46. Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008) 404 p.

yep, still glad that josh kirby died

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in December 2007. I didn’t find that out until mid-2008, which was kind of like when Robert Jordan died and I didn’t find out for months, except that I couldn’t care less about Jordan whereas the thought of Pratchett becoming an empty husk of a man without any memory or awareness makes me legitimately sad. He is truly one of the finest living writers, and easily the greatest English satirist since Swift.

Inevitably, as I read his latest piece of work, I was wondering if the disease was already beginning to affect his mind. Nation is a very different novel from most of Pratchett’s books. It’s not Discworld, for a start, and it seems to be missing a lot of the typical puns and humour that are present in every second paragraph of the Discworld novels.

Nation takes place in an alternate version of our own world’s 19th century, on a remote island in the South Pacific simply called “Nation.” The protagonist is a young tribal native called Mau, who is returning home to Nation after a month-long stay on an uninhabited island as part of his initiation into manhood. When he arrives home, however, he discovers that a tidal wave has killed every living soul on the island, and left behind a shipwrecked British vessel with a teenage girl as the sole survivor. As refugees from neighbouring islands begin to arrive on Nation, Mau finds himself thrust into a leadership role, while still struggling to cope with the trauma of losing his entire tribe.

Angry with the gods, Mau begins to question their existence, and the many traditions and beliefs that he has taken for granted his entire life. This is the key theme of Nation: a defence of the scientific method, encouraging you to think in different ways, to challenge what you are told, and to reject blind faith. That’s not all there is to it, of course, and I’m not sure whether to call it an atheistic or deistic or humanist narrative. It’s more complicated than that, like life itself, as Pratchett is wise enough to display.

I think the lack of humour was intentional. It’s not gone entirely, just toned down from the average Discworld novel, and it works just as well. Nation is a very good book, readable on a number of different levels, and enjoyable whether you’re a philosopher or a teenager. It’s not as good as some of the finer Discworld novels (Night Watch is his magnum opus and I doubt he will ever top it), but Pratchett’s still got it… for now.

Books: 46/50
Pages: 14, 970

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