25 April 2015

Books: Holy Cow By David Duchovny (2015)

To be honest, I had no intention to read a book called Holy Cow by actor David Duchovny. I had taken my last book I finished, Willful Child, back to the library and instead of leaving it in the outside receptacle, I went in. And this is a huge mistake most of the time. I mean, I already had another book checked out, Dan Simmons The Fifth Heart, and I planned to start that. But then I saw Holy Cow, noticed it was by Duchovny, read the premise and I knew I had to read it.

Elsie Bovary is a cow, and a pretty happy one at that—her long, lazy days are spent eating, napping, and chatting with her best friend, Mallory. One night, Elsie and Mallory sneak out of their pasture; but while Mallory is interested in flirting with the neighboring bulls, Elsie finds herself drawn to the farmhouse. Through the window, she sees the farmer’s family gathered around a bright Box God—and what the Box God reveals about something called an “industrial meat farm” shakes Elsie’s understanding of her world to its core. There’s only one solution: escape to a better, safer world. And so a motley crew is formed: Elsie; Jerry—excuse me, Shalom—a cranky, Torah-reading pig who’s recently converted to Judaism; and Tom, a suave (in his own mind, at least) turkey who can’t fly, but who can work an iPhone with his beak. Toting stolen passports and slapdash human disguises, they head for the airport. 

My one question, though, is what he hell the book is really about. Duchovny tries a sort of mash up a Pixar film along with George Orwell's Animal Farm but then he goes off on topics such as vegetarianism, peace in the Middle East, religion and the oddities of actors. It's often goofy, bizarre and weird. Elsie, and her bff Mallory, talk like modern teens, but then Elsie goes off on extended rants about animal cruelty. Then there is the equally strange left turn the book takes towards the end, as our characters become involved with the religious conflict in the Middle East -apparently it involves a pig and Jews and the Muslims hatred of the beast (I wonder if Washington D.C. is aware of this simple solution).

I understand that it's a parable, but the book is too busy to be really taken seriously. I never felt that Duchovny was trying to say anything beyond creating a novel (for adults? for kids?) with a lot of ideas sandwiched in. He seems to not want to commit to one idea, or say one thing that might actually be meaningful. It all reads, in the end, like screenplay for an animated film. One totally bizarre animated film. 

23 April 2015

Books: Willful Child By Steven Erikson (2014)

There was Spaceballs, which parody Star Wars. Then there was Galaxy Quest, which parody Star Trek. These were two big budget films that took on two very popular franchises. And while parodying of both have been going on for decades in fanzines, on TV (Futurama in particular) and even books,  most are done by fans who lack a large media company to support them.
And while John Scalzi could be considered a fan of Star Trek (as many writers of the genre are these days, having grown up with it), he is also a well known science fiction writer who won acclaim for his Old Man's War series. He's also published numerous short stories and has a brilliant daily blog called Whatever. But in 2012 he released Redshirts, a send-up of the Star Trek franchise, in particular The Next Generation, but he tackled a lot in that book. It won rave reviews and, to everyone's surprise, the prestigious Hugo for Best Novel.
So true to form in the publishing industry, as in most multimedia, publishers want a piece of the pie that comes with the success of Redshirts. Namely popular fantasy writer Steven Erikson's late 2014 novel Willful Child
"These are the voyages of the starship, A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life life-forms, to boldly blow the…"

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback a mixture of James T Kirk crossed with Futuama's Zapp Brannigan- and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through 'the infinite vastness of interstellar space'...

Having not read Erikson before, I still thought it might be fun to read another well-know author take on Star Trek (because even though I love it, I'm always up for people making fun of it). Sawback is a complete idiot and misogynistic ass. There are reasons for it, but you have to slug through nearly 350 pages of story to understand it. Yet even so, he's still unlikable, which makes it difficult to like the entire book. The only fun part, however, is to see how many episodes of TOS that Erikson takes on. But over all I felt the book was too Family Guy potty humor than clever, well thought-out gags. The female crew members are intelligent -and we know Sawback choose them primarily for their looks- but they're still smarter than the captain. And yet Erickson does not allow them to get the better of Sawback, which is something I think should've happened here. There is no comeuppance for the captain's incompetence towards his crew and that makes me, the reader, wonder if this is how the author really sees women -sexy, smart, but always having to acquiescence to a man. Yes, Sawback can be seen clever in his solutions, but Erickson (via the character) writes women pretty horridly here.

