Prometheus

Newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society

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Volume 30, Number 2, Winter, 2012

Snuff

By Terry Pratchett

Tor, 2011
Reviewed by Chris Hibbert

I expected the usual fluffy, tongue-in-cheek material from Terry Pratchett’s Snuff, but what I got instead was a serious story with profound insights about the nature of humanity, and the dangers of stereotyping. Of course, it has the usual fluff and tongue-in-cheek as well. Snuff is likely to be a finalist for the Prometheus award this year, because of its strong message of self-reliance and Sam Vimes’ matter-of-fact acceptance of every person for their strengths regardless of others’ prejudices. Vimes treats everyone as an individual and is incensed when he realizes that Goblins are being enslaved and that the laws don’t protect them. (Maybe as a life-long cop he should have noticed earlier, but never mind that.)

The story follows Commander Sam Vines, Police Chief of Ankh-Morpork, as he attempts to take a vacation with his wife at her ancestral country home. He enjoys himself immensely, but that’s because he enjoys his work. His vacation, counter to his best intentions, turns into a working vacation when he comes across evidence that a young goblin girl has been murdered in an attempt to frame Vimes himself. When he detects indications that the locals are conspiring to hide something, he goes into full detective mode.

In this case, he gets involved in unravelling a case of willful blindness, and a gap in the law’s coverage. Goblins, it turns out have never been respected by the law, so it’s not a crime to mistreat them. But Vimes learns that they are thinking creatures with feelings, and their own culture. When he then learns that they are being killed, mistreated, and enslaved, he does something about it.

It turns into a rollicking adventure, with Vimes, his taciturn but well-armed manservant, and the various oddities that constitute Vimes’ police department all playing parts. As Vimes has done in previous Discworld installments, he hires anyone who seems like they could be a competent cop, and turns them into a respectable member of the constabulary, regardless of their apparent handicaps—social, ethnic, or species. (He has hired vampires, gargoyles, golems, and zombies. All turned into fine police, with their racial predilictions exhibited as strengths.)

There’s a good sub-plot woven through, in which Vimes attempts to teach his son, Sam, Jr., some of the wisdom he considers essential. Young Sam is oblivious and hilarious, and learns whatever he wants to learn, while uncovering embarrassing nuggets for the local ne’er-do-wells. This book, like the other novels in Pratchett’s Discworld that have been nominated for the Prometheus Award, hides a strong pro-freedom and pro-individualism message behind a light-hearted and fun surface story.

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