[2 December 2007]
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)
Everybody likes money. We like getting it and spending it. Except to counterculture antimaterialists, it’s a universal object of adoration.
But monetary policy? Not so much. The process of printing money and the science of distributing it, plus currency standards and accounts and interest rates, can, in ordinary hands, provide a cure for insomnia.
But those are not Terry Pratchett’s hands. Yes, that’s right—Terry Pratchett is back, and has delivered yet another tale from Discworld, bringing the total up to 36 books (proving that Pratchett’s hands are very busy indeed). Making Money also heralds the return of Moist von Lipwig, the hero of Pratchett’s 33d book, Going Postal.
Having revived the struggling post office of Ankh-Morpork, the former condemned thief is now faced with a life of boring normalcy, punctuated by the occasional danger of picking the post office locks. However, after seeing the excellent work Moist has done with the post office, the city’s tyrant “requests” that he turn his talents to the corrupt and inefficient local bank. It’s a job Moist resists, but once the bank’s current chairwoman dies and leaves the majority of her shares to her dog, Mr. Fusspot, and Mr. Fusspot to Moist, there’s little he can do to avoid it.
So he plunges into the world of banking—simultaneously learning about and reinventing the processes of minting, accounting and standardizing—and swiftly moves the city from gold coins to paper dollars. Meanwhile, he must contend with golems, dead professors, possible vampires, the vicious family that directs the bank, and the return of his chain-smoking fiancee, Adora Belle Dearheart.
After 36 books, it’s no surprise that Pratchett is adept at maneuvering characters and plotlines to make what could easily be a royal mess run as smoothly as Moist’s post office. What is amazing, though, is the consistency with which he does it. Throughout dozens of books, Pratchett has rarely had a misstep. He’s always clever, always funny, and always surprisingly timely. His obvious delight in the silliness of human nature makes his stories witty, and his emphasis on fun overall helps to sweeten the bite of his deadly sharp social commentary. Even when he delves into economic explanations, he never loses track of his storyline and his characters. An elucidation of the paper dollar highlights the ridiculous characters of small-minded businessmen; a discussion of supply and demand includes a rather mad scientist and his Igor (a species that lives to work for mad scientists).
This sense of humor is the driving force in Making Money, infusing each sentence with jokes and puns. When Pratchett’s not having fun with the quirks of the species he creates, he’s cracking jokes about politics and skewering the ridiculous social nuances of the not-quite-ordinary cityfolk. On a single page, he can employ intellectual puns and dabble in potty humor, and his special knack for taking everything extra-literally provides endless amusement. His world is more than just an alternate universe—it’s a delirious roller-coaster ride that never allows the reader to even consider getting off.
Sure, a few things are less than perfect. The great secret of the chief cashier is rather unexciting, the green mushrooms growing on the finger of one of the evil bank directors are frankly disgusting, and the very name “Moist von Lipwig” is an unsavory mouthful. But in a book that is so wonderful overall, these are potatoes so small as to be practically invisible.
Plus, the thing about a 36th book is that most readers will likely have sampled at least one or two of its predecessors. While a newcomer might easily pick up Making Money and enjoy it heartily, the majority of readers will probably come from Pratchett’s legions of existing fans. For them, any praise Pratchett derives from the publication of this book will be completely expected, entirely unsurprising. And, after 36 books, that’s exactly how it should be.