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Thief of Time
Terry Pratchett
Doubleday Transworld Publishers, 316 pages

Josh Kirby
Thief of Time
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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SF Site Review: The Last Continent
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Terry Pratchett has been regaling our world with tales of his off-kilter Discworld for nearly twenty years and even more volumes. The latest novel in the series, Thief of Time, takes a look at time and history with the reappearance of the monks of history. These characters first appeared in Small Gods, but have since fallen by the wayside. Pratchett focuses Thief of Time on them, with subplots carried by the underused character Susan Sto Helit and her grandfather.

Some of Pratchett's best writing appears in the novels which do not target his recurring characters. The examination of new characters seems to allow Pratchett a fresh look at his world (and ours) even as he is creating them. Some of the characters, although new, are familiar. The abbot of the monks of history has not yet gotten the hang of cyclic living and must be reincarnated, leading to an authority figure who is an infant, although with moments of lucidity, paralleling authority figures in earlier works, notably the wizards of Unseen University.

Additionally, the subject matter of Thief of Time allows Pratchett to wax philosophical. Pratchett is able to explore the nature of history and the way people relate to history. His characters have long espoused the difference between fact and truth, and in Thief of Time, he has Lu Tze and Lobsang discuss one of the ways this disparity occurs. In the Discworld universe, time is the fabric on which history happens.

Pratchett's plot opens with a strange woman approaching Jeremy Clockson, a clockmaker who is such a stickler for accuracy that he drives the other clockmakers crazy. Jeremy quickly takes up the challenge to create the most accurate timepiece ever conceived, the mythical glass clock. This challenge brings him into conflict with the Monks of History as he threatens to bring the world to an end through no intentions of his own.

Of course, with the end of the world looming, Pratchett is able to give free rein to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ground which he previously covered in his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. In Thief of Time, however, Pratchett adds a new element, exploring the reason his horsemen went their own way as Death attempts to gather up his old comrades. Pratchett is also more than happy to take a few pokes at rock bands, whose members leave before the band is successful.

Pratchett's targets in Thief of Time are carefully chosen. He has a masterful sequence which takes aim at action films. A more lengthy look at education fills much of the book, both in the form of Lu Tze's relationship with Lobsang (itself a mockery of martial arts films) and Susan Sto Helit's attempts to run a decorous classroom. In the latter case, especially, Susan, who finally finds someone her equal, is pictured as the champion of traditional education techniques while the school's principal, Madam Frout, espouses more modern, touchy-feely techniques. Even Susan's success fails to convince Madam Frout that the old ways may be the best.

In the past, Pratchett has demonstrated a tendency to recycle some of his material. He seems incapable of mentioning the figure Old Man Trouble without quoting the Gershwin song which gave the character form. While this may have been humorous the first time Pratchett used it, by Thief of Time the joke begins to wear thin. Fortunately, most of the humor (one can hardly call them jokes) in Thief of Time is fresh. The reader may not laugh out loud, as with some of Pratchett's novels, but there will be plenty of internal chuckling.

Thief of Time proves, as do so many of Pratchett's novels, that he is writing because there are topics he wishes to address in his books, not merely to continue a highly successful franchise. As long as this remains the case, readers can look forward to the next installment of the Discworld series with excitement and high expectations, which will ultimately be met.

Copyright © 2001 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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