NB This post contains LOTS of spoilers. Be warned!
I am not going to write more about the Sorting Machine and its deleterious effects on the Post Office (and other things); you’ll have to read Going Postal if you want to know about it. Suffice it to say that thanks to the Sorting Machine, the Post Office was already a wounded monster when the Clacks came along, offering a lean, modern and above all, fast way to get messages across the continent. Who cared that a clacks, the Discworld equivalent of a telegram, was, to quote Moist von Lipwig, Ankh-Morpork Postmaster General, “As warm and human as a thrown knife”? A clacks could get from one side of the continent to the other in hours where a letter would take weeks. In a mercantile world, swift communication means money, and between the Clacks and the Sorting Machine, the doom of the Post Office was sealed.
And there Pratchett could have left it, having created an alternative to the Post Office; he could have simply written about the Clacks without fleshing it out. He needed it for another part of the plot too, but he still could have left it as a painted facade, something that fulfils its part of the story without us ever knowing more about it than we need to. Pratchett’s genius is that he makes it real. Just as the Post Office has a history, a culture, a community, a secret society (oh yes) and bizarre traditions, so too does the Clacks (well, except for the secret society, as far as I know, anyway). Some of these are necessary for the functioning of the story, but it’s the depth and richness that Pratchett imparts to them that are so extraordinary.
More tomorrow, when I will write more about the Clacks. But in the meantime, since I still have a bit of time, I will leave you with one of my favourite Pratchettian quotes, one which sadly did not make it into the many tributes to him after his death. It’s from Men At Arms: “Sometimes, it is better to light one flamethrower than to curse the darkness”.