“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989. I re-read it as part of my BSFA Reading Challenge. It is the first book in the Discworld series that can be read as a standalone story. That is, there aren’t any recurring characters in this book, but it is set in the Discword universe. (If you are new to the Discworld experience then here is a link to the Wikipedia page.)
Pyramids tells the story of Teppic, a young man who is heir to the throne of “Djelibaybi”, a kingdom which is a caricature of ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the story, we join Teppic as a trainee assassin attending the Assassin’s Guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork.
“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”
Teppic is enjoying his student-life and training until he is suddenly required to return home to the desert Kingdom of his birth. Pratchett uses this plot device as an opportunity to have a lot of fun satirising our ideas of ancient Egypt. He comments on the rites and rituals of royal families, the roles of priests, workers and servants, and revealingly, just exactly what pyramids do.
“Do I really have to wear this gold mask?”
“The Face of the Sun, sire. Handed down through all the ages. Yes, sire. On all public occasions, sire.” […]
“It’s rather heavy.”
“It is weighted with the centuries,” said Dios and passed over the obsidian Reaping Hook of Justice. […] “And now, sire, if we could just hold this as well …”
“What is it?”
“The Honeycomb of Increase, sire. Very important.”
There are some very funny scenes in here. It is a funny book. But also, buried just beneath the humour, Pratchett makes some shrewd points about human folly, particularly in relation to war, religion and excessive rituals. Are we as a race of so-called intelligent life doomed to keep making the same mistakes out of stubbornness and stupidity? The author’s light touch keeps it from becoming too serious, but the ideas are there.
As with the best satire, Pratchett’s fantasy is sprinkled with liberal doses of irony and sarcasm and the author’s wit almost makes you forget you are reading a critique of society, both past and present. It is light-hearted and a bit silly at times but it makes a nice change from the darkness. I enjoyed reading this book but to be honest I was surprised it won the BSFA award. I’ve read a few other Discworld novels and this one wasn’t the best. Of the titles I’ve read, Moving Pictures was good and I enjoyed The Thief of Time. On the other hand, I haven’t read any of the other nominees from the same year so I can’t compare it with them. How about you? Have you read any of the other books listed below? Which Discworld book is your favourite?
Here are the other books that were nominated for the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989:
- A Child Across the Sky by Jonathan Carroll (Legend; Century)
- Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh (NEL)
- Pyramids by Terry Pratchett (Gollancz)
- The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson (Or
- The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman (Unwin Hyman)