THE LAST CONTINENT
by Terry Pratchett
Cover by Josh Kirby
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
I'm afraid Terry Pratchett is falling into the "Star Trek" movies trap when it comes to writing Discworld novels. He's following successful novel with adequate book followed by successful novel. I like Jingo, but wasn't too fond of Hogfather. Before Hogfather, I enjoyed Feet of Clay. Pratchett returns to the downside of this trend with The Last Continent, a rambling novel in which the faculty of Unseen University is stuck on a small deserted island and Rincewind must deal with the rather odd natives of the last continent, XXXX.
There are some good, short laugh-out-loud moments in the novel. But they are far-between. The Last Continent suffers from three problems. It is more philosophical than most of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett doesn't handle the deep philosophizing quite as well as he might have been expected to. The other, more pervasive problem is that the for most of the novel the two plots don't really have any defined goal. The wizard's must get off their desert island and Rincewind is told he must save XXXX, but there is very little linearity in either story line.
The third problem is the scattershot way Pratchett targets his jokes and satire. Evolution is a major target, as is Australia in general. Pratchett also takes shots at the "Mad Max" movies and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". Unfortunately, many of these satires seem out of place in a Discworld novel and others are too prolonged. One of the funniest sequences in the novel is a short piece in which natives of XXXX are trying to out-do each other in nonsensical metaphors, however the humor comes solely with the familiarity of the odd metaphors used by Australians in popular culture.
XXXX is closely modeled on Australia, which Pratchett seems to have decided doesn't obey the same temporal rules the rest of the world does. Because of this, Pratchett deals with temporal paradoxes on the last continent created on the Discworld, which added as an afterthought by a passing deity whose signature creature is the kangaroo. The kangaroo also serves as Rincewind's sometime guide across the trackless wastes of XXXX. Leading him into danger (from which Rincewind can run away) and offering Rincewind (and the reader) some sort of explanation of what is happening on XXXX, which is so different from the more familiar lands of Ankh-Morpork, Klatch and even the Counterweight continent where Rincewind was last seen in Interesting Times.
This being a novel, Pratchett naturally enough ties his various loose ends together before the final curtin, however he does so in a reasonably unsatisfying way. By the time the faculty of Unseen University is reunited with Rincewind, the reader has practically forgotten why they were looking for him in the first placew, and Pratchett doesn't really remind the reader why it was necessary for Rincewind to have the wizards' help to achieve his task.
As I've mentioned, The Last Continent does have some typically funny bits in it, and throughout the novel pieces of classic Australian folk songs, such as "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" and "Waltzing Matilda" will float through the reader's head, but too much of the book fails to work and tries to rely on XXXX's close similarity (called identity) to Australia to work completely on the Discworld. Perhaps Pratchett will return to the more familiar realms of the Ramtops and Ankh-Morpork in the future instead of feeling he must make Rincewind visit every location appearing on the map he put together with Stephen Briggs.