Friday, March 13, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett: RIP

Maybe you'll get links on Monday. We'll see. Instead I wanted to take today to tell you about Sir Terry Pratchett. He passed away yesterday morning at home, in bed, surrounded by his cats. He was 66.

Back in 2007 he was diagnosed with an embuggerance (his word). He had a variety of Alzheimer's that he admitted was the best kind to have if you absolutely must have Alzheimer's. It soon took away his ability to read and write. The words on paper just didn't make any sense. However, he was able to hire Rob to take dictation and read back to him. Together, they were able to produce several more Discworld books as well as a trilogy of sci-fi books that allowed Terry to break away from the series that has dominated his work.

Having been diagnosed, Sir Terry became interested in assisted suicide. He created a documentary on the subject and gave a talk. The hour long documentary is available here. The talk was partially given for him since he was unable to read his own notes. Baldrick of Black Adder fame was a friend of Sir Terry, having done many of the Discworld audio books, and finished the speech for him. It can be viewed here. But, I believe that Mrs. Pratchett talked him out of it saying that she'd rather have him and have to care for him rather than not have him around. The BBC is saying that it wasn't suicide.

Sir Terry was still making regular appearances in England, not allowing his health to interfere until last July. His hat attended in his place.

Looking at some recent posts to his Facebook page, they knew this was coming. Last Friday they were asking fans to say how much Sir Terry's work meant to people.

His twitter feed announced his passing in the style of the character Death from Discworld.

Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the door and on to the black desert under the endless night.
The End.

But so far I've been talking about his death. His work is what made his passing so notable.

I picked up "Good Omens" from the BooksAMillion in Dupont Circle not long after moving to Washington, DC. That's the book that introduced me to both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and it remains firmly in my top 10 most recommended books ever. Terry Gilliam is the only one allowed to make a movie of that book and he would sometimes call either Terry or Neil in the middle of the night and curse them out for writing such a hard book to film.  Alas, as Pratchett himself said "'s not absolutely certain that it won't happen..."

From there I started in on the truly massive Discworld series. This is not a series that requires you to start at the beginning and work your way through. In fact, it's not at all recommended. The Discworld universe contains many characters and storylines that run independent of each other. The diagram below should serve as a good guide. The only exception I might take to it is to skip "The Colour of Magic" and "The Light Fantastic" and come back to them later. Or watch the movie made of them and skip the books. Those were the first books that Sir Terry wrote and it shows. Years of refining helped make the movie much better.

I started with "Mort" and would recommend that or "Guards Guards" as a starting point. "Going Postal" and "Mysterious Regiment" stand alone nicely, but these later books don't have the same sense of humor of the earlier books. "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" is more of a children's book, aimed at pre-teens, but that didn't stop Yummy and I from listening to it on a car trip and naming a cat "Beans" after one of it's characters.

You can also find movie versions of the various books. The cartoon versions of "Wyrd Sisters" and "Soul Music" were horribly done. There was something wrong with the timing. Do not watch. The live action version of "Hogfather" really only works if you've read the book. However, "The Colour of Magic" and "Going Postal" were brilliantly done. Check Netflix or find them for sale online somewhere, because they're nigh impossible to find in brick and mortar stores.

My own book, which I've submitted to absolutely nobody, was developed in no small part because of these books. I'd read them on the subway which got me into a mindset that allowed me to develop a collection of interesting characters on my hike to the office. Once there I'd write down what I'd developed on the hike. I keep a collection of unread Discworld books handy for when I'm ready to start writing, again.

You've also seen me review his more recently release serious sci-fi novels developed with Stephen Baxter, "The Long Earth", "The Long War", and "The Long Mars". These books talk about a world where easy access to parallel dimensions was discovered and mass settlement begun. Actually, I'm still waiting to find "The Long Mars" in paperback. They were contracted for two more books, but I guess Baxter will have to finish on his own.

A good book can take you to another place and make you consider new ideas. Pratchett would laugh at society and make you laugh along with him. His books could not just change how you view the world, but how your brain processes ideas. He could literally make you think differently for awhile. He spend time as the second most read author in England, second only to J.K. Rowling. His passing is a loss to the literary community, the Alzheimer's and dementia community, a personal loss to millions, if not billions, of fans, and to his cats who were really looking forward to eating him.

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