Terry Pratchett's profoundly irreverent novels are consistent number one bestseller in England, where they have catapulted him into the highest echelons of parody next to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.
In this Discworld installment, Death comes to Mort with an offer he can't refuse -- especially since being, well, dead isn't compulsory.As Death's apprentice, he'll have free board and lodging, use of the company horse, and he won't need time off for family funerals. The position is everything Mort thought he'd ever wanted, until he discovers that this perfect job can be a killer on his love life.
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January 31, 2001
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Excerpt from Mort by Terry Pratchett
This is the bright candlelit room where the life-timers are stored -- shelf upon shelf of them, squat hourglasses, one for every living person, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past. The accumulated hiss of the falling grains makes the room roar like the sea.
This is the owner of the room, stalking through it with a preoccupied air. His name is Death.
But not any Death. This is the Death whose particular sphere of operations is, well, not a sphere at all, but the Discworld, which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on. the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A'Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.
But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
Death clicks across the black and white tiled floor on toes of bone, muttering inside his cowl as his skeletal fingers count along the rows of busy hourglasses.
Finally he finds one that seems to satisfy him, lifts carefully from its shelf and carries it across to the nearest candle He holds it so that the light glints off it, and stares at the little point of reflected brilliance.
The steady gaze from those twinkling eye sockets encompasses the world turtle, sculling through the deeps of space, carapace scarred by comets and pitted by meteors. One day even Great A'Tuin will die, Death knows; now, that would be a challenge.
But the focus of his gaze dives onwards towards the bluegreen magnificence of the Disc itself, turning slowly under its tiny orbiting sun.
Now it curves away towards the great mountain range called the Ramtops. The Ramtops are full of deep valleys and unexpected crags and considerably more geography than they know what to do with. They have their own peculiar weather, full of shrapnel rain and whiplash winds and permanent thunderstorms. Some people say it's all because the Ramtops are the home of old, wild magic. Mind you, some people will say anything.
Death blinks, adjusts for depth of vision. Now he sees the grassy country on the turnwise slopes of the mountains.
Now he sees a particular hillside.
Now he sees a field.
Now he sees a boy, running.
Now he watches.
Now, in a voice like lead slabs being dropped on granite, he says: Yes.
There was no doubt that there was something magical in the soil of that hilly, broken area which -- because of the strange tint that it gave to the local flora -- was known as the octarine grass country. For example, it was one of the few places on the Disc where plants produced reannual varieties.
Reannuals are plants that grow backwards in time. You sow the seed this year and they grow last year.
Mort's family specialized in distilling the wine from reannual grapes. These were very powerful and much sought after by fortune-tellers, since of course they enabled them to see the future. The only snag was that you got the hangover the morning before, and had to drink a lot to get over it.
Reannual growers tended to be big, serious men, much given to introspection and close examination of the calendar. A fanner who neglects to sow ordinary seeds only loses the crop, whereas anyone who forgets to sow seeds of a crop that has already been harvested twelve months before risks disturbing the entire fabric of causality, not to mention acute embarrassment.
It was also acutely embarrassing to Mort's family that the youngest son was not at all serious and had about the same talent for horticulture that you would find in a dead starfish. It wasn't that he was unhelpful, but he had the kind of vague, cheerful helpfulness that serious men soon learn to dread. There was something infectious, possibly even fatal, about it.