The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Interesting Times

Written by Ed

The Gods of the Discworld are fickle, and enjoy playing rather gory games with the lives of men. Fate and Lady Luck decide to play Mighty Empires-they look down on the Agatean Empire, where five families are about to go to war. Fate picks the strongest army, but the Lady introduces her characteristically random feature: the quantum weather butterfly...

Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University is called to see the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Lord Vetinari tells the wizard of a secret message that he has received from the mysterious Agatean Empire, requesting the "Great Wizzard". Neither of them are sure what it means, but Ridcully thinks that the spelling used for the word "wizard" is familiar. Lord Vetinari tells him that the Agatean Empire is very powerful and very rich (containing the majority of the world's gold) and so he had better find a great wizard and send him there immediately...


Ridcully calls a meeting of the senior wizards, and explains the situation. Ponder Stibbons, the youngest member of the faculty, believes that it may be possible to transport a wizard over to the Empire by magical teleportation. The technique is simple: instead of actual transportation they merely exchange two objects of a similar weight, so that each object provides the motive power for each other. After an unsuccessful attempt to convince the Dean to go, Ridcully tells them of the familiar spelling-which is immediately recognised by the Librarian. He runs down to the Library and returns with a battered wizard's hat bearing the misspelled word, which sparks a few minds. The wizards tell Ridcully about Rincewind the failed wizard, who disappeared after the events of Sourcery. They decide that he must be the one they want and so Ponder Stibbons sets about looking for him on HEX, the giant thinking-engine.

Rincewind is on a peaceful desert island, where he has been marooned for some years. Against all odds, he is found by a tribe of beautiful all-female warriors who promise him delights beyond his wildest dreams when he is magically exchanged places with a pile of pots and pans that the wizards have found. He re-materialises in the Great Hall of Unseen University. Delirious after the trip through the ether, he staggers out into the city. He survives eating three of Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler's sausages before being knocked out in a Thieves' Guild training session. He is brought back to UU.

In the Agatean Empire, a man known as Lord Hong talks to his agent Two Fire Herb. He thanks the man for sending the message to Ankh-Morpork, but warns that he may have been seen. Lord Hong believes that the Great Wizzard will soon arrive, and the "Red Army" will have a leader...

Rincewind awakes, and is told of events by Ridcully. He is blackmailed into accepting the challenge of going to the Empire, and goes to the Great Hall. There, the nervousness of several wizards is explained when the Luggage suddenly appears in the room. Ridcully is more fascinated than scared, and Rincewind's sentient travel accessory does not quite know how to take this.

Back in the Empire, Two Fire Herb is meeting with another group of people. They are the Red Army, and they are planning a revolution.

Having found something that they think is about Rincewind's weight and is over in the Empire, the wizards make the transfer. As it turns out, the item is substantially heavier than Rincewind, so the wizard ends up arriving at great speed and buries himself inside a snowdrift. A huge cannon arrives back in UU, and the string is put out by the wizards.

Rincewind finds a manacled gang of prisoners, the intended target for the cannon. One of them he recognises-he is Cohen the Barbarian, greatest warrior on the Disc, if now a little old. Rincewind frees the prisoners, and Cohen leads him to his hideout in the mountains.

Lord Hong is the grand vizier of the Emperor. He is angry that one of the cannons has been lost, but is pleased that the Great Wizzard has arrived. He demonstrates his fearsome power by decapitating a tea-girl who had tried to poison his drink...

Cohen leads Rincewind down from the mountains and to the warmth of the Empire itself. He tells him about the Wall around the country-it is not to protect against invaders, but to keep the inhabitants in. The people of the Empire are led to believe that the outside world is merely a windswept plain filled with vampires and ghosts. Later, Lord Hong meets with the other Agatean warlords to discuss the problem of the rebel Red Army. There are references to the foolishness of allowing one citizen to return to the Empire after having left. Outwardly, Lord Hong wishes to kill the Red Army, but privately he hungers for Ankh-Morpork...

