So last night I finished reading Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal to my wife and kids. Going Postal is in an odd category: it’s a full-fledge novel that I have only ever read aloud. I read it to Jane when it was first released, and now to Jane and my kids. Jane and I loved it on the first reading, and I’m glad to say that it held up on the second reading.
In fact, I might go so far as to say that Going Postal is one of Pratchett’s best, and it’s certainly one of my favorites, in part because it is so unlike the various other Discworld sub-series.
It concerns a man named Moist von Lipwig, native of Uberwald, and conman extraordinaire. Moist is amazingly skilled at separating deserving individuals from their money, whether he’s selling glass diamond rings to rubes, passing forged currency to bank tellers, or dealing a hand of Find the Lady (which I gather is similar to Three Card Monte). Naturally unremarkable to look at, Moist has outstanding people skills; he adopts a persona and some distinguishing marks, defrauds the sucker, loses the distinguishing marks, and vanishes into the crowd. He’s been at it for many years; and then he comes to Ankh-Morpork, and Ankh-Morpork proves too many for him.
Still, he’s undeniably skilled; and after a particularly large haul, which he manages to hide before the Watch catches up with him, Lord Vetinari makes him an offer he’s free to refuse—well, if he doesn’t mind dying. Vetinari offers him the job of Postmaster General, and the task of getting the Ankh-Morpork post office working again.
But Moist accepts, and after a few contretemps involving a golem and the road to Sto Lat, settles in to give it a try. It seems that Ankh-Morpork’s post office was a vibrant and successful concern up until about forty years prior, when, choked with undelivered mail, it settled into a dry papery afterlife. Moist will have his hands full getting the mail moving again.
But he’s got competition. In recent years “clacks” towers (a sort of semaphore-based telegraph system) have been sprouting up all over the city, and the Grand Trunk can carry messages all over the Disc, 2000 miles to Genua in under an hour. Can the Post Office compete with the Grand Trunk?
Or, possibly, can the Grand Trunk compete with the Post Office? A technology firm, it was recently taken over by its venture capitalists under the direction of one Reacher Gilt, and quality has been markedly slipping. Can the Grand Trunk get its act together? And why does Reacher Gilt wear an eyepatch and carry a cockatoo around with him?
One of the things I especially like about this one is the variety of scenes with Lord Vetinari. We usually see him through the eyes of Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch; and so we usually see the Vetinari’s manner when managing Sam Vimes. But Vetinari is a skilled manipulator, and his manner with Moist is somewhat…different.
Anyway, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and recommend it. Alas, I cannot say the same for its immediate sequel, Making Money, which is rather a mess; and I haven’t heard anything good about the third Moist von Lipwig book, Raising Steam, which was recently released. Anyone have an opinion? Good? Bad? Run away?