Mark Reads ‘Interesting Times’: Part 16

In the sixteenth part of Interesting Times, Rincewind makes a discovery while the Silver Horde makes their stand. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For talk of Orientalism, war.

So, it’s unsurprising that Rincewind has, yet again, “accidentally” stumbled onto a solution to this conflict. The details, however, are certainly more interesting than the twist as a whole. Through sheer luck, Rincewind tumbles into an underground chamber full of giant, seven-foot warriors made out of clay, a clear reference to the Terracotta Army discovered in the 1970s. Again, while I’m less entertained by another accidental discovery, I do want to know more about the butterflies. Where did they come from? Is someone controlling them, or was their appearance here nothing more than another coincidence? I’m guessing it’s the latter, and I also don’t really need an explanation beyond them being a pretty funny gag relating to the butterfly effect.

These warriors, controlled by the magic armor that Rincewind finds, can provide the advantage the Horde might need to take down Lord Hong. I don’t actually have much commentary to provide about Rincewind’s role in this chapter because Pratchett spends so much time slowly bringing him to the point of discovery. Which is fine! It was fun to read, no doubt, but I don’t know if there’s much commentary I can provide about it. Instead, I want to talk about the Horde because I still have LOTS OF QUESTIONS. I understand the absurd nature of their construction, especially as they seem to defy all odds and reason when it comes to death or even slight injury. Pratchett is exaggerating for humor, and yet, I’m still left with the same question from past reviews:

Why do the Agateans (or the Hunghungese) get to die en masse but no one else does?

I actually like that death (er… Death, too) is this humorous consequence or fitting end for so many characters in this series. I’ve never felt like Pratchett utilizes death like most fantasy authors, and that’s one of the reasons it’s easier for me to enjoy this fictional world. I can worry about a million different fates for these characters, but for the most part, they’re going to survive until the final sentence. The kind of serialization he uses allows him to stretch timelines, to allow people like Rincewind or the Witches or the Guard to have multiple story lines spread over multiple books, and I don’t get the sense that they’re going to end.

I’m trying to think of a Discworld book where death was so wide-scale or casual, and I can’t. Why is that? Why is it suddenly acceptable in his world to allow the Horde to kill tons of soldiers or behead the samurai who are, more or less, just defending their country from invaders? I don’t think Pratchett ever set out to say that these people were, in real-world terms, acceptable to sacrifice. In fact, I suspect he didn’t really think about the implications of these scenes at all. He wanted to push the Horde in one direction in order to build the humor of how improbably perfect they are when they fight. But in doing so, he has a bunch of (inevitably) white men murder a nameless, faceless Asian… horde. For lack of a better term, I guess!

I’d feel way less concerned about this if this were directed solely at Lord Hong, but if this is Pratchett’s opus concerning tyranny and oppression, then I don’t get why the agents of this oppressive regime are treated in the same manner as the leader responsible for most of this nightmare. Lord Hong deserves scorn and criticism and so much worse than this. (Well, so does the previous Emperor… sort of? I think it’s a little muddled once you try placing blame on anyone.) Yet there are false equivalencies all over the place in this text, and my theory is that Pratchett simply thought that by invoking these ideas and these people and these cultures, that put them on the same level as everyone else. I know I’m repeating this from earlier reviews, but it’s important here. Singular cultural narratives have a greater chance of being offensive and flawed. I’m calling it singular because this is the first (and possibly only) time that Pratchett utilizes “Asian” culture in his texts in any great detail. Therefore, without any sort of complex fabric of characters to compare these ones to, without any specification as to which “Asian” culture he is talking about, and without much of a chance to break free of stereotypes, the writing comes across as a monolith, as a homogenous commentary on something that someone is not a part of.

It’s why it’s been so hard for me to assume good faith for these jokes or one-liners. I don’t want to assume the worst of a person. So when I got to this part:

One of them glared at Cohen.

Orrrrr! Itiyorshu! Yutimishu!”

My gut reaction was discomfort. I think that Pratchett is making reference to the practice of having Asian characters in movies speak bogus or ridiculous approximations of their own language. It’s a practice that deserves ridicule, yes, but this book is full of jokes that make shitty puns of Asian names. Pratchett makes fun of Japanese and Chinese. So how can he suddenly pull himself out of that criticism and make a claim that other white people doing the same thing should be criticized? It feels disingenuous on the one hand; it also feels like he has no clue just how damaging some of these jokes are.

This does not make me less excited to see Lord Hong destroyed, though. Fuck that guy.

Diane Duane is still offering a massive discount on the first 9 books in the Young Wizards series just to this community, so please take advantage of this deal while you still can:

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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