Cover image for Unseen academicals
Title:
Unseen academicals
Edition:
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Harper, c2009.
ISBN:
9780061942037
Physical Description:
400 p. ; 24 cm.
Series:
A novel of Discworld
Language:
English
Abstract:
The wizards of Unseen University in the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork must win a football match, without using magic, so they're in the mood for trying everything else. As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed forever.
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Summary

Summary

Discworld lives on in Unseen Academicals, the latest novel from Terry Pratchett. Delivering the trademark insight and humor readers the world over have come to expect from "the purely funniest English writer since Wodehouse" (Washington Post Book World), Unseen Academicals focuses on the wizards at Ankh-Morpork's UnseenUniversity, who are reknowned for many things--sagacity, magic, and their love of teatime--as they attempt to conquer athletics.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the magical universe of Discworld, the dithering and very dotty wizards at Unseen University struggle to master the arcane rules of football as they enter a violent street sport competition. The challenges include getting the sedentary and distracted professors to play with some enthusiasm (and without magic), defending themselves against their opponents' unsportsmanlike behavior, and naturally, to win. It's not easy to track the multitude of characters, but Stephen Briggs gives each of them a distinctive voice. Briggs has been adapting Pratchett's novels to the stage since 1991, and the recurring characters are his to command. His performance brings out the best of the satirical humor and Pratchett's really good bad puns. Fans of Discworld will not be disappointed. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 31). (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Guardian Review

Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, like the previous volumes of his Discworld series, is highly literary (spot the allusions to Keats or Browning or Shakespeare), but its generosity with jokes is not what a "literary novel" provides. There are great literary precedents for waggishness: Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is a joke-driven novel - but then it is often accused of facetiousness or, as FR Leavis called it, "trifling". And Pratchett loves to trifle. When, in the opening sequence, a strange creature appears seemingly composed of "bits of beasts unknown to science or nightmare or even kebab", the authentic Pratchett tone is struck. A joke is an intervention that the author cannot resist. So Pratchett likes to throw in comments on the absurdity of what has just been said. "Glenda was taken aback and affronted at the same time, which was a bit of a squeeze . . ." In footnotes, Pratchett shakes his head at his own characters. When Mustrum Ridcully, archchancellor of the university, observes that "It's a long time since lunch," Pratchett the annotator is sceptical. "This may not be true. Wizards tend to think it's a long time to the next meal, right until they are consuming it." This is a joke about academics, for the story is set in Discworld's Unseen University. This academy for wizards is sometimes like an Oxbridge college (one running gag is that the professors are devoted to the richness of their collegiate cheeseboard) and sometimes like a new university specialising in modish subjects (the Senior Uncommon Room includes a professor of indefinite studies and a lecturer in recent runes). The denizens of the Unseen University are wizards (though "It's a bit harsh to call anybody a denizen"), but their characteristics are entirely human: they are devoted to smoking and drinking, and think of their stomachs before even the dusty traditions of their hallowed institutions. Or rather (as Pratchett-the-narrator might say), their most important traditions are gustatory. The leading representatives of the lower orders are themselves employed to prepare food for these ever-hungry academics. Glenda is head of the night kitchen and devoted to the production of pies for her lofty but stomach-centred employers. Juliet is her assistant, destined for a sparklier life as a fashion model. (Her only reading is a magazine called Bu-Bubbles.) Academic readers are likely to enjoy the fact that the university librarian has been turned into an orang-utan by a magical accident in The Light Fantastic. His inability to use human language seems not to interfere with his duties; his prehensile limbs are a big advantage on the university sports field. For the central joke is that the academics are forced by an obscure condition in a bequest to the university to take up the brutal and brutish sport of "foot-the-ball". But it is more amusing than this, for what we see at the beginning of the book is a mindless, rule-less sport played in the street by large masses of people. With the help of Nutt, who becomes their adviser and trainer, the academics will turn this warlike scrimmaging into a game with shape, speed, and an unintelligible offside law. Early Pratchett novels were more thoroughly parodies of fantasy literature, with the essential solemnity of Tolkien and his progeny satisfyingly brought to earth. (Not for nothing is one Discworld novel called Thud.) The joke was to insert into tales of magic and mythical beings characters with unremarkable faculties and a colloquial turn of phrase. In The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld volume, the wizard Rincewind's first words, when he is confronted on a dark hilltop above the burning city of Ankh-Morpork by Bravd the Hublander and his swordsman Weasel, are "Bugger off". Now, 37 Discworld novels in, it is clearly our world that is paralleled. The Times may officially be the Ankh-Morpork Times, but it is the newspaper that we all know, with its lame attempts at populism, its brilliant crosswords, and its self-consciously measured tones. "Glenda never normally read the leader column because there was only a certain number of times she was prepared to see the word 'however' used in a 120-word article." It is for our amusement that Pratchett has challenged himself to make his characters occasionally mention, as if naturally, the matter of their "favourite spoon". It is a homage to the Private Eye column "Me and My Spoon", itself a mockery of celebrity tediousness. But perhaps some readers will hardly notice. The book is larded with allusions and literary jokes. The brilliant Nutt, an autodidact who is Jeeves-like in his intellectual superiority to his social betters, is constantly defeated in his attempts to have his bookish references recognised by any other character. Explaining why pink is a suitably provocative colour for a football strip, he asks the football-mad Trev Likely: "I don't know if you have ever read Oftleberger's Die Wesentlichen Ungewissheiten Zugehorig der Offenkundigen Mannlichkeit?" (The Essential Uncertainties Belonging to Overt Manliness, we translate). He continues impotently to recommend books with similarly stern academic German titles throughout the novel. If we are library lovers, like Pratchett, there are jokes just for us. John Mullan is professor of English at University College London. Join him and Terry Pratchett for a discussion on 14 December at 7pm, Hall One, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1. Tickets cost pounds 9.50 online or pounds 11.50 from the box office (Tel: 020 7520 1490 or kingsplace.co.uk). Captions: To order a copy of Unseen Academicals for pounds 17.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 Caption: article-Bookclub28.1 Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, like the previous volumes of his Discworld series, is highly literary (spot the allusions to Keats or Browning or Shakespeare), but its generosity with jokes is not what a "literary novel" provides. There are great literary precedents for waggishness: Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is a joke-driven novel - but then it is often accused of facetiousness or, as FR Leavis called it, "trifling". And Pratchett loves to trifle. When, in the opening sequence, a strange creature appears seemingly composed of "bits of beasts unknown to science or nightmare or even kebab", the authentic Pratchett tone is struck. A joke is an intervention that the author cannot resist. So Pratchett likes to throw in comments on the absurdity of what has just been said. "Glenda was taken aback and affronted at the same time, which was a bit of a squeeze . . ." In footnotes, Pratchett shakes his head at his own characters. When Mustrum Ridcully, archchancellor of the university, observes that "It's a long time since lunch," Pratchett the annotator is sceptical. "This may not be true. Wizards tend to think it's a long time to the next meal, right until they are consuming it." - John Mullan.


