You who stand before us
We have held the stars in the hollow
Of our hands, and the stars
Burn. Pray be careful now
As to how you handle them.
We have gone to wait on our new world
There is but one
It lies at the dark side of the sun
In this book, Terry Pratchett brings us to a galaxy of fifty-two sentient races; Humans, Creapii, phnobes, drosks, spooners, tarquins, sundogs, the Pod and many others. Races which live everywhere from the vacuum of space to the upper layers of some stars, of varying intelligence and many of them incomprehensibly alien to Man. What these creatures have collectively found are two facts - that all races are less than five million years old, and that all races originated from within a sphere of stars less than 200 light-years in diameter, centred on Wolf 359. Outside the "life-bubble", there was seemingly nothing.
What was also discovered was that the galaxy was littered with artifacts, left over from an obviously long-gone civilisation, which was clearly much older than any existing race. Among them were a number of inert, seemingly indestructible towers, as well as such wonders as a sapient planet calling itself the First Sirian Bank ("Ho there! I will prosecute economic sanctions against the first race to make an aggressive act!"), the Chain Stars ("Imagine a doughnut, three million miles across. Imagine another. Link them."), and the Tomorrow Strata. All such artifacts were between five and eight million years old - and no other evidence of the existence of the mysterious Jokers existed.
Add into this universe a pseudo-magical science called probability math, allowing a skilled practitioner to, broadly speaking, predict the future of an individual; the above poem, translated from an inscription on one of the Joker Towers; and Dominickdaniel Sabalos, a human from the planet Widdershins. Escaping assassination on his home planet by the most incredibly improbable of chances, Dom sets out on a journey across the life-bubble to discover the Jokers' world. As he travels through the intensely imaginative universe that Pratchett creates, it becomes clear that someone wants him dead before he discovers the Jokers' world, wherever that may be. It also becomes clear that each time an attempt is made on his life, someone is altering the universe to protect him from dying...
It's difficult to describe any further without giving away the whole book. The Dark Side Of The Sun is short but sweet. The universe that Pratchett creates is colourful, well-crafted and varied, and it's a shame in my mind that he chose not to expand upon it further in later novels. The two alien civilisations that are described in detail in this book, the phnobes and the Creapii, are well-complemented by many miscellaneous supporting characters and races. The plot, though far from being as intricate as those in Pratchett's later Discworld novels, is engaging. Well worth a read.
First published 1976 by Colin Smythe Ltd., making it one of Pratchett's earliest novels. ISBN number 0 552 13326 4.