When searching for a strong conflict to anchor a story, most fantasy authors rely on dragons, invading hordes of orcs, and universe-ending supernatural beings and phenomena. In Going Postal, Terry Pratchett tries to save Ankh-Morpork’s post office.
Oddly, by aiming lower – just saving the post office? – I felt that Pratchett had taken more of a gamble than his more bombastic peers. Then again, Going Postal is the thirty-third novel in Pratchett’s spectacularly successful DISCWORLD series, so he has little to lose. Why not write a novel about what must be the most mundane premise fantasy has ever seen?
Moist von Lipwig, our hero, is a conman and a swindler who has the good fortune of also having an utterly forgettable face. However, when we meet him, his crimes have finally caught up with him. He barely has time to choose his last words before he is hanged to within an inch of his life. Fortunately for Moist, the execution is just for show, and Moist is taken away to meet Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Vetinari offers Moist the choice: run the post office or die.
Moist chooses life.
The post office is in trouble for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the new “clacks” system, which transmits data faster than the post. However, as the clacks system has become more popular, its owners have become less inclined to maintain its towers. Repairs, delays, and poor service have become the norm, though the clacks’ shareholders, led by Reacher Gilt, continue to make an enormous amount of money.
Going Postal is a fantasy, and so golems, banshees, and wizards are all given a chapter or two of attention. More impressively, Pratchett tosses off a magic system around letter writing, once again proving – if proof were still necessary – that he is a uniquely inventive writer of fantasy.
However, for most readers, the best part of Going Postal will be Pratchett’s trademark humor. Most of the humor derives from wordplay – starting with the title. My favorite might have been centered around one of the post office’s employees, Stanley Howler. Stanley is obsessive, particularly about pins. Pin enthusiasts are, of course, known as “pinheads.” The number of plays on pin that Pratchett works into Going Postal is surprising, but what surprised me more was that I never tired of reading them.
Going Postal is the first DISCWORLD novel to feature Moist von Lipwig as a protagonist. If Sam Vimes is associated with police procedurals, it looks like Moist will feature in novels about public institutions. Odd as it may sound, I am looking forward to reading Moist von Lipwig’s next novel, Making Money. Going Postal is not only a diverting and amusing read, it is a remarkably smooth and professional entry in the DISCWORLD series.
I listened to Harper Audio’s production of Going Postal, which was read by Stephen Briggs. It would be difficult to imagine a more perfect performer for this novel. Briggs is clearly operating on the same frequency as Pratchett, so the humor always felt natural. Briggs has invested each character with a unique voice, and I found myself thinking that this might be one of the few instances in which listening to a novel trumps reading it.