Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Witches Abroad coverWitches Abroad is book 12 in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series. You can read my review of the previous book, Reaper Man here.

Like all witches of Discworld (and wizards, for that matter), Desiderata knows the hour of her death. In preparation for that death, she sends her magic wand to Magrat, the youngest of three witches/friends. She lets Magrat know that by giving her the wand, Magrat will effectively become the “Fairy Godmother” to Emberella, very far away from them, in Genua. And she gives Magrat strict instructions that she must stop the marriage of Emberella to a Duke (who happens to be a frog).  Also, she is requested to not let her friends, Granny Esme Weatherwax, and Nanny Ogg, know about this.

Of course, Magrat can’t help but let her friends know, and so they all go off on an adventure to Genua. Along the way, they meet dwarves and an enigmatic voodoo priestess named Mrs. Gogol, and a zombie named Samedi. They also find out that Magrat is actually one of two Fairy Godmothers concerned with Emberella, the other of whom is much more skilled and experienced, and stands in direct opposition to their purposes.

Like all of the previous Discworld stories, this one is quite funny. There’s a lot of humor in seeing ‘foreign parts’ through the witches eyes. We get to learn what the big deal is with ‘Dwarven bread’ and ‘gumbo’ and ‘Banana Dakris’ and witches hats. It turns out that Genua is kind of a fantasy stand-in for New Orleans, with much of the same culture.

And off-topic, but the book brought back memories of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten (on a budget, or otherwise), outside of NYC. It can be found in N’Orleans. Granted, I haven’t been there since the 1988 World Science Fiction convention, so I haven’t seen it post-Katrina. But if you love food, that’s one of the best places in the US to visit (and don’t worry about the spice if that’s a problem for you — Cajun food, of course, can be quite spicy, but Creole food usually is not). My guess is that like most urban cities, corporatization has not yet fully destroyed its local culture, and turned it into yet another ‘mall-town’ with all chain stores and franchises. Everyone should experience all the variety of culture that America has to offer, before it is totally swallowed up or overwhelmed by food franchises and shopping malls.

Overall, the book is concerned with turning the Cinderella story on its head, which, to me, doesn’t entirely work. I’ll admit it — I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale stories, modernized or otherwise.  I watched a bit of the ABC series, “Once Upon a Time” (mostly with my mom, before she went into the Nursing home).  But once I no longer had that obligation, I  grew bored with it and lost interest. There is a lot of fun to be had with the book. But I found it to be one of the lesser books in the Pratchett series.  But I do still recommend it.

Anyway, my thumbs are up for this book, just not all the way up.

Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” is a tense drama about cost and politics of the war on terrorism. It has an impressive cast, including Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and the late, great Alan Rickman. Sadly, Alan Rickman died in January of this year — he had hidden the fact that he was terminally ill from pancreatic cancer. Honestly, I had completely forgotten about Rickman’s death until the tribute to him in the closing credits in this film.

The film covers a single day. Colonel Katherine Powell, played by Mirren has intelligence that a 3 of the most wanted north African terrorists are soon to gather together in one building in Kenya, and the Kenyan military is ready to mobilize on her word, to raid the location and capture the terrorists. Things quickly go awry and it becomes apparent that a raid would be impractical.  And when it turns out that the terrorists are planning a suicide bombing that day at some unknown location, an alternate plan is hatched to fire missiles at their location from drones. But things get even more complicated when a little girl is spotted in the kill zone of the missiles, and politicians get involved in the decision as to whether or not the attack should proceed.

One thing that the film does really well is to show the mixture of high and low-tech surveillance used to figure out exactly what’s happening with the terrorists. I actually was a lot less intrigued by the political side, which is a big focus of the film. It becomes quite obvious that the film has a very specific point of view that may be a little bit controversial. At first, the politics seems to be presented as a dilemma, but it becomes clear that the film puts its point of view out there in a very obvious way. I’m not going to spoil the film by telling you what that point of view is, just that it is very obvious. My main problem with the movie is that it doesn’t actually explore the controversy more, and instead focuses largely on people passing the buck, covering their asses, unwilling to make the final decision on their own, even when they have the authority to do so.  The controversy is shown in a very simplistic way. And even when it is showing the cost of it all, it seems kind of cheap to me. There is so much more to the war on terrorism that could have been touched on here, but wasn’t.

All that said, the acting is decent, and the movie does a great job of building up the tension, so I will recommend it. It’s not a perfect film, so while I’m not completely enthusiastic about it, I do recommend it. But you may want to wait for it to make its way to Netflix or cable. Just don’t expect a really even-handed discussion of the war on terrorism from it.