Twenty-one today! In this episode, Elizabeth and Ben are joined by David Ryding of Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature as we rejoin Rincewind and some of his old friends in the 17th Discworld novel: 1994’s Interesting Times.
Rincewind, the worst student Unseen University ever had, has been quite literally to hell and back. But when a summons arrives in Ankh-Morpork requesting the presence of “the Great Wizzard”, his old faculty bring him home, then send him to the far-flung Agatean Empire. All is not well on the Counterweight Continent: rebels are (gently) questioning centuries of enforced order, inspired by the revolutionary pamphlet “What I Did on My Holidays”. The ruthless Lord Hong plots to change the Empire forever. The walls have failed to keep out a horde of barbarian invaders – seven of them, in fact. And it’s about to be visited by a very special kind of butterfly...
Pratchett revisits characters from his first Discworld novels, as Rincewind is reunited with Cohen the Barbarian in Twoflower’s homeland. But in 2019, twenty-five years after it was first published, his depiction of a comic fantasy Asia leaves a bit to be desired. There’s plenty going on, and some stirring speeches, but it’s also hard to ignore that nearly all the main characters are white folks “saving” a nation inspired by real-world Asian countries from itself. Is there a clear message in the book? How does this sit on the evolution of Pratchett’s work from parody to satire? And were you glad to see such old favourite characters return, or could you have done without them? We’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #Pratchat21 on social media to join the conversation.
We hope you enjoyed our first ever live show, recorded at Nullus Anxietas VII, where we discussed Cohen’s previous adventure in the short story Troll Bridge! We hope to record more bonus episodes in future, and you can help us do it by supporting Pratchat. In August we leave the Discworld and indeed fiction to read one of Pratchett’s oddest books: The Unadulterated Cat, his 1989 collaboration with cartoonist Gray Joliffe, in which he makes the case that the only “real cat” is one that destroys gardens, eats wildlife and makes a thorough nuisance of itself. If you have questions, send them to us via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat22.
Show Notes and Errata:
- David Ryding has been Director of the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature office since its establishment in 2014 (though Melbourne has been a City of Literature since 2008). Prior to that he was director of the Emerging Writers Festival, then executive director of the NSW Writers Centre (now know as Writing NSW). You can find out more about what he does at the City of Literature office at cityofliterature.com.au, and they’re also on Twitter at @MelCityofLit. If you’re looking for other great literary podcasts made in Melbourne, you can find some listed on their site here.
- Men at Arms is the fifteenth Discworld novel, published in 1993. We covered it in episode one, Boots Theory, with Cal Wilson.
- “Inscrutable” is a word long associated with stereotypical depictions of Asian cultures, especially the Chinese. It stems from a lack of effort to understand the differing cultural conventions encountered by Europeans, and seems to have reached a height in Victorian literature.
- Bill Bryson is an American-British non-fiction author whose work covers language, travel, history and science. His best known works include Notes From a Small Island, The Mother Tongue and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
- The white saviour is a trope in which non-white characters are unable to save themselves, and are rescued from disaster by a heroic white character. The Wikipedia article lists a large number of examples.
- “Eurogames” are a tradition of modern boardgames with their roots in post-war Germany. Such games often focus on strategic depth and a balance of luck and skill. The Settlers of Catan, designed by Klaus Teuber and first published in 1995, was one of the first such games to become popular in America, and features players trying to build the most successful settlement by gathering and spending various resources on a fictional island with limited space. Ted Alspach’s The Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a more recent example, first published in 2014, but there are many, many more great ones. Some of Ben’s favourites include Carcassonne, Cyclades, Inis and Ticket to Ride.
- One of the editorial directions popularised by Stan Lee during his time at Marvel Comics was the idea that “any issue could be someone’s first“. This mostly manifested as in-character expository dialogue, but also as footnotes from the editor pointing readers to previous issues for backstory.
- Potatoes often appear in fantasy fiction as a staple of medieval Europe-like worlds – but they weren’t brought to Europe from the Americas until the 16th century. This is explored in Adam Roberts’ academic work about Arthurian fiction, Silk and Potatoes, and also in the “Fantastical Feasts” episode of the podcast Imaginary Worlds (though this is now only available via paid subscription).
- We’ve previously noted the possible influence on Pratchett of Mel Brooks’ 1960s spy sit-com Get Smart in Guards! Guards!, Good Omens and Lords and Ladies.
