Guards! Guards! Is the eighth of Terry Pratchett’s discworld novels, and the first to feature the City Watch. As with all the discworld books it is a riot, a rattling good story that parodies everything in sight and causes regular fits of the giggles. Pratchett has gift for lampooning clichés and this book contains one of my favourite examples of the master at his best. Image a scene not dissimilar to the bit in The Hobbit where Bard uses his lucky arrow to bring down Smaug. The members of the watch are sitting on a roof waiting for the dragon to appear so they can shoot it down, reassuring themselves that it’s a million to one chance, and therefore will work because they always do. Here is a little flavour:
Sergeant Colon was worrying.
After a while he shifted his weight uneasily and said, “I’ve fought of a problem,”
“Wassat, Sarge?” said Carrot.
Sergeant Colon looked wretched. “Weeell, what if it’s not a million-to-one chance?” he said.
Nobby stared at him.
“What d’you mean?” he said.
“Well, all right, last desperate million-to-one chances always work, right, no problem, but. . . well, it’s pretty wossname, specific. I mean, isn’t it?”
“You tell me,” said Nobby.
“What if it’s just a thousand-to-one chance?” said Colon agonisedly.
“Anyone ever heard of a thousand-to-one shot coming up?”
Carrot looked up. “Don’t be daft, Sergeant,” he said. “No-one ever saw a thousand-to-one chance come up. The odds against it are-” his lips moved- “millions to one.”
“Yeah. Millions,” agreed Nobby.
“So it’d only work if it’s your actual million-to-one chance,” said the sergeant.
“I suppose that’s right,” said Nobby.
“So 999,943-to-one, for example-” Colon began.
Carrot shook his head. “Wouldn’t have a hope. No-one ever said, ‘It’s a 999,943-to-one chance but it might just work.’ ”
They stared out across the city in the silence of ferocious mental calculation.
“We could have a real problem here,” said Colon eventually.
( from Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchet)
I first came across the Terry Pratchett books in a review of the first two in White Dwarf magazine. The reviewer said they were the sort of books that you couldn’t read and drink beer at the same time because you would end up spraying it all over the ceiling. It’s a good piece of advice that I have conscientiously followed.