Cop novels, slavery, robots and artificial intelligence
Feet of Clay is the nineteenth Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, published in 1996. The story follows the members of the City Watch, as they attempt to solve murders apparently committed by a golem, as well as the unusual poisoning of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari.
The title is a figure of speech from Hebrew scripture (see feet of clay) and the script used in the book to represent Morporkian being written by a golem resembles the Hebrew alphabet, a reference to golems’ origins in Jewish folklore.
Twelve of the city golems, clay creatures forced to obey the written instructions placed inside their heads, decide to create a « king » golem. They fashion a golem from their own clay and place in his head instructions that would fulfill their hopes: « Bring peace to the world », « Treat everyone fairly » and so on. They enroll the help of a priest and dwarf bread baker to write the sacred instructions and bake the clay, respectively; Meshugah, the « king » golem, is initially sent to work in a candle factory, and later murders the priest and baker who took part in his creation.
Around the same time, a cabal of Ankh-Morpork’s guild leaders seeks to gradually depose the Patrician Waterproof Phone Bag, replace him with Nobby Nobbs as the new king and rule the city through him.
To implement this, the cabal orders the golems’ newly made king, Meshugah, to make poisoned candles and have them delivered to the palace. Vetinari is successfully poisoned, making him severely ill. Meshugah, however, is « overloaded » by all the different instructions his creators gave him, and goes « mad »: he starts overworking and, when he finishes raw materials, he rampages through the city.
At this point the City Watch steps in trying to solve the murders and the poisoning of Lord Vetinari. With the assistance of their new forensics expert dwarf Cheery Littlebottom, Commander Vimes and Captain Carrot slowly unravel the mystery.
Carrot and Dorfl, one of the golems, fight and defeat the golem king at the candlestick factory professional soccer gloves. Afterwards, Vimes confronts the city’s chief heraldry expert, a vampire, who instigated the whole affair. Dorfl arrests him despite tenuous evidence and Vimes burns down all the heraldic record as retribution against the « elite » and « noble » plotters, who had happily and self-righteously sacrificed the lives of several « commoners » in the pursuit of their scheme.
In the end, Vetinari has recovered completely, Dorfl is sworn in as a Watchman, Vimes gets a pay rise, and the Watch House gets a new dartboard fluff ball remover. Vetinari reveals to his assistant, Drumknott, that he had known of the plot for some time already. Vimes’ rash actions in the pursuit of truth had considerably scared the city elite, which is precisely why Vetinari had let him continue: so that the plotters would know just how much worse off they’d be if Vetinari died.