I was curious, as I got towards the end, how Erikson was going to tie-in the prologue and I got to admit, he did it wonderfully -even if I have issues with the characters. 

16 April 2015

Books: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (2010)

I suppose, in some sense, the creation of Tiffany Aching by Terry Pratchett came because of the success of the Harry Potter franchise. This happens a lot in almost every aspect of media, as publishers are quick to jump on the bandwagon once other publisher takes a certain financial risk. Then again, Scholastic Books, which published J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter books, has been releasing kids books for decades, but it took the huge success of that franchise for other publishers to see that there was profit in what was now being addressed as Young Adult book (as opposed to intermediate readers of say The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia). The huge success of the Twilight and The Hunger Games series would have never probably happened if those books ended up in the horror and science fiction sections of bookstores. By branding and marketing towards teens, by creating a middle part beaten kids and adult books, publishers and authors saw a large leap in reading. Which is always good. Whether the books are well written, that's debatable. 
Still, Pratchett had a long and established career writing adult novels. Yes they're satirical, yes they were parodies of the fantasy genre, but most of the Discworld novels were well written with jokes and some situations that were adult-ish in nature. And whether the creation of Tiffany Aching (though Ysabell, the adopted daughter of Death and Susan, his granddaughter are very much the templates that would eventually become Tiffany) was Pratchett's idea or his publisher, the British author joined a list of writers who were generally known for more advanced aged readers and started writing books for a much younger crowd.
Still, like Rowling before him, Pratchett's Aching novels take on a lot of adult issues. And in I Shall Wear Midnight, the 38th Discworld book and fourth featuring Tiffany, the lines between young adult and the adult world get blurred. And much like the last book, Tiffany Aching is still working as the Chalk's only witch at a time of growing suspicion and prejudice. And as modern as Discworld can seem to be, it is clear that Pratchett's universe is set at time before the industrial revolution, a time when reason and logic was surpressed in favor of superstition and fear.
The Baron, who rules the land and who has been ill for years (and is the father of Roland, whom Tiffany saved in Wee Free Men) and whom Tiffany has been taking care of for the last two years, finally dies she is accused of murder. It seems the Duchess (who resembles The Dursely's), the mother of Letita who is Roland's fiancee, does not like Tiffany because she is a witch. At the time of the Baron's passing, Tiffany was taking away his pain by using a poker. This and money the Baron wanted Tiffany to have convinces the Duchess the witch killed the man. But, of course, Tiffany is a bit clever and before much can happen, she travels to Ankh-Morpork in search of Roland to give the sad news. But on the way Tiffany is attacked by the Cunning Man, a frightening figure who has holes where his eyes should be. In the city she meets Mrs Proust, the proprietor of Boffo's joke shop, where many witches buy their stereotypical witch accoutrements. When they find Roland and Letitia the Nac Mac Feegles, who have, as usual, been following Tiffany, are accused of destroying a pub. Tiffany and Mrs Proust are arrested by Carrot and Angua, and (nominally) locked up - although it is mostly, in fact, for their protection as people start to resent witches. But it is here that Tiffany meets Eskarina Smith (a character that has not been seen since the third Discworld novel Equal Rites) and learns that the Cunning Man was, a thousand years ago, an Omnian witch-finder, who had fallen in love with a witch. That witch, however, knew how evil the Cunning Man was. She was eventually burnt to death, but as she was being burned she trapped the Cunning Man in the fire as well. The Cunning Man became a demonic spirit of pure hatred, able to corrupt other minds with suspicion and hate. And now the Cunning Man (who first became aware of her because of the events of Wintersmith) is after her. 
With some knowledge of how to block the Cunning Man from finding her, Tiffany returns home to the Chalk, only to find things in disarray: the new Baron has his soldiers digging up the Feegle's mound. Even though she stops them, Roland throws her in the dungeon. But it is here we learn all of this was the doing of the Cunning Man and Tiffany also learns that Letitia is an untrained witch. But as events move towards a funeral and a wedding, Tiffany finds herself confronting the the Cunning Man, who has overtaken the body of a prisoner. And despite the many witches that have gathered for the historic events, Tiffany knows the only one who can defeat the evil is her.
As I said, this fourth book gets a little more adult, as in the opening chapters Tiffany must deal with the Seth Petty, a man who has attacked his own thirteen year-old daughter who has gotten pregnant. In hurting her, Mr Petty has killed his unborn grandson and it's up to 16 year-old Tiffany to deal with the consequences. There is some very adult things here, probably things some adults may not want their children reading, yet if we look at history and go back in time to England's medieval past, issues like this, while horrible, probably happened. I applaud Pratchett for trying to balance this reality in his lovely fictional world of Discworld. There is also the continued issue of responsibility along with cause and effect. It never occurs to Tiffany that her actions of kissing the Wintersmith would draw the attention of the Cunning Man, yet she knows clearly that it is her and her alone that must confront the evil, even while taking care of everyone around the Chalk. And I give credit to Pratchett who does not use the deus ex machina to solve all of Tiffany's problems, that the very smart, very quick witted teenager must solv her problems with great thought. It's a rarity in fiction where the hero does this.
Notee 1: Since I'm not reading these novels in order of publication, I'm sure I'm missing bits and pieces of information that get played out here. I know certain characters, in particular the witches, come from other books I've yet to read (there are six books in his witches cycle) and that the Cunning Man is the spirit of a long-dead priest of Omnianism, a religion established in Small Gods is referred to many times throughout other books. I have plans to get to them over the coming weeks and months. I hope that I continue to read them, I get a better understanding of Discworld and of Pratchett's view on the human condition. 
Note 2: On September 25, 2015 we'll see Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown. Once again, it will feature Tiffany Aching. And now I feel sadness, despite the fact I have many other Discworld novels yet to go. I guess, maybe, because there is an end in sight with this final novel? I like Tiffany a lot and I will be sad this fall when I read her final adventure. Maybe though, as I mentioned at the end of my Wintersmith review, his daughter Rihanna will take over this magically odd universe. If she is half as talented as her father, I would be happy to see this world continue...

