Tonight we continue the Small Gods bookclub, as James K and Mike S recap the seventh and eighth sections of the book (respectively). Mike S recapped the first section here, James K recapped the second section here and Mike the third here, fourth here, fifth here, and sixth here. The complete list of sections can be found here. If you’re reading a different edition, post a comment giving its first and last pages, and I’ll add it to the spreadsheet. If you must comment on anything past what we’ve read so far (the first eight sections), please rot13 it to avoid spoilers. If you’d like to volunteer to recap future sections, please say so.
That’s all the boilerplate stuff. Let’s get started.
From “Vorbis sat upright in the tyrant’s chair” to “I don’t think I can swim…”
We begin with Vorbis laying down the law. Ephebe is now a province of Omnia, the sun-mirror has been smashed and a fleet is on its way to consolidate Omnia’s control over the City. Vorbis wants to know who built the mirror so he can dispense, for want of a better word, “justice”, but the Tyrant is in no mood to play along and says that it was a civic work. Frustrated, Vorbis moves on to the next target on his list De Chelonian Mobile – The Turtle Moves. Vorbis wants the author – and it turns out its Didactlyos (well I’m pretty sure his name would roughly translate as teacher, so I guess that fits). And we see that Didactlyos is intelligent in less abstract ways than most of the philosophers portrayed in this book. He has no intention of kneeling to Vorbis, but won’t become a martyr either. He starts talking about the elaborate recantation he will write since he has now seen the merits of the Omnian position, before throwing his lantern at Vorbis and legging it.
While all this is happening, Brutha sees the spectacle before him, and he’s horrified. All his life he was raised to believe in the glory of Om, but he cannot help but see the evil of what Vorbis is doing. And none of it is for the glory of Om, who hates Vorbis and has no interest in conquering Ephebe. Who is Vorbis praying to? It’s not Om, but he does appear to be a true believer. But a true believer in what?
Didactlyos has the cover of darkness and the home team advantage, but even then it takes Simony to intervene to stop him being crossbowed. Brutha is ordered to burn the Great Library of Ephebe, and when he arrived he finds Simony, Didactlyos and Urn trying to decide which books to save. Simony is all for killing Brutha, but Brutha has a plan to save the library – he can’t read but he can remember. He commits each scroll to memory, but having all that knowledge in his head proves too much for him and he passes out.
It is commonly said that knowledge is power, and this is more literally true on the Discworld than it is in our world. This means that large accumulations of knowledge can distort reality somewhat. One example of this is the Librarian of the Unseen University (the Disc’s foremost school of wizardry), who was turned into an orang-utan in previous books and resists any attempt to be turned back uses the space and time-distorting properties of libraries to sneak into the burning library of Ephebe and rescue a few choice scrolls. Another is that when Brutha awakens all the books he has read are starting to interact in unusual ways in his head. He can remember words he doesn’t understand and has a mind full of knowledge he cannot contextualize.
He awakens on a very ahead of its time steamboat that Urn created by combining an Aeolipile and an Archimedes Screw. Everyone is arguing about what to do. Everyone but Brutha is keen to flee to Ankh-Morpork where no one will try to set them on fire. But Brutha blurts out what Vorbis did and Simony renounces Om and wants to return to Omnia and try and bring Vorbis to justice thinking that discrediting him may do more damage than simply killing him would. This leads to an argument over destination that only starts to get sorted out when the Queen of the Sea turns up again. She has come for her price – this boat and everyone aboard expect for Brutha and Om. Om doesn’t think this is fair, but oceans don’t do fair and she has the right to claim her price. Om tells Brutha to bail out, just as a Omnian ship appears on the horizon, being driven by a hurricane. Lighting strikes the Aeolipile, and Brutha is becoming less certain that he can swim …
From “Gods are not very introspective” to “The way it’s got steps down into it, I think,” said Brutha.
