Before the success of the Discoworld novels, Terry Pratchett tried his hands at a couple of science fiction novels. His first, 1976's The Darks Side of the Sun, deals with the oft-tackled idea of a creator race, one (here called the Jokers) which shaped the universe and its inhabitants but have since disappeared.
The novel serves as a travelogue through Pratchett's future universe, and with its cast of well-developed aliens and locations this is a rich journey. Probability maths, quantum physics and evolution are dealt with in a light and readable manner with a small but well drawn cast. The novel isn't laugh out loud funny, but there are elements of Pratchett's trademark humour.
A short but successful piece of sf universe building, recommended even for those who may not enjoy the authors comedic fantasy output. After re-reading this the real mystery is not the whereabouts of the Jokers, but why with his prolific and relentless Discworld output Terry Pratchett has never found either the time or the inclination to produce another science fiction novel - on the evidence of this he certainly has the talent.
on 1 March 2015
In this comparatively short book Mr Pratchett previews many of the concepts and inventions that he later used in the Discworld series. It is very densely written, bubbling over with ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but will need to re-read to get full value from his creativity. There is plenty of humour, as would be expected, and his usual enigmatic ending.
on 2 March 2006
This Terry Pratchet novel is a hilarious, coming-of-age romp through a funky and furiously original galaxy populated by 52 intelligent races and beings with endearing quirks. Some of these beings are luckier than others and our hero, Dom Savalos, is one of them. On the eve of his ascension to the chairmanship of his planet, he finds out about something that has preoccupied some of he best minds around - the science of probability maths, which predicts both likely and seemingly inevitable outcomes of individual lives. Dom find himself in the position of being predestined to find the world on which the enigmatic jokers reside - a prehistoric, highly evolved race thought by many to be responsible for most of the other intelligent life in the galaxy. But the story only starts here...
Young Dom Sabalos is about to become Chairman of an entire planet. That means giving up countless adolescent pleasures. He won't be able to make exploratory journeys into the marshes or ponder the mysteries of the Joker Towers. Of Old Earth ancestry, Dom's home is Widdershins, a planet producing a special pharmaceutical - pilac. The demand for this drug has made the Sabalos family powerful and rich beyond calculation. It says much that Dom's godfather is a bank. IS a bank - one that takes up an entire planet.
Being rich and powerful evokes enemies, even when your wealth is gratefully contributed to by all who take pilac. Which is nearly all sentient creatures. There are other species scattered about the universe, but they all appear to be approximately the same duration - four or five million years. Before that, there seem to have been The Jokers. As Dom flees Widdershins to thwart assassination, he seeks answers to the Joker mystery. The quest leads to endless adventures and opens many questions in the reader's mind. The main one being: "Who are we, and where did we come from?"
In today's world, "Dark Side" can occupy only a special niche. Older - sorry! "established" - Pratchett readers may look upon this book as an historical curiosity. The really established SF reader will see the obvious reliance on Isaac Asimov's "Robot" series. In "Dark Side", the very intelligent robot is named "Isaac". Douglas Adams' "probability math" is given place and complex problems are solved by a team of a poet and a "mad computer". The book's themes and characters are very "1970s SciFi". Yet the sparks of the later Discworld books shine brightly here. Beyond the carryovers of such ideas as Hogswatch Night, Small Gods and Widdershins itself, there are the usual touches of Pratchettean irony and insight. There is also the underlying foundation of Pratchett's capacity for bringing remote facts and ideas into his stories. There are Gypsy terms, ancient Philistine goddesses and touches of Classical Greek theatre.
These literary arabesques are what makes Pratchett a repeatable read, no matter what genre critics try to cram him into. Although nearly thirty years have passed since this was written, it remains worthy of a place on your bookshelf. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
I read this shortly after it was published, and of course no-one had heard of Pratchett. Discworld existed only as a twinkle deep in the undug mines of the author's subconscious and, most importantly, I had no preconceived notions of what a Terry Pratchett novel might reasonably contain.
I enjoyed the book immensely, not for the plot - which was certainly adequate and interesting - but for the details. Away from the Discworld expectations, Pratchett presented as a more casual and less angst-ridden Moorcock, painting an involving tripscape which comes into focus in humorous, fine brushstrokes which tickle the ol' funnybone without holding you down and relentlessly tormenting your ribs. This may casuse problems for those reared on the Disc, but if they can put aside expectations of Death strolling in on Binky, I can promise an enjoyable read.
A tiny mechanical spider weaves a web of fine metal wires, wanders off to find a power source and waits for the inevitable mechanical fly to get zapped in a blue-flash as it blunders into the web. The spider dismantles the feebly protesting bug with its own spanner-shaped claws...
