Thursday, February 4, 2010


Unseen Academicals is a 2009 Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett. Here, the wizards of Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University are forced to field a soccer team in order to maintain a rather sizeable bequest, lest they find themselves reduced to an intolerable three meals a day.

Obviously, Unseen Academicals pokes quite a bit of fun at Britain’s soccer culture. But beyond this, it’s similar to a number of recent Discworld novels in that it doesn’t really have, per se, a plot, but rather is about the lives of various relatively disparate characters (mostly new ones this time), and how they interact against the framework of the given social institution, and how they and the novel’s premise tidily intersect toward the end of the story. This is something that Pratchett is quite good at – bringing all his threads together without making things feel contrived.

Within this structure, Pratchett explores a number of themes beyond the masses’ love of sport, notably prejudice, relationship, and following one’s dreams. Pratchett has a knack for subtly incorporating his themes into his novels, although the new character Nutt, with his monologues, makes things a little more overt – this is distinctly un-Pratchett-like heavy-handedness. Pratchett’s general antipathy toward God and religion leaks through on occasion, distractingly.

Pratchett’s turn of phrase is still as clever as ever, and his vocabulary as large. Nearly all his gags work. Unseen Academicals is never laugh-out-loud funny, but it is always entertaining. And it may behoove the reader to keep a German-English dictionary handy.

Unseen Acadmicals isn’t the same league as the greatest of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett certainly knows how to keep the pages turning.