Moving Pictures
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Moving Pictures



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Moving Pictures

Copyright © 1990 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

This is space. It’s sometimes called the final frontier.

(Except that of course you can’t have a final frontier, because there’d be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it’s pretty penultimate . . .)

Reality is not digital, an on-off state, but analog. Something gradual. In other words, reality is a quality that things possess in the same way that they possess, say, weight. Some people are more real than others, for example. It has been estimated that there are only about five hundred real people on any given planet, which is why they keep unexpectedly running into one another all the time.


Five hundred real people

The Alchemists’ Guildhall was new. It was always new. It had been explosively demolished and rebuilt four times in the last two years, on the last occasion without a lecture and demonstration room in the hope that this might be a helpful move.



‘Well,’ said Peavie, uncomfortably, ‘what you do is, you take some corn, and you put it in, say, a Number 3 crucible, with some cooking oil, you see, and then you put a plate or something on top of it, and when you heat it up it goes bang, I mean, not seriously bang, and when it’s stopped banging you take the plate off and it’s metamorphosed into these er, things . . .’ He looked at their uncomprehending faces. ‘You can eat it,’ he mumbled apologetically. ‘If you put butter and salt on it, it tastes like salty butter.’



Reality is a curve.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that there isn’t as much as there should be. According to some of the more mystical texts in the stacks of the library of Unseen University—

—the Discworld’s premier college of wizardry and big dinners, whose collection of books is so massive that it distorts Space and Time—

—at least nine-tenths of all the original reality ever created lies outside the multiverse, and since the multiverse by definitiion includes absolutely everything that is anything, this puts a bit of a strain on things.

Outside the boundaries of the universes lie the raw realities, the could-have-beens, the might-bes, the neverweres, the wild ideas, all being created and uncreated chaotically like elements in fermenting supernovas.

Just occasionally where the walls of the worlds have worn a bit thin, they can leak in.

And reality leaks out.

The effect is like one of those deap-sea geysers of hot water, around which strange submarine creatures find enough warmth and food to make a brief, tiny oasis of existence in an environment where there shouldn’t be any existence at all.



If the abnormal goes on long enough it becomes the normal. It was just that, when you came to explain it to a third party, it sounded odd.
It was that special sort of beautiful area which is only beautiful if you can leave after briefly admiring its beauty and go somewhere else where there are hot tubs and cold drinks. Actually staying there for any length of time is a penance.



As Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler knew in his heart, wherever two or more people are gathered together, someone will be trying to sell them a suspicious sausage in a bun.

‘It’s stoo,’ said the dwarf.

‘What kind of stew?’

‘There ain’t more ’n one kind. That’s why it’s stoo,’ the dwarf snapped. ‘Stoo’s stoo.’

‘What I meant was, what’s in it?’ said Victor.

‘If you need to ask, you’re not hungry enough,’ said Ginger.



Throat took a deep breath of the thick city air. Real air. You would have to go a long way to find air that was realer than Ankh-Morpork air. You could tell just by breathing it that other people had been doing the same thing for thousands of years.



Over Holy Wood, the stars were out. They were huge balls of hydrogen heated to millions of degrees, so hot they could not even burn. Many of them would swell enormously before they died, and then shrink to tiny, resentful dwarfs remembered only by sentimental astronomers. In the meantime, they glowed because of metamorphoses beyond the reach of alchemists, and turned mere boring elements into pure light.

‘Maybe two hundred, give or take ten,’ said Azhural, throwing down the stick. ‘Nowhere near enough.’

‘You can’t give or take ten elephants, boss,’ said M’Bu firmly. He knew that counting elephants was a precision job. A man might be uncertain about how many wives he had, but never about elephants. Either you had one, or you didn’t.



‘You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?’ said Ginger, not paying him the least attention. ‘It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at. It’s all the sons who become blacksmiths because their fathers were blacksmiths. It’s all the people who could be really fantastic flute players who grow old and die without ever seeing a musical instrument, so they become bad ploughmen instead. It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out.’

She took a deep breath. ‘It’s all the people who never get to know what it is they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.

There’s a lot of loose thinking about magic. People go around talking about mystic harmonies and cosmic balances and unicorns, all of which is to real magic what a glove puppet is to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Real magic is the hand around the bandsaw, the thrown spark in the powder keg, the dimension-warp linking you straight into the heart of a star, the flaming sword that burns all the way down to the pommel. Sooner juggle torches in a tar pit than mess with real magic. Sooner lie down in front of a thousand elephants.

