had to go home again, made much sense?"

Bryan scratched an ear, which fortunately was his own. "Dunno about that. I thought some o' them scenes with Nobby in a dress and the Patrician bein' clever were worth the price of the book by themselves. The bit about the donkey up the Minaret. That's foreshadowin', that is."

He gloated a little at the use of a technical word, and continued.

"See, you got to have somebody for Vimes to care about, ain't you? Now Captain Carrot, he got a bit of a short stick in this one. But to be fair, having made him out to be a big simple Welsh copper, there ain't a lot more you can say, although the stuff with the disguise was funny."

"Just as the overlong scenes about his natural charisma were annoying..." added Leo, sardonically.

Bryan pointedly ignored this and blundered on.

"Anyway, about Sir Sam - what I reckon is, if you got a big star for the lead role then you bloody well use him. You wouldn't get lots of little bit-parts runnin' around in a Dirty Harry film - not unless they were goin' to be shot anyway - and the Watch books have always been police spoofs. 'Fabricati diem, pvnc', remember?"

Leo stuck his hands in his pockets and slowed to a leisurely "proceed".

"Now now, Corporal, I never said I objected to Vimes being the hero and all that. I'd gladly read another trilogy full of nothing but interaction between Vimes and the Patrician. But if Terry's going to bring the Watch into it, it's not fair to then neglect them completely, especially since in the earlier City Watch novels - and by the way, notice how they are called Watch novels, and not Vimes novels? - police spoof or not, individual Watch members, whether used comically or seriously, got much more attention, right down to what you might call character development. In Jingo, the balance is off.

And the same goes for Klatch. In Interesting Times we learned a lot about the Agatean Empire and the people in it. About Klatch and the Klatchians we learn nothing - all they are is convenient props for the anti-racism message."

"Because they're the same as we are," interrupted Bryan. "That's the whole point. I mean, exactly how much character development can you do with Fred Colon? We know the Watchmen. They're essentially comic artisans, right? Now, be fair, Shakespeare never went in for character development with his yokels, did he? You could probably manage to find out a bit more about Angua or one of the new Watchmen, but that's as far as it goes. Vimes is a true character. You can work with that."

"Besides," he muttered, "I don't remember Terry ever officially calling them 'the Watch novels'."

"Maybe not, but you did, just a minute or so ago." Leo pointed out. "Here!" Bryan exclaimed. "There's an [M]6 thread in AFP! Be right back, Sarge."

With that, he jumped headlong into alt.fan.pratchett and emerged a few minutes later, scorched and grumbling.

"Ow. I seem to get flamed7 a lot these days."

Leo grinned. "Well, it's not as if you don't ask for it, is it? Know what? I'll grant you that the Nobby-Colon-Patrician scenes were pretty cool, though. Terry's always brilliant at slapstick."

Bryan shrugged. "Well, I'm pretty good at getting slapped."

Up ahead, a crowd made up of trolls and dwarfs were engaged in some sort of argument. Bryan and Leo took one look at the number of bows, axes and clubs in evidence, and made a nonchalant but hasty left turn along quieter streets.

After a moment, Leo spoke up again. "You know Corporal, one other thing I thought was quite disappointing was the way in which Jingo pounds its anti-war and anti-racism messages home with a sixteen ton moral sledgehammer. Reminds me of that great Culture Club protest song: 'War, war is stupid / and people are stupid...'. Does Terry think we're stupid? Or is he writing for the American market now? Where did the subtlety of Small Gods go? The 'let people draw their own conclusions' approach? The 'nothing's wrong with a bit of ambiguity' Terry, who didn't even think it was necessary to resort to preaching and talking down in his children's novels?"

Fight picture Bryan lit a cigarette. "Oh come on, Sarge," he muttered, "Give it a rest. Every bugger and his dog already knows war's a bad thing. See, I don't think it's the actual war Terry's on about. It's about public hysteria. It's about people behaving irrationally purely because everyone else is. Remember all that arse about Princess Diana? It's like that. And people get thick when they get emotional, so you got to ram it home.

As for writin' for the American market - d'you remember I done that WWW page about ol' Diana when she carked it? I got better than fifty flames about that an' every one of 'em was from a US address. So, maybe Terry's just anticipatin' the reactions."

"Well, I don't have to be happy about that, do I?" demanded Leo. "As far as the hysteria angle goes: doesn't anybody think it's a little strange how the people of Ankh-Morpork suddenly got all xenophobic about Klatch at such short notice, with so little provocation, and in contradiction to nearly everything we've been told about A-M in the previous novels?"

"Because the Klatchians aren't a bunch of ignorant barbarians that you can sell stuff to." explained the smouldering Corporal. "I have to admit, I did think this section was a bit weak. The lack of printed newspapers in A-M is the cause, I think. You need some way of whipping up mass hysteria for it to work properly."

"Newspapers aren't the only means of doing that. Think Crusades..."

"Nar. That takes time, and for the Pope to get crotchety because of his piles." Bryan grinned around his cigarette.

"Anyways," Leo continued, "that's the point: there may be reasons, but Terry doesn't do a convincing enough job of explaining to us why the Ankh-Morporkians are so ready to go to war within days of Leshp rising. You may now feel free to throw the word 'Falklands' at me - everybody else does when I bring this up. But I still say it's mostly Terry setting up a handy plot device in a join-the-dots style I've never seen him use before."

 Bryan shrugged. "Fair enough. I reckon the book is strong enough to carry that bit anyway, so can I have permission to disagree, Sarge?" "Yeah, okay. But stop blowing that smoke in my face!"

Bryan smouldered miserably. "I've put it out. This is just me bein' on fire. One of these days I'll give up [M] threads."

They wandered off into the distance, echoes of the conversation floating back down the alley.

"Who flamed you anyway?"

"A fish."

"You what?"

"I think it was a turbot8."

And then, a pause.

And then...

"You're obviously sniping at someone and hiding it with a typo."

"'s not a bleedin' typo, it's a fish, innit?"

And then they were gone.

Richard Bryant is a 28-year old pitbull who would hate it if people got the impression from this that he is Terry Pratchett's Number One Fan.

Leo Breebaart is a 31-year old Chihuahua who would hate it if people got the impression from this that he takes Discworld novels too seriously.

  1. People who litter the Internet with unwanted, unsolicited and frequently unlawful articles, usually for financial gain.
  2. Small savoury biscuits, renowned for their tastiness with cheese and their tendency to infiltrate and damage computer systems.
  3. The best Internet resource for Pratchett fandom.
  4. The Internet site for the terminally stressed.
  5. A tag which identifies a discussion on AFP as being 'Relevant' (i.e. related to the books). Some have found these threads all-too-rare on AFP.
  6. A tag which identifies a discussion on AFP as being 'Meta' (i.e. related to the nature and use of the newsgroup itself). Such threads have often degenerated into personal insults and flaming (see below).
  7. Receiving an angry and aggressive response from someone via e-mail or Usenet. 'Flames' are typically full of personal insults, and have little to do with either the subject under discussion, or the real world.
  8. A reference to Margaret Tarbet, a poster to AFP with whom Bryan has had notable differences of opinion.

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November 1998