Cohen leads Rincewind to his hideout and introduces his gang of equally old barbarians: Boy Willie, Old Vincent, Caleb the Ripper, Truckle the Uncivil, Mad Hamish (who is confined to a wheelchair) and Ronald Saveloy, an ex-teacher and the thinker of the group. Mr Saveloy tells Rincewind that the capital city of Hunghung is under siege by the Red Army, and gives Rincewind directions to it. Mr Saveloy gives Rincewind a copy of the revolutionary document, What I Did On My Holidays, to try to explain the situation. Rincewind then makes a decision to ride in the opposite direction from Hunghung and so to avoid trouble. On his way across the plains, he encounters parties of fleeing peasants who seem terrified of him. He thinks to what Cohen had said: the Empire has something worse than whips. After a while, he stops to read the booklet he has been given. It is a simple detailing of a city very much like Ankh-Morpork, but written with an air of immense surprise. Rincewind is so confused about this that he does not notice a party of pursuers behind him...

Meanwhile, the Luggage reappears in its homeland and sets off across the mountains.

Rincewind is dragged to a carriage, where he is instructed on how to survive by an unseen woman who seems to sympathise with the Red Army. Rincewind takes the first opportunity he gets to flee, and runs off towards a tiny village in the distance, where he stops at an inn for food. Although he has no money, he is given the meal free when the innkeeper sees his copy of What I Did On My Holidays. He sits down to read it, and it soon dawns on him that the city in question is indeed Ankh-Morpork. He knows that the "Great Wizzard" it mentions is him-and he knows who wrote it. He considers the effect this booklet would have on such an oppressed and secular culture. Soon, he is presented with a plate of fortune cookies and is forced to pick a certain one, but before he can read it he is knocked out.


Up in the hideout, Cohen's horde prepares to carry out their plan.

Rincewind awakes in the carriage he escaped from, and meets the same woman inside. She introduces herself as Pretty Butterfly, and she tells him that people believe him to be a legendary Great Wizard.

Mr Saveloy ponders on the plan. He mentions aqueducts, as Hunghung is a large city and yet miles from any river. What is more interesting, though, is a huge round hill that dominates the skyline in the distance...

Butterfly introduces Rincewind to Lotus Blossom, another member of the rebellion. She tells him of an old legend, about how the first empire founded the country by means of a huge Red Army of giants, led by a Great Wizard. The people believe that Rincewind is the Great Wizard. Butterfly is sceptical, but the people need a leader. The Empire teaches obedience, and so open rebellion is against their nature. When Butterfly threatens him, Rincewind escapes again and runs into the bustling metropolis of Hunghung.

Cohen's horde approach the gates of Hunghung. They are attacked by guards, but the horde's considerable fighting skill wins through easily.

Rincewind meets Disembowel-Meself-Honourably Dibhala, who is also a revolutionary. He is told how the Red Army are being slaughtered by the warlords, even though their activities go no further than putting up posters. However, by talking to him, Rincewind allows people to catch up with him and he is taken away again. He is brought back to the Hunghung cadre of the Red Army, where he meets Lotus Blossom again as well as Two Fire Herb-Lord Hong's double agent. Butterfly, who is extremely intelligent and cynical, warns him not to run away again.

Cohen's horde are eating in a restaurant. They are all feeling proud of themselves, as Mr Saveloy has been teaching them about civilisation and they have bought some proper clothes. Mr Saveloy has also bought a large amount of fireworks, but he does not tell them what he intends to do with them.

Rincewind is given his first task-he is to find a way of bringing down the wall of the Forbidden City, the Emperor's palace. At that moment, there are in fact strange voices coming from under the Forbidden City: Cohen's horde is entering through the sewers. Mr Saveloy has left the fireworks to blow a hole in the wall in order to distract the guards. The horde do not like this idea, and would prefer to stand and fight.

Rincewind is frogmarched to a section of wall-which, quite by chance, has Mr Saveloy's explosives on the other side of it. Rincewind does not know that the ensuing explosion is not down to himself, and is quite unable to defend himself or the cadre when the palace guards descend upon them.

Rincewind is brought before the ancient and senile Emperor, who takes a shine to him and spares his life. He is jailed along with the rest of the cadre. In the cell next to him is a familiar figure: it is Twoflower, an old acquaintance of Rincewind's and the author of What I Did On My Holidays. With typical naïvety, he says that he did not mean his booklet to cause trouble, but merely wished it to be interesting.

Cohen recruits two new members-a tax man, Six Beneficent Winds, and a guard, One Big River.

Suddenly, Rincewind finds that the cell doors are opened and all the guards are dead. The cadre emerge, and Twoflower introduces Lotus Blossom and Pretty Butterfly as his daughters. Two Fire Herb-who is nowhere to be found-has left instructions that they storm the palace but Rincewind is suspicious, and tells the cadre to leave. He heads into the palace with Butterfly.

