“Nation” by Terry Pratchett

Another audio book listened to during the commute.  Kudos to Stephen Briggs for a spot-on narration.  Reminded me of the work of another Brit, Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter series – distinct voices for each characters, etc.  But I digress.

“Nation” is not set in Pratchett’s Discworld, but like those novels it also contains a very high witty humor density.  In “Nation” though, along with the enjoyable story which contains plenty of laughter-inducing moments, there is a treatment of weighty philosophical matters.  More on those in a bit.

The story takes place in the past of a world quite similar to our own.  The boy Mau is the sole survivor of a tsunami that wipes out his whole island’s tribe (the Nation).  The girl Daphne (Real given name: ‘Ermintrude.’  You would prefer Daphne as well, wouldn’t you?) is from Victorian Britain, daughter of minor royalty, and the sole survivor on the island of a ship wrecked by the same giant wave.  Mau and Daphne learn to work together for survival, first for themselves and later for other islanders who soon find their way to the Nation.

Now the philosophy stuff.  Really this is the point of the book, methinks.  Both Mau and Daphne, thrust into an unfamiliar situation, come into conflict with what they have been told to think their entire lives.  Mau wonders why the Nation’s traditions of the grandfathers and religion of the gods are what they are.  Daphne questions the justice behind the imperial attitude of her own nation, as well as why the manners and etiquette of the Victorian era really matter.  They both have to think for themselves, relying on the scientific method and simple pragmatism rather than (apparently) meaningless traditions.  The lesson here is to not blindly accept anything; questioning “why?” is nearly always a good idea.

A concept used in “Nation” that seems to be rather popular in sci-fi-ish literature of late (although I wouldn’t call “Nation” sci-fi) is the many worlds or parallel universe theory.  In a nutshell, the many worlds theory says that whenever there is a choice, made by man or nature, all possible alternatives actually happen, although each in a separate, newly branched, parallel universe.  (Interesting: Mau, able to sometimes see the “silver thread leading to the future” and possibly affecting the outcome of things, seemed a little like Fraa Jadd from Anathem.)

I just think this is too funny to skip mentioning:  The Southern Pelagic Ocean, where the Nation resides, is based on the South Pacific.  Islands in the Pelagic are often named after the day on which they were discovered by Western explorers, however unlike the custom in our world of sticking to major holidays, eg Easter Island and Christmas Island, the Pelagic boasts the Mothering Sunday (UK’s Mother’s Day, more or less) Islands and the Bank Holiday Monday Islands.  Ha!

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