Before there was the Discworld, there was “Strata,” the story of a company that builds planets. Including, it turns out, a strange flat planet out in the middle of nowhere…
It’s a bit hard to review “Strata” in a meaningful way, because it both prefigures the Discworld novels, and stands in inevitable comparison to them. Fans of the Discworld novels (like me) are likely to find it simultaneously fascinating and disappointing: fascinating because it so clearly heralds what would be Pratchett’s genre-breaking artistic methods, and disappointing because he hadn’t really hit his stride yet as an author. You can see the thoughts forming, the artistic tricks being tried, but they hadn’t quite gelled yet–not that they ever quite gelled for Pratchett, a writer who was always teetering on the edge of absurd. In “Strata” his humor is broader and in some ways crazier than it is in the later books, less finely honed and more “let’s try this and see what happens.”
Still, “Strata” is a monument to his exuberance and his willingness to rush in where other, soberer, authors feared to tread. It’s also daringly thought-provoking and engages with some important questions, such as: How valuable is life when you have lots of it? Is gene therapy that extends your life while rendering you sterile a good thing or a bad thing? What effects does that have on behavior and society? Is it better to be sensible or brave? Is it possible to co-exist with creatures who are rendered monstrous by hunger? How civilized are we, anyway?
“Strata” is a short little read, practically a novella, and delightful in its own right, although if Pratchett had stopped there he would not have achieved the reputation he holds today. Pratchett fans will still find it holds plenty of interest, however, and those new to Pratchett’s weird and wild worldbuilding may find it a charming introduction, although they should not take it as the acme of his oeuvre.
Buy link: Amazon
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