Soul Music is a Terry Pratchett novel, one of a series set in Discworld. This is a mythological vision of a society of humans, dwarves, elves and wizards, living on a flat disc planet balanced on the back of four elephants who are themselves standing on a turtle.
Discworld sounds like a strange and remote concept, consigned to the distant past. Nevertheless, there are many people who, with the help of YouTube, continue to believe in a flat Earth. More generally, people continue to struggle with new ideas coming up against old ways of thinking. With this in mind, you might say that Discworld can be a place to explore aspects of humanity’s historic, and current, world view. I admit, this might sound overly cerebral for a series of books famous for their humour. In the Soul Music instalment of the Discworld saga, we are told interlinking stories involving Death’s grand-daughter taking over his duties, and a group of musicians accidentally stumbling on rock music. Most of the plot might seem like an excuse to make punning references to various pop songs and musicians.
But beyond the jokey stuff, it is undeniable that this book deals with ambitious topics – things like life, death, the nature of the universe, and how people come to grips with matters beyond their comprehension. All this is quite something to take on. The difficulty involved in these themes can be compared to people living on what they think is a flat Earth trying to make the conceptual leap to seeing themselves living on a globe floating in endless space – and only having a comic novel with which to do it.
In this particular comic novel, a completely new type of music serves as an example of a challenge to how people think. Sometimes there are interesting, amusing and thought provoking results from collisions of world views. At other times, I was left confused by a mass of disjointed ideas and stretched metaphors. This was not helped by a lack of the usual conventions that orientate a reader, like chapters, or any kind of sign that you might be switching between different threads of the story.
Personally I don’t know if Soul Music can be considered wholly successful, since parts of it are so chaotic. But I still admired the basic Discworld idea, and the effort to take on topics that would humble any writer who, with a nod to Douglas Adams, works far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy on an utterly insignificant, blue-green planet orbiting a small, unregarded yellow sun.