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Book cover art by Ben Perrini (left).
Review © 2001 by Thomas M. Wagner.

The second Discworld entry is the one in which Pratchett first fully realizes exactly what it is he wants to accomplish as a purveyor of comic fantasy. Where he was still fishing around in The Color of Magic for a style of humor writing that would fully convey the range of his wit, in The Light Fantastic Pratchett nails it.

One of the few books in the series to serve as a direct sequel to a prior volume, Light picks up where Color left off, where we had last seen the inept non-wizard Rincewind and his companion, the blissfully ignorant and ignorantly blissful tourist Twoflower, in a bit of a bad spot. (Never fear — I won't spoil it.) To their surprise, they find themselves quite improbably rescued by the spell that Rincewind unwittingly carries around in his head after foolishly peeking at the magical grimoire the Octavo back in his days at Unseen University. Now the two unlikely companions learn that the Discworld itself faces a new peril: Great A'Tuin, the world turtle, upon whose back the Discworld floats through space (well, really, there are four elephants on the turtle's back who actually carry...oh, forget it), is heading towards a terrifying and ominous red star. What could this mean? Could the end of the Discworld be nigh?

The story then proceeds at what could reasonably be called lightning pace, as Pratchett solidifies concepts and characters that would soon become regular series favorites (Death; the Luggage; the orangutan Librarian; the ongoing feud between the gods and the ice giants) while simultaneously lampooning fantasy tropes left and right. The gags come so fast that, while some are funnier than others, and some even land with a thud, the overall impact is one of such delerious energy and unadulterated fun that you'd really have to be a stick-in-the-mud not to give yourself over to it all and have a great, goofy time. Pratchett's approach to humor in fantasy is already far more successful than that of Piers Anthony. While Anthony at this time was filling his still-pretty-imaginative Xanth with a nonstop string of simplistic puns and wordplay, Pratchett's approach to writing humor more closely resembles the madcap silliness of classic cinema screwball comedies. It's easy to picture the Marx Brothers dropping by Anhk-Morpork to wreak their trademarked brand of havoc.

So, once again, another recommendation. Ho-hum, is anything new? Well, in a series that has now run as long as this one has, with as many entries, there's bound to be a mediocrity, if not an outright failure, in the batch somewhere. But The Light Fantastic isn't it. Discworld remains a delightful retreat from reality that I have come to look forward to every time I pick one up. Pratchett's light is indeed fantastic.