- Gunpowder was invented in 9th-century China, and was first seen in Europe 400 years later, around the same time the first cannons were invented – also in China.
- Bob Hawke was the extremely popular Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1983 to 1991. He died in May 2019. He is remembered both for the many achievements of his government, and for being a larger-than-life figure who embodied the “larrikin” Australian stereotype while at the same time showing great compassion and emotion. In the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, he extended temporary permits and offered permanent visas to tens of thousands of Chinese students so they could stay in Australia rather than return to the violence at home.
- On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government sent troops and tanks into Tiananmen Square, the main public square in Beijing, to suppress the hundreds of thousands of students gathered there to protest for a variety of democratic reforms. Many were killed, with the death toll estimated in the thousands, and there were also reports of torture and mass arrests. A famous photo was taken the following day of a lone “Tank Man“, standing in front of a column of tanks to slow down their progress.
- The Golden Horde was a khanate – an empire ruled by a Khan – that succeeded the Mongol Empire. It lasted for about 250 years from the mid 13th century, though some remnants of it survived into the 19th century. The Horde was founded by Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.
- The members of the Silver Horde are:
- Genghiz Cohen – aka Cohen the Barbarian, age unknown
- Boy Willie – the youngest one, aged 80; his name references Billy the Kid
- Caleb the Ripper – aged 85, source of most of the unfortunate jokes
- Ronald “Teach” Saveloy – our favourite
- Truckle the Uncivil – the sweary one
- Old Vincent – aged 87; doesn’t talk much, presumably the second oldest (though Cohen might be older)
- Mad Hamish – the oldest one; uses a wheelchair
- Three Men in a Boat is an 1889 comic novel written by English author Jerome K Jerome, following the titular three men on a holiday they take on the Thames River.
- We previously explained chicken parmigiana in episode 18, but in short, it’s an Australian perversion of an Italian dish in which a chicken schnitzel is covered in tomato sauce and cheese (among other things). The original Italian version uses eggplant, and is distinct from its Australian cousin.
- Bunnings sausages may be the most Australian thing we’ve ever referenced on the show. Bunnings Warehouse is a chain of large hardware stores found across Australia and also in New Zealand, now owned by Wesfarmers, who also own the Australian versions of Kmart and Target. Many Bunnings stores hold a “sausage sizzle” in their carparks on weekends. This is a common Australian fundraising activity, in which cheap sausages are cooked on a barbecue and sold in slices of white bread with tomato or BBQ sauce and fried onions. The proceeds are donated to a local charity or other cause. (Sausage sizzles are also commonly held at polling stations on election days, giving rise to the idea of the “democracy sausage”.)
- Lisa McCune is an Australian actor best known for her portrayal of Senior Constable Maggie Doyle during the first six years of the long-running and popular early 2000s cop drama Blue Heelers. Doyle was famously killed off in front of her fiancee, fellow cop PJ, while waiting to enter a witness protection program at the beginning of season seven. McCune went on to star as naval lieutenant Kate McGregor in Sea Patrol from 2007 to 2011, and also has a highly successful career on stage, including Australian productions of many big musicals.
- Horror novelist Anne Rice, best known for writing Interview with a Vampire and its sequels, wrote a widely circulated Facebook post which began “After the publication of The Queen of the Damned, I requested of my editor that she not give me anymore comments.”
- Ben is correct in that the distinction between turtles, tortoises and terrapins is not a definitive, scientific one, and the usage of the terms varies a bit depending on where you live. Land-based chelonians – the group that includes all turtles and tortoises – are called tortoises everywhere; aquatic chelonians are generally known as turtles, but if they live in fresh water may be known as terrapins in the UK. Similarly there are three families of pinnipeds – mammals with slippered feet: true or earless seals, sea-lions and fur seals (who have ears), and walruses. True seals can’t walk on land or balance a ball on their nose; only sea-lions and fur seals can do that.
- Zen buddhism originated in China, but the “zen garden” is a Japanese tradition.
- Twoflower’s boss (and later, his imaginary dragon friend) is actually named Ninereeds; Nine Turning Mirrors was a previous Grand Vizier, killed by the boy emperor during a poisoning attempt in Mort.
