Book Review: The Truth by Terry Pratchett

The printing press rolls into the down, running over William de Worde and then taking over his life. The truth cannot be contained. The same night Mr Pin and Mr Tulip arrive into Ankh-Morpork, bringing with them troubles, which makes William de Worde’s days as a newspaperman ever so exciting. The Truth is about the rise of the printing press, poking fun on the concept like truth, reporting, and Dailymail. Pratchett masterfully shows how people from different status see the news, portraying the common folk who say that it must be true if they printed it and are more interested in the weather and funny vegetables and humans birthing animals and other strange tales than the “actual news” as de Worde would think. Then there are those who find them being held hostage by a pen and a notepad and are questioned in the name of the truth. All together, Pratchett makes fun out of the whole institution of news and what we think is newsworthy, and is there such a thing as the truth.

Pratchett would have had a field day writing now about newspapers with all the fake news going around, the divide between newspapers and their readership, and how social media influences all of it. I’m kind of glad that this book wasn’t written now, it might have obscured the concept he was playing with. We need news. And we love to see our names or those who we know printed and immortalized. News makes everything more real and substantial. It is like it never happened if it wasn’t written down. Also, that is the thing, suddenly minor things and passing thoughts come bigger when they are printed on paper or blasted on your screen. There are trends because of newspaper articles; they make celebrities; they show that there is a wide world out there which we can bemoan; also suddenly, we can immortalize words and actions of those in power, that makes politics so much exciting and twisted. Vimes was sure to find out what an effect it has on his policing.

The Truth is not a Watch book. Yet, it shows Watch from a new perspective, showing us what the ordinary citizens think about Vimes and his fellow policemen and their relationship to Havelock Vetinari. This makes Ankh-Morpork an even more real place for me. Anyway, the book is an independent story that introduces wonderful characters like Sacharissa Cripslock and Otto Chriek, who get more space later on in the one-off series.

Here is a bit I enjoyed:

‘No, sir. That’s what the public is interested in. We do the other stuff, sir.’

‘Amusing shaped vegetables?’

‘Well, a bit of that, sir. Sacharissa calls them human interest stories.’

‘About vegetables and animals?’

‘Yes, sir. But at least they’re real vegetables and animals.’

‘So…we have what the people are interest in, and human interest stories, which is what humans are interested in, and the public interest, which no one is interested in.’

‘Except the public, sir,’ said William, trying to keep up.

‘Which isn’t the same as people and humans?’

‘I think it’s more complicated than that, sir.’

‘Obviously. Do you mean that the public is a different thing from the people you just wee walking about the place? The public thinks big, sensible, measured thoughts while people run around doing silly things?’

‘I think so. I may have to work on that idea too, I admit.’

“Hmm. Interesting. have certainly noticed that groups of clever and intelligent people are capable of really stupid ideas,’ said Lord Vetinari.

This was only one bit that makes me appreciate Pratchett’s writing and insight into things. The book is full of clever concepts, and funny jokes about truth and the rest of the baggage humans come with. But the idea here about general people who think one way or another is more than real to us. We always say that people think… The general public is concerned…. And suddenly, such statements make it real. I often enough wonder with some news if it is an egg and a chicken thing, especially with statements like people are… The Truth is a wonderful one-off Discworld book, and it was as fun to reread it as it was to read the first time around. It is one of my favorites.

Thank you for reading, and the truth is out there!

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