Well, I can't believe that I have just finished my 16th Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, and that is over two years (no, not sixteen books in two years, 16 Discworld novels in two years) since I decided that I would give Pratchett the benefit of the doubt and actually read them again prior to writing up a commentary, and this isn't even the last of the Discworld novels on my 'to read' list (I think there are another six, which would bring it up to The Lost Continent). Anyway, enough of my pondering over the Terry Pratchett books that I have read because I think it is time to say a few things about this particular book.
As I was discussing this book with a friend last night we came upon the conclusion that there were a number of things in this book that felt forced, such as the parody of Rock n Roll. While the concept was good, and amusing in a way, I felt that the term 'Music with Rocks In' just seemed a little too forced. It seemed as if Pratchett had come up with another modern phenomena to throw into Discworld but struggled with a suitable name, which suggests that maybe Pratchett's creative juices in regards to Discworld are starting to run out. However, as I suggested above, there are another six books on my to read list (Discworld novels that is) so we will see where they go from there.
Soul Music was a little strange in that while wikipedia lists it as a 'Death' novel (that is a novel starring the favourite Discworld character, not the state one enters when one ceases to live) it seemed that Death was a minor character, and the whole Susan Sto Helit storyline was more of a subplot. I say this because he focus of the novel was more on Buddy, Cliff, Glod, and their Music with Rocks In band. To me it felt more like Moving Pictures, in that a new idea arrives in Anhk-Morpork and takes the city by storm, which is the modern phenomena known as 'Rock n Roll'.
When I say Rock n Roll, Pratchett is referring to:
as opposed to:
(You can click on the image to open up a video-clip on Youtube).
Well, that is enough of me showing off my limited HTML skills (even though some of the limit is imposed by Goodreads) and time to get back to the book. Considering the content of this book (and others like it) I sometimes wonder whether Pratchett has a conservative outlook on life since, once again, we have a modern phenomena invading Discworld and by the end this phenomena is defeated and Discworld goes back to being your normal (or not so normal) fantasy world. In Moving Pictures we had an invasion of, well, moving pictures, and in Reaperman we had an invasion of shopping centres. In another sense it could simply be satire, and here were have Pratchett taking aim at the music industry, especially with CMOT Dibbler successfully (or not so successfully since he doesn't get any of the money) profiting heavily off of the band (we have five thousand dollars for Dibbler, and out of that comes our cut of twenty dollars).
I guess in another sense Pratchett is using the absurdity of Discworld to poke fun at the absurdity of modern life, in this case being rock n roll music. The phenomena that arose in the fifties saw a change in the way music was performed. Then again there was not actually all that much of a change. I guess what changed is the style of music in that prior to the fifties much of the popular music, such as jazz, was played in pubs and clubs, while classical music would be played in the concert halls. What musicians like Elvis and The Beatles did was take the popular music out of the club and moved it to the concert hall (or more fittingly the outdoor stage). Where as before you had huge orchestras performing in concert halls, the number of musicians suddenly shrank significantly, usually hovering between three to five. Then there was the mass marketing of music, and this came about with the development of the record player, the radio, and then the television (though while record players had been around for quite a while, we suddenly begin to see them in every home).
What I guess Pratchett is really poking fun at here is the effect that the music seemed to have on people. As Pratchett points out, applause would begin at one spot and then radiate out, however when the Band with Rocks In arrived on stage, the entire crowd erupted simultaneously. We have the wizards changing hairstyles and clothes (with one wearing a leather jacket with 'Born to Rune' studded on the back, and this jacket plays a rather interesting role at the end of the book) and we have fans going absolutely crazy when the music is played. In fact that is the key to the antagonist in this book: music changes people - in fact the music has a life of its own.
Where does Death fit into all of this. Well, the book opens with Death, and it closes with Death, and it seems that Death is going through another of his crises. I would suggest that it is a mid-life crisis, but this is Death we are talking about, and he is technically not mortal (and as such cannot have a 'mid-life crisis', but rather is a personification of an idea. This time it is the realisation that he cannot forget anything, so he goes on a quest to learn how to forget. Obviously, when he goes off on his merry adventures somebody needs to fill in the void, which is where Susan Sto-Hellit comes into the picture, the daughter of Mort and Ysabell. In fact, what we discover that sixteen years (or longer) has passed since the events of Mort, which is longer than the amount of time that passed between the publication of Mort (1987) and this book (1994).