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Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Going Postal (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Terry Pratchett

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Title:Going Postal
Authors:Terry Pratchett
Info:HarperTorch (2005), Edition: First Thus, Mass Market Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library

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Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (2004)

Recently added byLitaVore, romanlibrary, samtin, private library, DLMorrese, whizse, Zoiber, PastorCarter
  1. 40
    Making Money by Terry Pratchett (kinsey_m)
    kinsey_m: Same protagonist, just as fun.
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    Thud! by Terry Pratchett (ChillnND)
    ChillnND: One of Pratchett's best Discworld books, a fast paced detective novel set in his fantastic world. There's plenty of wry, satirical social commentary in Thud! as there is in "Going Postal"

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WARNING: This commentary on the novel Going Postal is loaded with spoilers.

Going Postal is an enjoyable and heartwarming story of greed, corruption, deceit, and murder. But that's only part of it. There always seems to be more to a Terry Pratchett novel than first meets the eye. They are, of course, wonderfully enjoyable and cleverly written stories. But ingeniously woven into the plots, characters, and settings, you find deeper meaning, literary tropes, scholarly references, philosophical insights, social commentary…. Yeah, I've long been a Discworld fan.

At the surface, Going Postal is a story about a personable conman given a stay of execution on the condition that he performs a specific benefit to society. All we know at the beginning is that Moist Von Lipwig* is given the choice of dying for his past crimes or of taking on the job of postmaster and returning the Ankh-Morpork postal service to operation. He chooses the latter, thinking this will allow him breathing space (literally) to run as far and as fast as possible. Much to his surprise and dismay, this is not possible, and the job of postmaster is far more…complicated than he could have imagined. The post office hasn't functioned in years—decades, in fact. The building is near ruin, it is crammed with undelivered mail…and it may be cursed. The last four appointed postmasters died suddenly shortly after taking the job. And it turns out that these aren't the greatest challenges Moist must face.

But enough about the plot for now. Engaging as it is, there are other things I would like to point out about this book.
Pratchett's skill with creating interesting characters is immediately apparent in Going Postal. In the first few pages we are introduced to:
• Moist von Lipwig, an ethical thief and conman who takes pride in never having hurt anyone.
• A couple of considerate jailers who wish to make the short stay of their death row guests as pleasant as possible (given the circumstances).
• 'One Drop' Trooper, a kindly hangman who takes pride in his work and treats his clients with friendliness and respect before he drops them through the gallows trapdoor to their very final destination.
• A moral golem, a man of clay who cheerfully says to Moist, "I Have Nothing But Good Feelings Toward You, Mr. Lipwig!"
• And then there is Vetinari, the selfless tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, whose primary, if not only, concern is the city and the wellbeing of its people.**

Do you see what he's done here? These characters are juxtapositions of opposites, or presumed opposites: an ethical thief, considerate jailers, a kindly hangman, a moral golem, a selfless tyrant. You don't normally think of tyrants being selfless. Tyrants are selfish, cruel, vindictive, capricious, avaricious…. What Pratchett does with these characters, other than making them interesting and inherently humorous, is to tell the reader to put their prejudices behind them for the sake of the story. Things on the Discworld are not always what you may expect them to be, and, well, you know, they may not be so on our round world either, for that matter. He doesn't come right out and say it's a mistake to judge people by their job or their looks or something else superficial, but he shows us in a very entertaining way that such assumptions may be wrong.

There is often some philosophical aspect to the Discworld stories. Take, for example, an early scene in this story, it which Pump 19 (the golem mentioned above who is currently serving as Moist's probation officer) calmly informs Moist that he has killed "Two Point Three Three Eight People." Moist objects, insisting that he's never even carried a weapon, let alone killed anyone. This is what the golem tells him.
"No, You Have Not. But You Have Stolen, Embezzled, Defrauded And Swindled Without Discrimination, Mr Lipvig. You Have Ruined Businesses And Destroyed Jobs. When Banks Fail, It Is Seldom Bankers Who Starve. Your Actions Have Taken Money From Those Who Had Little Enough To Begin With. In A Myriad Small Ways You Have Hastened The Deaths Of Many. You Do Not Know Them. You Did Not See Them Bleed. But You Snatched Bread From Their Mouths And Tore Clothes From Their Backs. For Sport, Mr Lipvig. For Sport. For The Joy Of The Game.”***

Moist may be unthinking, at times, but he's not stupid. He understands the golem's point and it affects him. He has always rationalized his actions as little worse than a harmless sport, and he has prided himself with never having hurt anyone, at least no one who did not deserve it. But his nonviolent crimes have hurt people, innocent people—not just bankers and moneylenders and other financial moochers—he's harmed people who actually work for a living. He can no longer deny this to himself. It's a moment of self-realization for Moist.

