Thursday 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, who died today from complications arising from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease, was a life lived well. He used his talents to entertain millions in the decades where books supposedly fell out of fashion, and with his diagnosis in 2007 he used his platform to raise awareness about Alzheimer's, and some of his fortune to fund much-needed research.

Pratchett was feted by an establishment that bestowed him a gong and a knighthood, TV adaptations were made of his books, and yet somehow he remained immovably niche. Indie kids moan when their favourite acts swap the exclusive cool of the underground for the bright lights and big pay cheques of mainstream success, but Pratchett managed to combine both. He was a big hitter but stayed forever geeky, interacting with fans via the internet and convention circuit. He knew well his tribe and shall always be known as one of its greatest chieftains.

It might come as a surprise to some that I never got into the Discworld series. The Colour of Magic is the only one of his that can be marked off as read. I'm much more familiar with the recent Long Earth series, which was a collaboration between him and super-hard science fiction author Stephen Baxter. Three books into the sequence and you can see Pratchett's influence lessen with each subsequent book. The first has its playful moments, like dimension-sliding devices powered by potatoes and a near-omnipotent supercomputer that claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle mechanic. By the third however you find the dread 'going forward' cropping up in characters' speech and the little nods to absurdism largely absent. 

Nevertheless, growing up geeky in the late 80s and early 90s you could not avoid his ubiquity. A bit like Doctor Who when it was off-air, I had no contact with Pratchett's works but his presence was felt in role playing culture, video game mags of the day, and nearly every nerd boasted a complete collection of his works. Despite his passing, that presence will remain.


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Ken said...

A good placing of Pratchett, but count me among those surprised you never got into Discworld. The later books are much deeper than The Colour of Magic, and a sociologist (and a Marxist) can find a lot to think about and to smile at in them.

Try the Night Watch books, or Going Postal, for a taste, and the SF Encyclopedia entry for a guide through the various series-within-the-series.

You might also find Good Omens, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman, and the pop sci 'Roundworld' books (with Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart) great fun.

Phil said...

They're on my infinitely long reading list ...

Roger McCarthy said...

Colour of Magic is very much apprentice work and the series only hits it's stride with Mort (#4 IIRC) and indeed you could start there as its not so much one series as multiple series.

The decline you note is also evident in the last half a dozen Discworld books which still have their moments but lose the lightness of touch - but then what would you expect?

Vinyl Miner said...

For a bit of Sociology try "The Globe"
A Pratchett / Ian Stewart / Jack Cohen collaberation. Although you can get the gist here. The Story telling ape.