Groucho Marx once starred in a film produced by Howard Hughes’s RKO. It was pretty awful, largely, according to Groucho, because of Hughes’s constant stream of inept suggestions. “It’s a good thing he’s a billionaire,” Groucho lamented, “or he’d never be able to make a living.” Gods are like that too. They can be fickle and inconsistent and self-contradictory and altogether foolish, and their worshippers will merely feel unworthy for not understanding why. The Sea Queen is no different. When she sees a much bigger ship, she forgets all about the little one she’s just chosen and goes after the one where she can murder, um, sacrifice more people. Its captains insists that the storm requires reefing the sails, but Vorbis, as you’d expect, denies permission, and soon the captain is having a conversation with Death. His first mate arrives, and the two of them sail the ghost of their ship off in search of Valhalla. (Vorbis survives, the big jerk.)
Brutha and Om have washed up on the desert shore. Brutha is half-drowned, but Om butts him awake, and they set off. Brutha wants to go to Omnia. Om does not, but one of the nice things about tortoises is that they’re portable. They come across Vorbis. Om is all for either leaving him to die or accelerating the process, but Brutha insists on bringing him along. Om is so angry that he abandons Brutha and any hope of becoming anything other than a tortoise. Brutha continues on, carrying Vorbis, but before long collapses from heat, dehydration, and general weakness.
Om eventually catches up with him. He observes that Brutha had veered away from the sea towards mid-desert, which is easy to do with no roads or landmarks. Om can’t command the rocks to give forth water, like a proper god, so, he has to use his brains, and instead digs for it. He finds enough to wet a rag torn off Brutha’s cloak, and revives him. Briutha still insists on taking Vorbis back to Omnia.
As they walk, they chat. Om’s never been to the Discworld version of Mt. Olympus, because he was only a middle-class god. Though he did have millions of followers. Not bad, eh? Brutha wonders why he never tried to do anything for them, like tell them not to kill each other. Om can’t see what the point would have been. He pooh-poohs Brutha’s admiration of Ephebian inquiries into ethics, saying it’s what you get when there are slaves to do the real work, so other people can slag off like … “Gods,” Brutha interjects. No, Om insists, gods are necessary. They make it thunder. Well, one god does that, but other ones pay him to. Anyway, people have to believe in *something*. Brutha is unconvinced. He’s beginning not to believe in anything he can’t see and touch. (Fortunately for Om, that includes tortoises.) Day is about to break, so they find some caves to hide from the sun.
Urn, Didactylos, and Simony are sailing along. Simony wants to land near Omnia and raise an army to spread the Truth about the Turtle. Didactylos disapproves: it’s not Truth, just a thing that happens to be true. They wonder what has become of Brutha and his tortoise, and recall once again that there’s good eating on those things,
Brutha kills a snake that Om has warned him about, and starts to butcher it. Once more Om tells him to let Vorbis die, and once more he refuses.
Simony explains to the other how his home village was conquered by the Omnians, and just how much he hates Vorbis.
The small gods who live in the desert invade the cave, hoping to turn the two men into believers. Om chases them off, all except for one. He had been a real god once, with followers, and temples, and sacrifices. But now he is so little that a gust of wind blows him away. Om, observing the movements of the desert lions, deduces where an oasis must be. He leads Brutha there, insisting they bring Vorbis too, because he’s had an (oh so plausible) change of heart.
Simony and the others have landed. They look towards the Citadel of Omnia, and Simony plots how Urn’s knack for technology can help him smash it.
Om and Brutha come near the oasis. Brutha sees gnawed bones and realizes what’s nearby besides water, and why Om wanted Vorbis along. Next comes a variation on Pratchett’s most characteristic theme:
“You can’t do that to people just because they’re helpless!”
“I can’t think of a better time.”
(In Troll Bridge, on being told that part of his favorite haunted woods is now being sold for a housing development, Cohen the Barbarian insists “You can’t sell Cutshade Forest. It doesn’t belong to anyone.” and is told “That’s why you can sell it.”)
It turns out, though, that the lion is badly wounded and no real threat. Brutha removes a spearhead from its belly, and looks over towards its den. Oddly, there are steps leading into it.
Tune in next week for sections 9 — from “Didactylos could feel the crowd.” to “Lu-tze watched Brutah carefully from his little shed by the soil heaps.” and 10 — from “It was another barn.” to “For a start, they believe with all their heart”.