Rincewind finds himself in an arid country, digging for grubs to eat, having been sent there by mistake by the inept wizards of Unseen University back in Anhk Morpork. As we go along, we get the suspicious feeling that it is Australia in a very thin disguise. The country turns out to be XXXX, pronounced EcksEcksEcksEcks. It never rains there. Never has. The water in all underground, and the landscape is filled with windmills that pull up the water for the livestock and the people.
On the rocks, drawings appear and disappear. A large magical kangaroo appears and helps Rincewind, who is now able to find food by lifting up rocks, where there might be a sandwich, or other standard edibles waiting. He makes his way to the port city, which is just about to have its river races in the bone dry riverbed. The boats are bottomless and propelled by men running inside them.
Rincewind through an improbable series of events (what am I saying? The whole book is improbable, so what’s a few more implausible happenings, more or less?) comes upon a university for wizards. A rather ramshackle, unprepossessing affair, with a truly laughable tower, only a couple of stories high. But wait! These wizards are no slouches. It turns out to be a reverse Tardis – taller on the outside than the inside. After climbing up its few steps, upon looking out, Rincewind can see that it is MILES high. Not bad for a bunch of backwater sorcerers, eh mate?
It also turns out that these guys are the time warp counterparts to the wizards back at Unseen University in Anhk Morpork.
Meanwhile, the wizards of Unseen University are trying to cure the Librarian who is constantly morphing into other objects, but for that they need his name. To do that, they need Rincewind, and to find the FourEcks continent to which he has been inadvertently sent by them. To find the continent, they need the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography and so go to his room, but he is not there, and they find only an open window, through which they can see a tropical paradise.
They climb through, and when the housekeeper climbs through to bring them tea, the window closes and they are all trapped there. They discover a verdant place, but also discover that all of its flora and fauna have only ONE specimen. They meet a god, who is busily creating all this stuff, but hasn’t discovered sex as a means of furthering the species, so is wearing himself out creating a new specimen each time one dies off, making it better, thus creating evolution.
Through more crazy and far-fetched events, the wizards end up in FourEcks, where they help Rincewind produce rain for the first time ever on the continent, thereby saving the population. Only the boat racers are pissed, because now their regatta is ruined due to all the water rushing down the riverbed.
In this book, Pratchett plays with the aspects of time travel such as the grandfather paradox and the Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder”. It also parodies Australian people and aspects of Australian culture, such as Crocodile Dundee, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Mad Max movies, the Australian beer XXXX, Vegemite, thongs, cork hats, Peach Melba, and the popular Australian songs “Waltzing Matilda” and “Down Under”. [description blatantly stolen from Wiki.]
It was funny, clever, erudite in its own way, but perhaps maybe a bit too much, cramming too many themes into one story. Rincewind on FourEcks and the Wizards and their time travel paradoxes in paradise are really two fully different stories, and it is only with a lot of wrenching and torquing are they brought together.
But it is still a hoot. On to the final book in the series. No worries, mate.