Kirkus Review

Imagine Harry Potter rewritten by Monty Python: That's the mood of Pratchett's return to Discworld (Making Money, 2007, etc.). This account of Unseen University's entry into the world of soccer (or, as they occasionally call it, "foot-the-ball") pushes past the usual conventions of satire to offer equal parts absurdist philosophy and heartwarming romance. Here, all the professors are ponderous buffoons as well as wizards, though occasionally they indulge those they consider their inferiors with "the sarcasm of a born pedagogue." Those inferiors generally have a whole lot more common sense and occasionally more learned erudition, particularly in the case of our hero, Mr. Nutt. A lowly candle dipper who is also a goblin and may well be something else as well, the humble Nutt ultimately reveals more brain power than anyone else in the novel, along with a variety of other powers, even though his background makes this intellectual range and depth seem unlikely. When Unseen University decides to field a soccer team, Nutt emerges as the coach, the driving force and the potential star, using his "talent for pattern recognition in developing situations" to train a team of players who previously had no conception of teamwork. In the process, Nutt not only falls in love with a worthy cook no one else considers lovely, he also helps his mate win the heart of the cook's helper, who has somehow become the rage of the land as a fashion model. Pratchett has great sport with a university that employs a Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography and Chair of Indefinite Studies and spouts platitudes such as "if we can make a tradition out of not observing another tradition, that's doubly traditional." Of course, that's not such a weird comment in a society whose adages include "the leopard may change its shorts" and "thirst springs eternal." A witty addition to the long-running fantasy series. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

No one has ever known Lord Vetinari, tyrant of the magical Renaissance city-state of Ankh-Morpork, to be a football fan, the game being, after all, the passion of the working classes, who like it played with maximal savagery. So everyone's flummoxed when he proposes reviving the sport as it was meant to be; namely, including a few emendations to be introduced by a faculty-and-staff team from that Oxbridge of wizardly knowledge, Unseen University. Now UU's faculty is portly and, save for meals, lethargic, so youthful menials Trev, son of late football immortal Dave Likely, and Mr. Nutt, the new candle-dribbler, must bring the ponderous profs up to team speed. They couldn't do it without Glenda, pie-maker nonpareil and mistress of the university's Night Kitchen, and her assistant, best friend, and de facto ward, the gorgeous Juliet, with whom Trev's understandably smitten. Or without the mysterious Pepe, designer to dwarf fashion entrepreneur Madame Sharn, who finds in Juliet the ideal model for her new line of micromail haute couture. Or, come to that, without micromail. In short, this is as busy and as daft as any other Discworld yarn, which means it is the quintessence of daft. Nobody writes fantasy funnier than Pratchett.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2009 Booklist


Library Journal Review

The 37th novel (after Making Money) in Pratchett's wildly popular "Discworld" series is set in the bustling metropolis of Ankh-Morpork and boasts the return of the wizards of Unseen University. Lord Vetinari, Ankh-Morpork's patrician, is responsible, as usual, for setting into motion the novel's two main story lines: the assimilation of a member of an ancient, and heretofore shunned race, into the city, and the regulation of "foot-the-ball," a game that leaves the streets littered with bodies of players and spectators alike. Verdict While having more than its fair share of laugh-out-loud lines, this title is far from Pratchett's best. He fails to integrate his great wisdom and fondness for the human condition, and his humorous observations about its absurdity are left hanging. However, it is still a well-written crowd pleaser. For serious fans, but newcomers might prefer to start with one of the earlier titles.-Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.