The bacon sandwiches of Terry Pratchett

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I just reread Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man. So great. Pratchett doesn't get enough credit, never mind the knighthood.

Yes, ostensibly this book is about what happens when Death retires and goes to work on a farm, ostensibly it's about that. But then Pratchett, being Pratchett, sneaks in this whole other idea about what it means to be alive, which is actually one of the big questions humans are still trying to answer and well worth considering. For example, he posits the idea that cities have a life, of sorts.* And if cities are organisms -- big, slow-moving, slow-thinking organisms -- then are there smaller, quicker things that prey on them? Of course there are. Suburbs!

It's a great notion, you think, very creative, very funny. Then you start to think about how many people -- who are, after all, the life of cities -- leave for the suburbs once they start families or want more than $5 a month of disposable income, and you realize it's not actually so funny.

It's made me ponder some things. Like the way I tend to think of the Bay Area as one big city, so I might go to a San Francisco coffee shop in the morning, a Pleasant Hill park in the afternoon and an Oakland stadium at night and not feel I've really gone anywhere. But am I actually helping the suburban predators suck the life out of my city? Because, you know...that would be bad. It's something to consider.

And this is what Pratchett does, especially in his later novels. He takes a really interesting idea -- the essence of life; the definition of morality; what it means to be human -- and wraps it up in a bacon sandwich of absurdity and humor and fun. (The fun is the mayo on the bacon sandwich of absurdity.) And then people see the ridiculous covers and the multiple-exclamation-marks blurbs and they say "Oh, fantasy," and they wander off to find a true crime novel or something.

All of which is fine with me. I've collected 32 of these bacon sandwiches from used bookstores so far, and as long as people keep foolishly passing them up I will one day own them all.

*I am pretty sure that in all the debates about the nature of life, no one is seriously suggesting that cities are among the contenders, including Pratchett. But it's a neat metaphor, anyway.

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I hadn't thought of suburbs. I was thinking of shopping malls.