12 April 2015

Books: Wintersmith By Terry Pratchett (2006)

Let us now return to Discworld with Wintersmith, the 35th novel set there and the third featuring Tiffany Aching. Almost two years have passed since the last book and Tiffany is still in training as a witch. She spends her days with Miss Treason, a scary witch who -like many other witches of Discworld- use very little magical power and more common sense. In many ways, these witches are more like wise woman of stereotypical small towns, helping solve land, chicken, and cow problems. Helping the sick and the infirm and being the midwife to all that are born. But as a soon-to-be thirteen year-old, Tiffany still feels lost. She misses her family, and even Roland the son of the sickly Baron (and whom Tifffany rescued in Wee Free Men from the Queen of the Elves). As a matter of fact, she's not sure if she even has feelings for Roland, despite the sense that everyone around her thinks she does. Things get complicated when Tiffany is taken to see the Dark Dance, or the Morris Dancers, that is the crossover between summer into winter. Caught up in the beauty of it all, Tiffany does what no else has ever done -she leaps into the dance. This propels her into one of the oldest stories ever told and draws the attention of the Wintersmith. But as an elemental, the Wintersmith does not know humans. So as Tiffany, with help from Granny Weatherwax and, of course, the Nac Mc Feegle, tries to deal with the consequences of her actions -as giant Tiffany-shaped snowflakes hammer down along with giant Tiffany-shaped icebergs causing ship wrecks- Tiffany must figure out how to stop a god bent on becoming human. Of course, even this elemental has never met an Aching who is backed up by a group of blue pictsies who will do a lot of fighting' and thievin' to save their "big wee hag."
What makes these young adult books work is that Pratchett does not water down the themes for kids. As a matter of fact, he seems to think there is no reason to forgo those ideas, which makes for a wonderful, very touching and always funny tale. Tiffany, through her own blundering, must figure out how to save herself and the people around her from the Wintersmith, who really does not know or comprehend the damage he does. This theme of responsibility is woven through out the book. We see her lose a fellow witch, though the sadness is lessened a bit by a cameo appearance of Death. But there is a deep philosophy here about death and about acceptance of it. And Pratchett goes out of his way to alleviate the superstitiousness of witches (apparently there a store where witches can buy everything you would find in tales about witches. It reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Picture her not as evil, but as helpful -yet bitter- woman who must put on the "face" of a witch because no one believe witches could look normal) along with just everything else. And while there is some seriousness to the tale, there is plenty of humor in the form of the ever brave, Nac Mac Freegle. 