At least, that’s what wizards say, which is why they charge such swingingly huge fees for getting involved with the bloody stuff.



There had been a city once, in the mists of pre-history—bigger than Ankh-Morpork, if that were possible. And the inhabitants had done something, some sort of unspeakable crime not just against Mankind or the gods but against the very nature of the universe itself, which had been so dreadful that it had sunk beneath the sea one stormy night. Only a few people had survived to carry to the barbarian peoples in the less-advanced parts of the Disc all the arts and crafts of civilization, such as usury and macrame.

No-one had ever really taken it seriously. It was just one of those usual ‘If you don’t stop it you’ll go blind’ myths that civilizations tended to hand on to their descendants. After all, Ankh-Morpork itself was generally considered as wicked a city as you could hope to find in a year of shore leaves, and seemed to have avoided any kind of supernatural vengeance, although it was always possible that it had taken place and no-one had noticed.

Magic wasn’t difficult. That was the big secret that the whole baroque edifice of wizardry had been set up to conceal. Anyone with a bit of intelligence and enough perseverance could do magic, which was why the wizards cloaked it with rituals and the whole pointy-hat business.

The trick was to do magic and get away with it.

Because it was as if the human race was a field of corn and magic helped the users grow just that bit taller, so that they stod out. That attracted the attention of the gods and—Victor hesitated—other Things outside this world. People who used magic without knowing what they were doing usually came to a sticky end.

All over the entire room, sometimes.



‘That’sh what’s always happened to me when I’ve been in love,’ said cat wistfully.

‘It’s different for humans,’ said Gaspode uncertainly. ‘You don’t get so many boots and buckets of water thrown at you. It’s more, er, flowers and arguing and stuff.’



The universe contains any amount of horrible ways to be woken up, such as the noise of the mob breaking down the front door, the scream of fire engines, or the realization that today is the Monday which on Friday night was a comfortably long way off. A dog’s wet nose is not strictly speaking the worst of the bunch, but it has its own peculiar dreadfulness which connoisseurs of the ghastly and dog owners everywhere have come to know and dread. It’s like having a small piece of defrosting liver pressed lovingly against you.

‘Why is it all Mr Dibbler’s films are set against the background of a world gone mad?’ said the dwarf.

Soll’s eyes narrowed. ‘Because Mr Dibbler,’ he growled, ‘is a very observant man.’



The small, weary, moth-eaten dog thought hard about the difference between looking and acting like a wonder dog and merely being one.

It said ‘Bugger.’

There’s a bar like it in every town. It’s dimly-lit and the drinkers, although they talk, don’t address their words to one another and they don’t listen, either. They just talk the hurt inside. It’s a bar for the derelict and the unlucky and all of those people who have been temporarily flagged off the racetrack of life and into the pits.

It always does a brisk trade.



‘And don’t you go around using that calm and reasonable tone of voice on me,’ she added. ‘I hate it when people go around being calm and reasonable at me.’

It was dawning on the wizards that they were outside the University, at night and without permission, for the first time in decades. A certain suppressed excitement crackled from man to man. Any watcher trained in reading body language would have been prepared to bet that, after the click, someone was going to suggest that they might as well go somewhere and have a few drinks, and then someone else would fancy a meal, and then there was always room for a few more drinks, and then it would be 5 a.m. and the city guards would be respectfully knocking on the university gates and asking if the Archchancellor would care to step down to the cells to identify some alleged wizards who were singing an obscene song in six-part harmony, and perhaps he would also care to bring some money to pay for all the damage. Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.



Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that they often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.



‘I’m really hurt by this,’ said Dibbler. ‘You didn’t trust me. Your own uncle. After I gave you my solemn promise not to try anything again, you didn’t trust me? That wounds me, Soll. I’m really wounded. Whatever happened to integrity round here?’

‘I think you probably sold it to someone, Uncle.’

‘I’m really hurt,’ said Dibbler.

‘But you didn’t keep your promise, Uncle.’

‘That’s got nothing to do with it. That’s just business. We’re talking family here. You got to learn to trust family, Soll. Especially me.’

Sol shrugged. ‘OK. OK.’


‘Yes, Uncle.’ Soll grinned. ‘You’ve got my solemn promise on that.’

‘That’s my boy.’



[...] whatever piece of music she was playing, it was definitely losing.



text checked (see note) Jun 2013

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