Phil McCrum's Reviews > Unseen Academicals

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
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's review
Feb 21, 2012

it was amazing


"Unseen Academicals" arrives new into a series that is already well over 30 books deep. The series is referred to as the "Discworld" series. For those of you unfamiliar with Discworld, it is a mythical flat world being carried through space on the backs of four cosmically huge elephants that are, themselves, standing on the back of an even larger tortoise. This tortoise is slowly making her way through the universe carrying millions of eclectic entities with her. If you loved "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, you will also love the Discworld series. The biting humor is identical -- the main difference being that Hitchhiker's is more science fiction and Discworld is more fantasy. Pratchett uses the Discworld and its inhabitants to poke good-natured fun at science, religion, cultures, prejudices, sports, politics, and well... EVERYTHING.

"Unseen Academicals" appears (from the cover) to be about the Wizard's Unseen University in the great metropolis of Ankh-Morpork being forced to engage in league "foot-the-ball" (football to the Europeans and soccer to the Americans). But it is actually about the life and 'coming of age' of a brand new character, Nutt. Nutt appears to be a goblin -- a new character type in Pratchett's mythical world of characters (I won't spoil it by saying further on who and what Nutt is). Nutt has a problem trying to decide who he is, the Unseen University has a problem trying to figure out how to participate in foot-the-ball without getting too far from the cheese carts, and quite a few non-couples are unexpectedly working their way to losing the 'non-'. Most of the action is supportive to Nutt's development. "Unseen Academicals" gives us a good dose of Lord Ventinari (the city's wonderful tyrant) and a giant dose of the scholars of Unseen University.

As I dived into this book and started devouring it page by page, I was once again impressed -- actually astounded -- by Pratchett's ability to take mediocre events or situations and describe them in such a clever and hilarious way that you laugh out loud uncontrollably. Who would have come up with the concept of someone who is not personable and homely to boot being described as someone with "charisn'tma"? I don't think there was even one page in the whole book that didn't have some witty turn of a phrase or new and bizarre use of a regular word that made me grin like the Joker. Sadly, it's Pratchett's narrative wit that makes the Discworld series very hard to convert into movie format. Most of the wit is in the "invisible narrator's words" and less in dialogue and actions. Be that as it may, two novels ("The Color of Magic" and "Hogfather") were made into fairly long movies and were very entertaining and well-done. They would obviously be enjoyed more by diehard fans of the Discworld.

The odd thing about Pratchett and his Discworld series is that he seems to be getting better and better. Usually, a series starts out with a bang and then peters out. So often with your run-of-the-mill fiction series you get past the fifth novel or so and you start to get more underwhelmed than anything else. Each subsequent novel seems to be even more boring than the previous one and a let-down. Not so with Pratchett. He almost seems to be gaining steam. His two recent offerings "Going Postal" and "Making Money" were some of his best works in the series and "Unseen Academicals" continues the trend.

If you are a Discworld fan, then you probably already have read "Unseen Academicals". If you are new to the Discworld series, check out Terry Pratchett's website ( for a comprehensive list of his books. While reading the series in order is best, this is one series that you can jump around a bit without losing much. Check it out.

And for Pratchett fans who are wondering... my favorite Discworld characters are Granny Weatherwax, Carrot, DEATH, Vimes, and now Nutt!
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Comments (showing 1-2)

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Kathy Turner Great review William. I hope I 'liked' it. If not please let me know.
The wonder of this book too is that Terry Pratchett wrote it after being diagnosed with a particular form of Alzheimers - and the incredible bravery to say "I'll keep doing what I love" - and the incredible wonder that it is as good or even better than many of his previous discworld novels. Yes I'd agree it is non-stop funny, mostly of the-quite-smile variety, and sometime the laugh-out-loud variety, and always pleasing. His inventiveness is wonderful. He is superb at showing us how absolutely absurd our dearest institutions are like foot-the-ball and university bureauracy. I've always thought the rule of 2 off side leading to a foul in soccer (am I right?) is totally absurd. Nice to see him imagining it being developed! I wonder if he still laughs at university bureaucracy while he's being Professor at Trinity - or does being IN it make it a bit too close-to-the-bone?

Phil McCrum Absolutely right on, Kathy. He is an amazing man. A role-model for writers, those diagnosed with a deadly or debilitating disease, or... well... a role-model for everyone!

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