Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett. ★★1/2
Interesting Times is the seventeenth Discworld novel and the one I was most dreading rereading. I hadn’t picked it up since middle school, but what I remembered suggested that it could be… problematic.
If you’re going to read Discworld, go read Small Gods, Guards! Guards!, The Wee Free Men, Monstrous Regiment, or Going Postal a try. Interesting Times is the book which gives Eric and The Color of Magic a run for the title of “Worst Discworld Novel.”
Interesting Times starts off with Ankh-Morpork receiving a message from from the Agatean Empire demanding that the “Great Wizzard” be sent to them. The Unseen University faculty rustle up Rincewind and teleport him over to the Agatean Empire, where he finds that Twoflower’s essay “What I Did On My Holidays” has started a revolution. The revolutionaries believe that Rincewind is a great wizard who will use his powers to help them overthrow the empire.
There’s just all sorts of problems here. The Agatean Empire is a mash up of a bunch of different East Asian cultures and stereotypes, mainly China and Japan – terracotta warriors and sumo wrestlers for instance. But what’s really cringe worthy and makes this book so unconformable to read is the characterization (or lack of it) of the Agatean characters. It plays heavily into the subservient stereotypes. Then there’s the villain, Lord Hong, who’s obsessed with Ankh-Morepork and trying to imitate it. Honestly, this book just reads as racist.
Oh, it’s worth remembering here that Rincewind and Cohen and his hoard (they show up shortly in) are the major POV characters. And that they’re all white.
I don’t think that was Pratchett’s intention – he was likely attempting to use stereotypes for parody purposes. But really, he just shouldn’t have been writing this sort of thing about another culture. If you take the favorable view and say that Pratchett was trying to satirize the West’s view of Asia… that’s still something better done by an Asian. This just came off really badly.
In terms of actual construction, Interesting Times was probably better crafted than Color of Magic or The Light Fantastic. But it was a hell of a lot more uncomfortable to read. Don’t pick this up unless you’re a completionist or really love Rincewind.