Much better in Pratchett's words, of course, and in context, but lovely imagery. If Dune had had this kind of counterpoint imagery, it may well have attracted a wider and younger audience. That, of course will have happened in one of the many universes of alternatives generated by Dark Side's probability maths, but their audience won't be reading the version we all know and love.
The literary cognoscenti will thrill to the misquoted but contextually appropriate parody of Aristophanes, and this, like so much of the fine texture of the story is simply dropped in as a throwaway gag. THAT is the genius of the man who will eventually find his niche on the back of another cosmological invention from Antiquity, but that, as they say, is another story.
Meanwhile, the book is light and fluffy enough to appeal to younger readers too.
Don't expect Discworld but expect the perspective of someone who will evolve into the writer of Discworld and who would have become a SF giant if he hadn't been so specifically prolific in giving us the gift of among the most entertaining fantasy humour works in any genre.
In a galaxy far, far away, Johnny and the dead daydreams of being Elric... Do Sundogs feed on Spice? Tiny echoes of Bladerunner.. the thirteen or so laws of robotics...
Read Dark Side of The Sun.
Dark Side of the Sun is an early Pratchett book ( circa 1976) predating the Discworld series.
The inheritor of a family company survives assassination attempts in his efforts to find the fabled " jokers" - a mythological race left evidence of their existence as giant towers. An institute has been set up to solve the mystery of the towers and to eliminate others who look like solving it. As usual there is the odd prophecy as to how things will unfold which is cunningly woven into the plot which twists and turns to a "predictable" conclusion.
A pleasant enough SciFi / sf fantasy (spoof?) showing elements of the Pratchett humour and inventiveness that was to crystallise in to the Discworld series some 7 years later. A book in a similar SciFi vein is Strata (first published 5 years later in 1981) which laid the foundations for the idea of Discworld .
If you like Strata you will like Dark side of the sun - and vice versa . Not a traditional discworld story however - so live dangerously and try it for yourself.
I bought this to complete my set of Pratchet books but was not disappointed.
on 2 April 2003
Terry Pratchett wrote this early novel as a parody of Issac Asimov's books, with partial success. It's a nice read one time, if you're a Pratchett fan, but otherwise it's not a very good book.
on 20 March 2012
in the same way that Dune confused me.
At only 158 pages you are launched without much background into a fully formed universe of races and terminology that you are not familiar with and don't get further background development on.
It is easy to lose the story thread, have to reread things and feel that you have been left behind in some places and not understood and if other reviewers are correct on the references to other sci fi then that was certainly lost on me from what I have previously read.
The story centres around the main character and predictions through probability math that he will discover the fabled Jokers World, being an absent race credited with creating all the other existing races.
I have read Discworld novels, but was open minded about this as I wanted to judge whether to keep the book in my collection, but how a dedicated Discworlder would react to this I am not sure but probably with disappointment.
As others have noted, there is the potential depth of a sci fi equivalent universe that could have evolved instead of Discworld, but is unlikely ever to now if there ever was any chance.
And getting nearer the end of the book you are thinking 'there aren't many pages left until the end' and then it ends very quickly. This led me to consider it a three star down from a four star as it is so disappointing and abrupt.
Ultimately, I don't regret reading it and did enjoy it for what it was but I won't be keeping it as I can't see wanting to reread it again, it promises so much but delivers so little and there isn't any other reading to warrant any further time being spent on it.
The Dark Side Of The Sun is the second stand-alone novel by British author, Sir Terry Pratchett. Dom Salabos is about to become Chairman of the Board of the planet Widdershins, orbiting the sun See-Why. He is heir to a fortune, godson of a planetary bank and protected by the most efficient security money can buy. But his father, John Salabos III, an expert in probability maths, died in the Marshes, and Dom is unaware of the prediction of his own death. Instead, he decides he wants to find the elusive Jokers World. Assisted by a phnobe, a swamp ig and a Class 5 robot (with Man-Friday subcircuitry), he finds himself the target of a determined assassin, Ways. This pre-Discworld novel has many of the hallmarks of his later books, but really does not reach their standard. Nonetheless, it is interesting and enjoyable to read early Pratchett for the originality, the inventiveness and the tongue-in-cheek aspect.
on 29 September 2000
Before Diskworld became famous and took over his career, Terry Pratchett wrote this - an excellent spoof of Ringworld.
Aged 11, and reading the original New English Library edition (with a stylised robot insect on the cover) I thought this book was fantastic - a wonderfully rich and beautifully described universe populated with strange races and amazing devices. Breathtaking.
Aged 20, having read Larry Niven, and the rest of Mr. Pratchett's work up to that point, I went back to it and read it again. And laughed.
Laughed and laughed and laughed.
This book is such a skillful work that it can be read just for the story, which is compelling, or the universe, which is amazing, or for the spoof, which is hysterical.
Read it. Then read 'Ringworld'. Then read it again.