The Last Continent

by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Series: Discworld #22
Publisher: Harper
Copyright: 1998
Printing: May 2014
ISBN: 0-06-228019-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 392

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the 22nd Discworld novel and follows Interesting Times in internal continuity. Like some of the other Rincewind novels, it stands alone well enough that you could arguably start reading here, but I have no idea why you'd want to.

When we last saw Rincewind, he was being magically yanked out of the Agatean Empire. The intent was to swap him with a cannon and land him back in Ankh-Morpork, but an unfortunate expansion of the spell to three targets instead of two meant that a kangaroo had a very bad day. Ever since then, Rincewind has been trying to survive the highly inhospitable land of FourEcks (XXXX), so called because no one in Ankh-Morpork knows where it is.

The faculty at the Unseen University didn't care enough about Rincewind to bother finding him until the Librarian fell sick. He's feverish and miserable, but worse, he's lost control of his morphic function, which means that he's randomly turning into other things and is unable to take care of the books. When those books are magical, this is dangerous. One possible solution is to stabilize the Librarian's form with a spell, but to do that they need his real name. The only person who might know it is the former assistant librarian: Rincewind.

I am increasingly convinced that one of the difficulties in getting people hooked on Discworld is that the series starts with two Rincewind books, and the Rincewind books just aren't very good.

The fundamental problem is that Rincewind isn't a character, he's a gag. Discworld starts out as mostly gags, but then the characterization elsewhere gets deeper, the character interactions become more complex, and Pratchett adds more and more philosophy. That, not the humor, is what I think makes these books worth reading. But none of this applies to Rincewind. By this point, he's been the protagonist of six novels, and still the only thing I know about him is that he runs away from everything. Other than that, he's just sort of... there.

In the better Rincewind novels, some of the gap is filled by Twoflower, the Luggage, Cohen the barbarian, the Librarian (who sadly is out of commission for most of this book), or the Unseen University faculty. But they're all supporting characters. Most of them are also built around a single (if better) gag. As a result, the Rincewind books tend more towards joke collections than the rest of Discworld. There isn't a philosophical or characterization through line to hold them together.

The Last Continent is, as you might have guessed, a parody of Australia. And by that I mean it's a mash-up of Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and every dad joke about Australia that you've heard. Pratchett loves movie references and I do not love movie references, so there's always part of his books that doesn't click for me, but this one was just Too Much. Yes, everything in Australia is poisonous. Yes, Australians talk funny. Oh look, there's another twist on a Crocodile Dundee quote. Yes, yes, that's a knife. Gah. The Rincewind sections were either confusing (there's some sort of drug-trip kangaroo god because reasons) or cliched and boring. Sometimes both.

The second plot, following the Unseen University faculty in their inept attempts to locate Rincewind, is better. Their bickering is still a bit one-trick and works better in the background of stronger characters (such as Death and Susan), but Pratchett does make their oblivious overconfidence entertaining. It's enough to sustain half of the book, but not enough to make up for the annoyances of the Rincewind plot.

To his credit, I think Pratchett was really trying to say something interesting in this novel about Discworld metaphysics. There are bits in the Australian plot that clearly are references to Aboriginal beliefs, which I didn't entirely follow but which I'm glad were in there. The Unseen University faculty showing up in the middle of a creation myth and completely misunderstanding it was a good scene. But the overall story annoyed me and failed to hold my interest.

I don't feel qualified to comment on the Priscilla scenes, since I've never seen the movie and have only a vague understanding of its role in trans history. I'm not sure his twists on the story quite worked, but I'm glad that Pratchett is exploring gender; that wasn't as common when these books were written.

Overall, though, this was forgettable and often annoying. There are a few great lines and a few memorable bits in any Pratchett book, including this one, but the Rincewind books just aren't... good. Not like the rest of the series, at least. I will be very happy to get back to the witches in the next book.

Followed in publication order by Carpe Jugulum, and later thematically by The Last Hero.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-10-28

Last spun 2022-12-12 from thread modified 2022-10-29