I chose #151 Soul Music by Terry Pratchett as my next Big Read book because it’s festival season, and this book is about rock and roll.
Soul Music is a Discworld novel, and while it features several recurring characters, it works pretty well as an entry to the series. In an Ankh-Morpork back street, a young man picks up a guitar, strums a chord, and a wild new music sneaks onto the Disc. Rock and roll is here, with its dancing beats and its rebellious anthems. It is the time to live fast – but can he avoid dying young?
Rock and roll is here to stay
Pratchett has written a whole string of books where a modern technology hits the Discworld. They’re usually stand-alone books and provide a good entry to the series. Soul Music is all about rock and roll. It was written in 1994, which is about when my personal music memory starts, so I was relying on a fondness for rock and roll from the 1950s and ’60s as well as music my parents played. I felt like quite a few of the references went right over my head but I still enjoyed the book.
That said, I do feel like this type of Discworld book, about the sudden introduction of a Roundworld phenomenon, chafe a little at the seams. Some new inventions get absorbed into Discworld well – like the movable type printing press from The Truth – while others, like the Moving Pictures are clearly destined to fade away. Soul Music is much like Moving Pictures. It’s lovely, and fans of rock and roll will probably appreciate seeing it done Discworld style, but ultimately you could read the Discworld series and miss this one out without missing much. It feels like a thought experiment, Pratchett writing out what would happen if rock and roll hit the Disc, and then tidying away his toys neatly at the end of play.
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Soul Music is the origin story for Susan, who is awesome and shows up repeatedly, she is Death’s granddaughter, and is thoroughly, strongly practical. I do love a hero who can wear a bit of lace and save the world with common sense.
Like many of Pratchett’s other main characters, Susan changes dramatically between books. In her case, she literally grows up. Like Captain Carrot, she changes enough between books that it doesn’t matter if you miss her beginnings – and you may get a little shock discovering them if you’ve seen her later, more evolved character.
I enjoyed rereading Soul Music. As you’ll have noticed, I rate Pratchett highly – he’s one of the authors who never write a book I hate. The worst possible outcome is that I fail to fall madly in love with his new book, like with Dodger, and go back to the merry-go-round of previous glories. Pratchett writes comic fantasy, with dragons and magic and wizards, but he writes with a strong pragmatic realism, with people who react in believable ways even to fantastic situations. The Discworld is a brilliant place to linger for a while, and Soul Music is it’s summer festival. Take it to the park, listen to a band, and dip into rock and roll and magic between sets.