Book Review

(Double Day, 2000)

There are some authors whose writing is exquisite, delicious, and fine as good wine, whose insight, wit and compassion are breathtaking in scope and wisdom, and whose every line leaps from the lead print on each page to burn itself into your mind forever like a thread of fiery gold.

Terry Pratchett is not one of them.

What he does, instead, is spin highly entertaining, boisterous and wildly successful tales about Discworld - a fantasy realm set on a spinning disc carried by four giant elephants on the back of a cosmic turtle.

A bit outlandish, you'd say? Thing is, he's done it 25 times. He's been around way before Harry Potter. He's outlasted Douglas Adams. And he's still doing it.

Pratchett, who was a journalist for 15 years before publishing his first Discworld novel, goes back to his media roots in this 25th instalment with a tale of the Discworld's first daily newspaper, the Ankh-Morpork Times.

William de Worde, disaffected scion of a noble family, disowns his past to forge a living as a wordsmith, only to find himself thrust by fate into the editor's seat of the Times. This puts him on a collision path with a conspiracy to discredit and replace the city's ruling Patrician, the machiavellian Vetinari.

Along the way, he attracts (in signature Pratchett style) a host of flamboyant characters - dwarven printers with names derived from typefaces, a reformed vampire cameraman with a suicidal passion for flash photography, even a secret informer named Deep Bones.

The requisite villains (apart from the X-files-esque upper-class conspirators and the zombie attorney Mr Slant) are Mr Pin and Mr Tulip, two of the scariest thugs ever inspired by Tarantino.

Fans of Pulp Fiction will have a field day spotting plugs and send-ups of movie scenes. (I'll give you one: think of Royale with Cheese when you get to page 79).

Tulip is evocative as the swearing, brawny gangsta with a penchant for antiques, art history and extreme chemical abuse.

Familiar faces such as the Watch's Commander Vimes and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler make cameo appearances, but the central characters of the book (William and his press gang) are brand-new - a rare occurrence in the Discworld series which can only mean a sequel instalment is not far off.

There's no point in looking out for plot; Pratchett is at his best having fun with words and ideas. He routinely translates modern techonology into fantasy world equivalents - such as c-commerce - (using the semaphore communication network for long-distance trading), and the Imp-powered, palmtop Dis-Organiser.

Also expect loads of newspaper gags - a tabloid competitor, crusading journalism, obituaries (written by the deceased, for the deceased), and In Other News - stories about rudely shaped vegetables.

As usual, Pratchett tries to slip in something clever and thoughtful, which he hopes won't be accused of being literature. This time, it's something about racial (or is it species) discrimination, political apathy and the value of truth in the media - ''nothing has to be true for ever. Just for long enough''.

For die-hard Discworld fans, The Truth is another rip-roaring fun ride; not the greatest instalment of all time, but certainly not the worst.