Mark Reads ‘Night Watch’: Part 17

In the seventeenth part of Night Watch, Carcer changes history and Vimes must adapt. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Night Watch

So, are we on a course correction, or has Carcer done something to irreparably change history?

That’s the eternal question of this book, and it’s one that is usually central to time travel narratives. What are the ramifications of traveling forward or backward in time? In this case, Night Watch feels intimately aware of this conversation. Vimes is constantly thinking of what his presence at this moment means for the future, and not just his own! Seven people died in the original timeline. Can Vimes’s actions save those people? And should he save them, even if that means he might not get returned to his own time?

More than any of the parts of Night Watch prior to this, the text is obsessed with this question. And it has to be. We’ve reached the part of the story where the antagonist that Vimes is working against—the despicable Carcer—has figured out that he can manipulate people and events to suit his needs. This whole time, that’s been Vimes’s advantage. He’s managed to protect people; he’s taken out Cable Street and destroyed the torture chamber there; and now, he’s helped to construct the only safe zone in all of Ankh-Morpork. THIS IS GREAT. THIS IS VERY SAM VIMES-ESQUE.

And then there’s motherfuckin’ Carcer. As much as he’s one of the most evil characters in the entire Discworld series, he also wouldn’t have been able to get what he wanted if there weren’t people who enabled him. Major Mountjoy-Standfast is complicit in Carcer’s reign because he can’t say no. He can’t disobey. To him, the more moral choice is to stay a loyal soldier. It’s a common refrain, one I’ve heard all my life from my father, who was in the Army, and an uncle on my mother’s side, who was an LAPD officer: I was just following orders. That simple statement is supposed to exonerate and excuse, to provide a justification, an escape.

But it’s bullshit. It’s that same delusion of people saying, “I didn’t have a choice” in situations in which there was a clear option available. The captain literally provides the major with one: they could just disobey their orders. They could do the right thing and not charge on people who aren’t attacking them. They could have not started their siege. But in the end, duty and obedience was more important than saving lives. Protecting citizens. Doing the right thing.

However, even when given such a massive deviation from history, Vimes still manages to delay the inevitable. Which… is that all he can do at this point? Is this just pushing the end further away, but never completely away? Look, I was deeply impressed with how Vimes managed to sneak out from behind the barricade with Colon and then, with Colon’s help, dismantle Big Mary with a couple of tools and some specially-placed ginger. (HELP.) It’s a great sequence that’s both hilarious and a demonstration of Vimes’s talents. But is that enough? Is wisdom and humor all Vimes needs to stop Carcer and prevent a violent history from unfolding? Or is that impossible?

I love that Vimes’s cigar case has come to represent this bizarre struggle, and I’m comforted knowing that it still exists. He must still meet her, right? EXCEPT THIS COULD BE THE GRANDFATHER PARADOX, TOO.


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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