Pratchett satirizes the modern telecom business in a deeply satisfying comedy about a man sent to a fate worse than death: the post office.
Fans of Pratchett’s Discworld series will be happy he’s returning to the city of Ankh-Morpork—after the Balkan War–esque madness of Monstrous Regiment (2003)—though it’s not to the familiar environs of the Watch or Unseen University. This time, Moist Von Lipwig, a scam artist with a host of aliases, has just been hanged for his crimes—except that he hasn’t, due to some trickery with the rope. It seems that the Duke wants a man everybody thinks is dead to take over the city’s long-moribund post office. That’s no easy task, what with only two employees left, both pretty much insane, puttering around the massive, dead-letter-stuffed edifice, not to mention the competition with the clacks towers. Pratchett follows Moist’s attempts to resuscitate regular mail service as he goes up against the evil hegemony of corporate toadies running the clacks towers, a once-impressive series of semaphore towers that, when they work, can send a message hundreds of miles in no time at all, but at a hefty price. With the exception of a few heavy-handed statements about the public good versus private profit, Pratchett slides the satire in around the edges of the primary action: watching a career criminal transitioning rather quickly to earnest civic flunky, all under the watchful (glowing red) eyes of a monstrously powerful and patient government-employed golem. Although Moist seems a little too eager to leave his bad ways behind, it’s almost shamefully enjoyable to watch him restore the mail routes, invent the idea of stamps, and go toe-to-toe with everything from rapacious businessmen to bloodthirsty banshees as he shows how to deliver letters over 40 years late.
Sharp-edged humor—and wonderfully executed.