09 April 2015

The Hijacking of the Hugos

In the universe of science fiction writing, there are two very prestigious awards, the Nebulas and the Hugos. And to put it in a certain vernacular, the Nebulas are the Emmy Awards, while the Hugos are The People's Choice Awards. Over the decades, both awards have generally followed the same path of announcing the same list of people and titles nominated for those awards, sort of the way The Golden Globes and The Oscar's lists are generally the same. 
But while The People's Choice Awards is generally considered silly and sort of pointless, the Hugos (with titles, categories and authors selected by every day readers of the genre) still carries an important achievement for writers of speculative fiction, be it in novels, short stories, or fanzines. But recently, a self-proclaimed group of conservative writers and fans in this field call Sad Puppies, are trying to hijack the Hugos, because, as writer and orchestrator of the Sad Puppies Brad Torgersen, is claiming that the winners always tend to be in the "literary" and (shockingly) "ideological" in style. As Torgersen has blogged, the Hugo's “have lost cachet, because at the same time SF/F has exploded popularly – with larger-than-life, exciting, entertaining franchises and products – the voting body of ‘fandom’ have tended to go in the opposite direction: niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology and flavor, and ultimately lacking what might best be called visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun”.
He adds that twenty years ago, “if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds”. In his opinion, today if you see that same book, it's “merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings".
And this year's effort to get authors the Sad Puppies believe should be nominated on the Hugos shortlist was rather successful, with three of the five best novel candidates being books by Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher and Marko Kloos. But this has also opened a huge can of political worms, as authors like David Gerrold, George RR Martin, and John Scalzi have tried to figure out if this is a good or bad thing. 
Yes, all awards handed out are generally tinged with politics, but the Hugo's were generally thought to be politically free because the voting bloc was made up common people, so to speak. But in Torgersen's theory is that in the last twenty years, the book industry has been baiting and switching with deceptive covers:
"There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land? A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women. Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues. Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy." In the end, he thinks that "once reliable packaging" has "defrauded" the readers (which is, I think, his explanation of why Science Fiction and Fantasy book sales have tumbled).
But there is a bigger issue here, I think. Science fiction, speculative fiction, call it what you will, has always been about big ideas. It's also been about reflecting the ills of today's society by using science fiction as template to exam social issues as well. Authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and John W. Campbell told those "swashbuckling" tales and steered away from social commentary, but mostly because when they were writing during the "Golden Age of Science Fiction", it was also the era when social norms dictated that the mainstream media -that would include movies and eventually TV, along with books- stay away from any issue that might be deemed controversial (and then there's the whole issue of women writing science fiction, see Andre Norton and DC Fontana for that). Which meant the social ills of America, always there and always lying just below the surface, could not be discussed because, as  The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling pointed out as far back as back as 1959, that artist "always have compromise" because network TV back then was heavily influenced by "a sponsor", or a "pressure group, a network censor" and getting people upset was a career killer (Serling wrote and spoke extensively about 1950's TV. This interview with Mike Wallace shows how, in many ways, we are still pretty backwards nation when it comes to telling stories that make people think). 
Also, let's realize not just in the last twenty years, but probably well over the last five decades, the field of not only science fiction, but the whole world has become diverse and very complicated. And that's the crux of the conservatives problems, that white straight men are being subjugated by large groups of minorities (liberals, feminists, gays, blacks, etcetera) because no one knows their place anymore. But the folks that have allied themselves with Torgersen, including a group of right-wingers who call themselves Rabid Puppies and led by Vox Day (real name is Theodore Beale) and who've added their voices to the block-voting campaign, are nothing but a group of hate willed white men who feel they're being repressed because awards like the Nebulas and Hugos usually go for quality over quantity. Day has claimed that "the left-wing control freaks who have subjected science fiction to ideological control" are the same people who are trying to muck up the "game industry". Then there is John C Wright, a writer who is known for his homophobic views and who is backed by the Sad Puppies, and who has three nominations for best novella, and one for best novelette and one for best related work. His own website took on the creators of the Legend of Korra, calling them "disgusting, limp, soulless sacks of filth" for having romantic relationship between two women.  
So whatever Torgersen is trying to do here -whether awards should be given to popular books (and look, I have nothing against Jim Butcher, but his Dresden File books are no where near what anyone would call speculative of old; they're well written pop-fiction, but not designed to stand the test of time. Then again, neither was John Scalzi's Redshirts. I was surprised as Scalzi was that not only was the book nominated, it won as well), versus books that have little in the way of sales, but are critical darlings- is being overshadowed by ultra-right-wing conservatives who once again are attacking intellectualism. 
In the end, this could beg the question that if the conservative speculative writer feels the Hugos and the Nebulas are not representative of their values, they why not just start their own awards, as George R R Martin suggests: "Best Conservative SF, or Best Space Opera, or Best Military SF, or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be." I don't think anyone would have an issue with that, especially considering award shows are a dime a dozen these days. 
But then I can understand why they wouldn't. The Hugos have been around since 1953, but the idea of creating a "conservative" science fiction award that would carry the same weight and prestige as the Hugos or the Nebulas would be a daunting task (I mean, yeah the Golden Globes have been around forever, but only in the last decade or so has even the networks taken them seriously). “But that’s not what they are doing, " Martin adds. "Instead they seem to want to take the Hugos and turn them into their own awards."
I mean, how is hijacking the Hugos going to stop diversity in science fiction?