Before they move on, Mr Saveloy has the horde take bath. Six Beneficent Winds asks what they have come to steal, but Mr Saveloy will not tell them.

In the corridors, Rincewind tells Butterfly of his theory: he wonders why Two Fire Herb seems to know so much. He thinks that someone is trying to organise a revolution. He arrives at the Imperial chambers-and finds that the Emperor has already been assassinated...

The horde's plan comes to a halt-Cohen simply marches into the throne room and takes over. He is relying on the fact that very few people know what the Emperor looks like, and he has summoned all those who do.

Lord Hong is vexed. His plan was to blame the Emperor's assassination on the Red Army and then stage a counter revolution in order to take the throne, but as the Red Army have escaped he has no scapegoat. He sends Two Fire Herb away to be executed.

Cohen warns the assembled courtiers not to try to denounce him, and sends the chamberlain away to prepare food.

Rincewind runs into the palace laundry, where he disguises himself as a peasant. He runs into the kitchens, just in time to see Lord Hong arrive and poison Cohen's food. The food is brought to Cohen, but Rincewind travels with the staff and warns the barbarian not to eat it. After this plan fails, Lord Hong declares formal war on Cohen; while the Warlords squabble amongst themselves they will unite against anyone who grows too powerful. It is here that Rincewind starts a little rumour-that their army is made up from the ghosts and vampires beyond the wall. The armies will meet at dawn the next day- seven versus two hundred and fifty thousand.

The armies meet that night on the plains, and set up camp. Rincewind goes from encampment to encampment, spreading the rumour. He then sits back and watches it spread and grow steadily more detailed. He is happy with himself, but this vanishes when he runs into Death. The spectre does not have an appointment with him, but does bring down to the Discworld Lady Luck's Quantum Weather Butterfly...


Back in Ankh-Morpork, the wizards decide to bring Rincewind back. Ponder begins the calculations on HEX.

Lord Hong orders that the armies be told that they have their own ghosts fighting for them, to improve morale. The generals have misgivings, but obey anyway.

The horde prepare to fight, considering for the first time that they may die. Meanwhile Rincewind-who has found the Luggage-makes a decision not to stay for the battle and flees again. He heads towards the huge hill. Over the plains, the butterfly is doing its work changing the weather, and great black clouds fill the sky. The soldiers are made ready.

Rincewind toils on towards the hill.

Lord Hong is made even more angry when he learns that his morale-improving plan has made matters worse, and some soldiers have deserted.

Rincewind arrives at the hill and is chased up it by two soldiers who have deserted. He falls down a patch of loose ground and, after an encounter with the butterfly, into the huge chasm below. By lighting a match, he sees a huge statue...

In the clouds, a huge golden band is appearing. As static charges leap about, millions of butterflies fly down and over the world...

The battle begins and the horde are able to use the difference in numbers to their advantage. When his tactics fail, Lord Hong orders the armies to pull back and the archers to prepare to shoot.

Rincewind has found a way to operate some magical light globes, and sees that he is in the tomb of One Sun Mirror, the first Emperor. He sees thousands of terracotta warriors, as well as some magic armour with which he can control them. He marches the army forward...

A tiny butterfly lands on HEX and leaves a blob of nectar, dragging the ants off course. Ponder, working out how to get the spell to work, is given the incorrect answer...

As the rains start to fall, the ground heaves and the terracotta warriors emerge. The armies flee. Cohen and the horde head back to the palace, with Cohen lamenting that so many barbarians he knew are now dead. Some terracotta warriors follow him through, and Rincewind manages to communicate with Twoflower using sign language. They rush to the plains as the rain stops, and rescue Rincewind who has been bogged down in the mud. He is taken back to the palace but is suddenly ambushed by Lord Hong. He is about to be killed when the wizards complete their spell...and Rincewind vanishes. Twoflower challenges Lord Hong to a duel, as his men were responsible for the death of Twoflower's wife. Suddenly the cannon drops out of the air in front of Lord Hong, and goes off. Lord Hong is practically vaporised, but Mr Saveloy is killed as well. He is claimed by a group of Valkyries, and taken to Discworld Valhalla. Cohen remains Emperor, and Twoflower is made Grand Vizier.

However, Ponder's miscalculations have caused something to go wrong. Three transfers have taken place-the cannon ha been returned, but Rincewind has been sent somewhere else and a strange creature has been sent to UU. New calculations show Rincewind to be trapped in the mythical continent of XXXX...

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