Sunday, 25 April 2021

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Eric is a young demonology hacker who has discovered the spell he needs to summon a demon to fulfil his worldly desires. Unfortunately, due to a bit of a cock-up on the reality front, he summons the ostensible wizard Rincewind (who was banished to hell during the events of Sourcery). The always-reluctant Rincewind finds himself accompanying Eric on a prolonged road trip through time and space as he attempts to get back home.

Eric is a bit of an oddball Discworld novel, even by the series' elastic standards of tone, character and format. It's the shortest Discworld book of them all (barely cracking 150 pages) and feels almost bemusingly lightweight. After the previous several Discworld books featured much-improved and deeper characterisation and exploration of ideas, Eric is a bit of a throwback to the first couple of books by being more of a knockabout, travelogue adventure.

The explanation is that Eric isn't really a mainline Discworld novel, instead starting life as an illustrated side-project. The success of the Discworld novels in the UK was at least partially attributed to Josh Kirby's eye-catching cover art, which made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in accuracy (such as Twoflower being depicted with literally four eyes rather than wearing glasses). Eric was conceived as a vehicle for Kirby's illustrations. However, the original, illustrated version of Eric fell out of print for many years, and it's the illustration-less version of the novel which has been most commonly encountered by readers. Fortunately, a new edition of the illustrated version of the book was issued a few years ago and is still commonly available.

Eric is a lightweight and disposable tale, though Discworld fans will enjoy it resolving Rincewind's cliffhanger fate from Sourcery and the mild worldbuilding work it does with setting up new locations (the Tezuman Empire). But there is a slight feeling of redundancy here. The Luggage rushes around and eats more people, the wizards of Unseen University fret futilely, Rincewind runs away from trouble, and the Tsortean-Ephebian War and its multiple not-Trojan horses which formed part of the subplot of Pyramids is here revisited without much effect. Eric feels distinctly half-assed in the writing stakes for a fair bit of its length.

Kirby's artwork is colourful and fun, and helps flesh out the relative sparseness of the narrative. Kirby's artwork is something of an acquired taste, though, much more stylised than it is accurate, and the continued rendition of Rincewind as an decrepit old man despite The Light Fantastic suggested he was only 32 years old (at the time of that book) remains odd. But it certainly makes the book work better than the unillustrated edition.

Eric (***) is a brief, mildly diverting tale which is a more successful showcase for the late Josh Kirby's artwork than it is for Pratchett's full writing powers. It is available now in the UK and USA.

I previously reviewed the unillustrated edition here.

1 comment:

Alex said...

I didn't realise they did an illustration free version of this- what is the point of that?!