08 April 2015

Books: A Hat Full of Sky By Terry Pratchett (2004)

A Hat Full of Sky, which is Terry Pratchett's 32nd Discworld novel and second featuring Tiffany Aching, takes place two years after the events of Wee Free Men (where our heroine saved Chalk from the Queen of Fairyland). Now at 11 years old, Tiffany is leaving the Chalk to learn witching from Miss Level, a singularly talented witch (and a in-joke on British A Levels). Meanwhile, changes are afoot for the Nac Mac Feegle clan as well, as the new Kelda, Jeanine of the Long Lake, is bound and determined to bring her blue boys into the current century by telling them they must learn to read and write. Of course, for the Pictsie leader, the idea of doing what the Kelda requests is filled with dark implications. Especially since, as Rob Anybody notes, "Words stay." But before this can begin, the Nac Mac Feegle realize an ancient evil called the hiver is stalking their "wee big hag." The hiver is a entity attracted to power and Tiffany is certainly becoming a powerful witch, so Rob and his men (with reluctant blessing of Jeanine) set out to protect her. 
What seems to have made Terry Pratchett such a great writer was his innate ability to give you lessons -like talking about bravery and the human condition- while making you laugh. Tiffany -if I can make a wild assumption- is probably based on Pratchett's daughter and she is turning out to be a fully realized character; she's a bit precocious, smart and very likable (which I assume his daughter to be). She could be what us folks really hope to be. Then there is the Nac Mac Feegle, characters written to be the comic relief (and brilliantly), but they have some great wisdom that can also be very moving. So much like his other fantasy novels, these Young Adult tales (and I'm unsure why I kind of feel kind of insulted they're categorized that way) can be read and enjoyed by folks of all ages. 

05 April 2015

Books: Wee Free Men By Terry Pratchett (2003)

One of the advantages I've discovered reading Terry Pratchett's books so late (and one, perhaps, I've should've realized long ago) is that they're all basically stand-alone tales set in his magical Discworld. But Pratchett does connect them, but not in away that's confusing or forcing you to read other tales first (having a general idea of Discworld is helpful, but not at all necessary).  The Tiffany Aching series begins with 2003's Wee Free Men, and thus becoming the 30th Discworld novel, but it is connected to the six books that make up the Witches series, which he started in 1987. And you don't have to read them to understand this, which I find rather refreshing (and it overcomes my thought process that I must read every book in published order. Yeah that is useful when reading George R.R Matin's Ice and Fire series, but not here). Also, Tiffany Aching is considered Young Adult, where the other Witches books are geared toward adults. I plan to get to the Witches series eventually (and finish the other two books that deal with Death) but my move to Tiffany Aching was just happenstance. Or, maybe, that the late Terry Pratchett's last book coming this year will be The Shepherd's Crown*, the final Tiffany Aching story. So I felt maybe I would read the four novels that make up this series so when that last book comes out, I'll be caught up.
Plus, I checked out those four novels from the library and got to get them back sooner rather than later. 
Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching is a young witch-to-be, and is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk's local Nac Mac Feegle - aka the Wee Free Men - a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds - black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors - before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone....