Speaking of financial moochers, the antagonist of the story personifies them in the character of Reacher Gilt.**** Gilt is another swindler, like Moist but without a conscience. Moist doesn't want to hurt people and is upset when he can no longer deny that he has. Reacher Gilt sees hurting people as just one more way of making money for himself. The man is a corporate pirate, something he advertises with his manner and clothing. He even wears an eyepatch and has a cockatoo that constantly squawks, "Twelve-and-a-half percent."***** Through trickery and deceit, Gilt has taken over the clacks company (a system of semaphore towers), ousted its developers, and suppressed its competitors. He's running the clacks into the ground, but he's making a great deal of money in the process.

The aspect of social commentary here is obvious. Pratchett is pointing out the inherent problems with things like privatization, corporate takeovers, and monopolies—actions that a morally bankrupt owner can use to squeeze a business dry for every penny it can provide. He's not lecturing. He's not criticizing any specific case in our world. He's simply telling a lighthearted story, but he's making a serious point.
Another obvious parallel to our world is the clacks as a stand in for the birth of computers and the internet. More broadly, it represents the early days of any new technology, I suspect. I imagine that the young innovators of the telephone and steam engines before that had the same drive and passion that the clacks workers in this story exhibit, and it provides a kind of tribute to such technological pioneers. They are dreamers, idealists, inventors, and tireless workers trying to bring about something not just new but revolutionary. They may be obsessed, possibly even a bit insane (like the Smoking GNU in this story), but they are the kind of people who literally change the world.

I love this quote from the book in which Pratchett praises human ingenuity in reference to the clacks:
"But what was happening now…this was magical. Ordinary men had dreamed it up and put it together, building towers on rafts in swamps and across the frozen spines of mountains. They'd cursed and, worse, used logarithms. They'd waded through rivers and dabbled in trigonometry. They hadn't dreamed, in the way people usually used the words, but they'd imagined a different world, and bent metal around it. And out of all the sweat and swearing and mathematics had come this…thing, dropping words across the world as softly as starlight."

This review is getting a bit long, but there is one more thing I want to say about Going Postal that I feel is appropriate given Sir Terry's recent death.****** There is a convention among the clacks operators that when one of them dies while working on the risky towers, their name is sent via a clacks 'overhead' message to the tower nearest their home. For some who are especially admired by their peers, the message is turned around so that it is constantly being transmitted. It's called 'living in the overhead'. The clacks code preceding such messages is GNU.
G – Pass this on.
N – Do not log.
U – Turn around at end of line.

So in honor of Sir Terry: GNU-Terry Pratchett—A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.

Footnotes (of course there are footnotes):
*Pratchett had a Dickensian talent for names. Going Postal includes especially marvelous examples of this with Moist von Lipwig, Adora Belle Dearheart, and Reacher Gilt.
**Vetinari is to Ankh-Morpork what Granny Weatherwax is to the Ramtops. They are strong, competent, possibly even maternal caretakers—well, protective, anyway—although not necessarily kindly, especially to those who threaten their respective charges.
***Lipwig previously told Pump 19 that the 'w' in his name is pronounced 'v'.
****The name may simply be a Dickensian form that reflects that the character grabs for money, or it could be a reverse image of Ayn Rand's John Galt character. It may be both.
*****12.5 percent as a fraction is 1/8, so Reacher Gilt's bird is actually saying "Pieces of Eight" but in a way more suited to the world of financial businesses.
******March 12, 2015 at the far too young age of 66.

( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Who knew postal service could be so interesting? Well written and fun to read, this book makes it obvious why terry Pritchett is so well loved. The book builds a universe without forcing you to read the first discworld novel, making it very accessible.
I remember previously reading another discworld novel years ago and both mentioned that wizards had stuffed alligators, and it was just a THING and much like real world, it's an accepted fact and left alone without overly long attempts to justify. It just is, the protagonist doesn't know why but knows all have them do it's an accepted fact. Witty and fun, do recommend ( )
  PaperTori | Jun 16, 2016 |
Actually *not* a good place to start if you're unfamiliar with Discworld. Yes, it was the first I read, and it did get me hooked. But I did not understand it at all back then. Now I've read all the books previous to this and am all caught up to here, and I appreciated it so much more. Definitely a fantasy, though, told in Pratchett's elliptical style that repeats some thoughts (it's easier to swindle dishonest people) ad-nauseum, and leaves others undeveloped (Dimwell Arrhythmic Rhyming Slang).

First read in, probably, 2005. Second time, October 2012. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Pratchett at the height of his powers of storytelling and observation. Moist von Lipwig is hanged (under one of his many assumed names) and Vetinari gives him the chance to redeem himself by resurrecting the postal service, now down to two - well, "employees" sounds too official. Moist must win the confidence of his co-workers, evade his judgmental parole officer (a golem), win the heart of a misanthropic golem liason, and beat the Clacks at its own game. Vetinari knows it takes a bent bastard to do the job right. Stephen Briggs reads this brilliantly.
  marfita | May 8, 2016 |
SO much truth wrapped within SO much sarcasm! "Peel away the lies and the truth would emerge." Tihs one is worth a second read. ( )
  jnmwheels | Apr 3, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Terry Pratchettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Briggs, StephenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cholewa, Piotr W.Tł.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidby, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKowen, ScottCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The flotillas of the dead sailed around the world on underwater rivers.
'Can I not?' said Vetinari. 'I am a tyrant. It's what we do.'
'Oh, *please* sue the University!' Ridcully bellowed. 'We've got a *pond* full of people who tried to sue the University--'
'Neither Deluge Nor Ice Storm Nor The Black Silence Of The Netherhells Shall Stay These Messengers About Their Sacred Business. Do Not Ask Us About Sabre-Tooth Tigers, Tar Pits, Big Green Things With Teeth Or The Goddess Czol.'
'What? Funning? I never fun! I do not fun, Miss Maccalariat, and have no history of funning, and even if I were inclined to funning, Miss Maccalariat, I would not dream of funning with you.'
The man going to be hanged had been named Moist von Lipwig by doting if unwise parents, but he was not going to embarrass the name, insofar as that was possible, by being hung under it.
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It seems criminals
Are government workers, but
Are they any good?

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060502932, Mass Market Paperback)

Suddenly, condemned arch-swindler Moist von Lipwig found himself with a noose around his neck and dropping through a trapdoor into ... a government job?

By all rights, Moist should be meeting his maker rather than being offered a position as Postmaster by Lord Vetinari, supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork. Getting the moribund Postal Service up and running again, however, may prove an impossible task, what with literally mountains of decades-old undelivered mail clogging every nook and cranny of the broken-down post office. Worse still, Moist could swear the mail is talking to him. Worst of all, it means taking on the gargantuan, greedy Grand Trunk clacks communication monopoly and its bloodthirsty piratical headman. But if the bold and undoable are what's called for, Moist's the man for the job -- to move the mail, continue breathing, get the girl, and specially deliver that invaluable commodity that every being, human or otherwise, requires: hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:28 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Arch-swindler Moist Van Lipwig never believed his confidence crimes were hanging offenses-until he found himself with a noose tightly around his neck, dropping through a trapdoor, and falling into-a government job? By all rights, Moist should have met his maker. Instead, it's Lord Vetinari, supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, who promptly offers him a job as Postmaster. Since his only other option is a nonliving one, Moist accepts the position-and the hulking golem watchdog who comes along with it, just in case Moist was considering abandoning his responsibilities prematurely. Getting the moribund Postal Service up and running again, however, may be a near-impossible task, what with literally mountains of decades-old undelivered mail clogging every nook and cranny of the broken-down post office building; and with only a few creaky old postmen and one rather unstable, pin-obsessed youth available to deliver it. Worse still, Moist could swear the mail is talking to him.… (more)

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