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The Last Continent
Terry Pratchett
HarperPrism, 292 pages

Douglas Paul
The Last Continent
Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett lives in Somerset, England, where he spends all his time, and more, writing his rigorously naturalistic, curiously entertaining, shamelessly popular Discworld novels which have earned him extravagant acclaim and puzzled stares from millions of readers around the world.

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A review by Todd Richmond

Terry Pratchett's latest novel, The Last Continent, is not about Australia. Got it? Just because the continent of EcksEcksEcksEcks is this lost continent where it never rains, settled by a bunch of criminals, whose current inhabitants go around ending sentences with "no worries" doesn't mean...

Well, perhaps a better place to start is the cast of characters. That's always a good indication of what type of story to expect. The lead in this novel is our old friend Rincewind. Rincewind is Pratchett's anti-hero:

"Death was familiar with the concept of the eternal, ever-renewed hero, the champion with a thousand faces. ...he pondered whether, if this creature did exist, it was somehow balanced by the eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs, perhaps."
Equally important are the Librarian, the senior faculty from Unseen University, and strangely enough, Mrs Whitlow, the senior housekeeper at UU. The Librarian, of course, is the orangutan who keeps the books in order at UU. No simple task when you consider that some of the books in UU's library literally have a life of their own. The Librarian is in a bit of a spot in The Last Continent. He has contracted a disease that affects his morphic field. Every time he sneezes he changes form -- into a table, a chair, a giant hot-water bottle... You get the idea.

Everyone at UU is concerned -- concerned that they might have to take over the Librarian's job. So, altruistic spirits that they are, they decide they must cure him. But in order to do that they need his name. The only one who may know his original name (pre-orangutan) is Rincewind, who was once Deputy Librarian.

If you recall, however, the last time we heard from Rincewind was at the end of Interesting Times. In an attempt to retrieve Rincewind from the Counterweight Continent, the UU wizards accidentally flung him across Discworld to a tiny, unnamed continent. Now to restore the Librarian back to normal (well, what passes for normal for him), the wizards must find Rincewind.

What happens next is typical Pratchett. Rincewind, true to form, is constantly on the run, trying to avoid all the things that are trying to kill him. He is "haunted" by a talking kangaroo who tries to convince him that he is Discworld's only hope of survival. Never a hero, Rincewind tries to get as far away as possible.

Part of the problem is that Archchancellor Ridcully, the Dean, the Bursar, the Senior Wrangler, the Chair of Indefinite Studies, the Lecturer in Recent Runes and Ponder Stibbons, the magical equivalent of a theoretical physicist, have all managed to accidentally trap themselves on a deserted island in the distant past. Mrs Whitlow, the senior housekeeper, is trapped with them as well. As if seven wizards stranded on a uninhabited island with a single female wasn't bad enough, there's a God on the island as well, whose specialty happens to be evolution.

In typical form, Pratchett pokes fun at quite a few things along the way. There's the whole Australia (I mean FourEcks) thing. The interactions of the wizards on the island provide the perfect opportunity to poke fun at academics and academic hierarchy. Seven men and one woman trapped on an island provide the ideal forum for looking at relationships and the strange power women sometimes have over men. Throw in a God who has never heard of sex, the somewhat earthy Mrs Whitlow, and the wizards and well, you get the idea...

If you've read some of the other Discworld books, you know what to expect. Loads of sarcasm, an outrageous plot and tons of sheer fun. In the end it's up to Rincewind to set thing right, while avoiding deadly animals, a hostile environment, criminals and the law. "No worries, mate!"

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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