While Terry Pratchett takes the basic premise of the quest novel and it's many cliches (success through courage, wit, faith, and a lot of spunkiness) he gives it  fresh spin. What works most is the very loyal, sometimes rash, always feisty and really funny clan of Nac Mac Feegle. Also, despite this series being classified as young adult, Pratchett chooses not to talk down to his intended audience. As a matter of fact, he challenges them in the form of its heroine, Tiffany Aching (even I had to look up the word "susurrus" in the dictionary, and I'm as old as the dinosaurs). Tiffany must navigate the world of being a child and understand the world of adults, and under Pratchett's brilliant writing, audiences of young and old will enjoy the story. 
And like other books, Wee Free Men is terribly funny and using the Nac Mac Feegle as a prism between right and wrong (as interpreted by the Wee Free Men) is rather inspired, as is the borrowing of many folktale stories (and I think only Tilda Swinton can play the Queen of the Elves here, even though she played a similar one in the The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe). And Tiffany is such a well-developed character in her first outing. Her courage, her love, her understanding and the ability to dream and know when to stop and open your eyes, is something rarely seen in this genre. 
*There is a distinct possibility that the Discworld novels will continue after The Shepherd's Crown, as Pratchett himself noted, before his passing, that he would like to see his daughter, Rihanna, continue them. 

02 April 2015

Books: Soul Music By Terry Pratchett (1994)

Soul Music is the sixteenth Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett and the third one to feature Death. 
Once again, Pratchett gives us a modern issues -Rock and Roll and the stardom that follows it- and incorporates it into his sometime vaguely medieval universe of Discworld. Even though this book does feature the further adventures of Death -after Mort and Reaper Man- a rather good chunk of the book deals with Imp Y Celyn, a young harpist who has ventured to Ankh-Morpork in hopes of becoming famous. But to be able to earn a living, he must join the Musicians Guild and pay their fees. But with no money to begin with, Imp wonders how he'll do what he loves. Soon he hooks up with two other unlicensed musicians, the troll Lias Bluestone and the dwarf Glod Glodsson, and form the musical group The Band with Rocks In. When Imp's harp is destroyed, he acquires a guitar from a mysterious shop, unaware that it contains the awareness of a primordial music that was responsible for bringing the universe into existence. Thus Imp takes the new name "Buddy," as "Imp Y Celyn" literally means "bud of holly" (while Lias starts calling himself "Cliff").
Meanwhile, the readers learn that Death's adopted daughter Ysabell and her husband Mort have died. And Death is not taking this very well. As a matter of fact, he has abandoned his post in an effort to avoid the unpleasant memories of their loss. But Susan, the daughter of Ysabell and Mort (and Death's granddaughter) and who has been living (somewhat) as normal girl in the city of Quirm, is forced by the fabric of reality to assume her grandfather's position. While Susan had awareness she is Death's granddaughter, the real truth was withheld from her, so she eventually forgot and spends her days living in a boarding school and trying to avoid unpleasant things by using an unexplained power of being able to fade from awareness of others. But with Death taking a unplanned holiday, Susan's memories return and begins to do her new duties. One such duty brings her to the Mended Drum where The Band with Rocks In is playing and where Buddy is scheduled to die in a riot there. But under the influence of the magical guitar, the riot never happens and Buddy does not die. This creates a new timeline and things only get worse from there. 
Soul Music is no This is Spinal Tap when it comes writing a satire of the music industry and bands. And unlike the two previous adventures with Death, I found the story a bit slow and Pratchett really takes too long to move the story forward. Sure there is the puns and funny bits here and there, but it often reminded me of why I put down the works of Piers Anthony and his Xanth world, as I felt the jokey titles of songs where fairly obvious and a bit too easy for humorist like Pratchett. Still, it contains many funny passages and Susan is clearly the prototype of Tiffany Aching, the heroine of Pratchett's young adult series that would debut in 2003 (which is what I take up next. There are two other novels that feature Death, Hogfather and Thief of Time, but I'll read them later after I complete the four novels featuring Tiffany -if only because I checked them out of the library).