- Mooncakes are a Chinese pastry with a thick crust and a sweet filling usually made of red bean or lotus seed paste. Folk tales say that the revolt of the Han Chinese against the rule of the Mongols was coordinated by messages either hidden in mooncakes, or printed on their surface in parts. Their distribution was supposedly ensured through rumours of a plague that could only be warded off by the consumption of mooncakes.
- “Fridging” in narrative is the act of killing off or otherwise harming a woman to provide a male protagonist with motivation for their story, without treating the woman as a character in her own right. The term “women in refrigerators” was coined by comic book writer Gail Simone, who noticed the prevalence of this trope in superhero comics; it references the fate of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend in Green Lantern #54 (coincidentally published the same year as Interesting Times). The term was popularised by a web site of the same name which documented instances of the trope in comics.
- My Little Pony: The Movie was released in 1986 with an extraordinary voice cast including Hollywood stars Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman. Leachman plays Hydia, an evil witch who creates the “Smooze”, a gross purple ooze that will destroy the ponies’ home of Dream Castle. Several of the ponies go on a search for the Flutter Ponies, magical winged ponies who may be able to help, and yes, they do destroy the Smooze by flapping their wings and creating a magical wind.
- A persistent rumour has done the rounds of the Internet for years that American comedian Sinbad played a genie in a comedy movie titled Shazaam. Despite the fact that the movie never existed, many people swear they remember it, and deny they are thinking of the genie film Kazaam, which really did exist and starred basketball player Shaquille O’Neil. Shazaam is considered by some to be an example of the “Mandela Effect”, where some people have developed erroneous memories of which they are so certain, they believe them to be evidence of time travel having changed history. The name comes from a similar phenomenon in which people claim to remember Nelson Mandela dying in the 1980s.
- The 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, or NGV, is “Terracotta Warriors and Cai Guo-Qiang“. It features a collection of artefacts from ancient China, including a large number of Terracotta Warriors, as well as specially-commisioned works by contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, whose art incorporates the ignition of gunpowder. Liz wrote about the exhibition for The Saturday Paper.
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was the third in the series starring Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell. It also starred Jet Li as the Emperor, and features both yetis and and army of animated terracotta warriors. It’s…well, let’s just say there’s a reason we usually only talk about the first Brendan Fraser Mummy movie.
- Lemmings is a popular series of videogames originally published by Psygnosis, the first of which was released in 1991 for home computers like the Amiga 500, and later ported to a variety of game consoles and computer platforms. The titular Lemmings are green-haired, pink-skinned bipedal creatures who are dropped into a variety of landscapes and walk mindlessly into danger. The player must assign individual lemmings to dig holes, build stairs and redirect their fellows to help guide them safely to the exit.
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is a fantasy novel for children, the debut novel of English author Alan Garner. It’s set in Cheshire and follows the adventures of two children as they attempt to keep the weird stone of the title safe from the evil spirit Nastrond, meeting a variety of witches, wizards and magical creatures along the way.
- The Simpsons episode “Bart vs. Australia“, from the show’s sixth season in 1995, is one of the broadest parodies of Australia ever created. In the episode, Bart makes a collect call to an Australian number to find out if water spirals in the opposite direction in toilets in the southern hemisphere (it doesn’t), leading to him being indicted for fraud. While the episode has had a mixed reaction in Australia, some elements of it are still popular, notably the use of the term “dollarydoos” to refer to Australian currency.
- American actress Lucy Liu rose to fame as cold-hearted lawyer Ling Woo on Ally McBeal, at the time one of the only female Asian characters on American television. Liu went on to star in a number of hit films including Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill before being cast as Dr Joan Watson in the modern take on Sherlock Holmes, Elementary (one of Ben’s favourite television shows).
- B D Wong played psychiatrist and profiler Dr George Huang on nearly 250 episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Father Ray Makuda on prison drama Oz, but most people will know him as scientist Henry Wu from Jurassic Park and its sequels Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He’s also been in Mr. Robot, The Flash and Gotham, where he plays a wonderful version of the character Hugo Strange. He’s also an award-winning theatre and musical actor, and the author of a memoir about he and his partner’s experience having a child with the help of a surrogate mother.
- Masayori “Masi” Oka is best known as the time travelling Hiro Nakamura on the superhero show Heroes and its sequel, Heroes Reborn, though you’ll also find him in the reboot of tropical cop drama Hawaii Five-0 and a number of films including the 2008 version of Get Smart. He used to work as a digital effects artist for Industrial Light and Magic, and worked on all three Star Wars prequels!