Sunday, 15 March 2015

RIP Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series and much else, passed away on Thursday at the age of 66, eight years after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

I first encountered his writing back in high school, when I read Good Omens, the novel he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. I picked it up because I was a fan of Gaiman's Sandman, and was intrigued to see his name on something other than a comic. And after I read it, I was curious about this heretofore unknown author.

At first try, though, I found the Discworld books a little impenetrable, for a variety of reasons. There were a lot of them, for one thing, even 20 years ago. Also I couldn't seem to find the very first ones - not that you needed to read them in order, but I was always methodical, even then. More importantly, though, I just wasn't ready for it; I didn't like fantasy yet, and had read hardly any, so a lot of the humor kind of went over my head.

It wasn't until I'd lived in England a few years and had plumbed the depths of epic fantasy (as well as sword and sorcery) novels, that I was able to pick up the Discworld books - from the start, with The Colour of Magic! - and appreciate them. To date I've read five novels in the series: The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort and The Truth (which was the Discworld's take on journalism, and a birthday present from colleagues at my old job).

In some ways his books are very English, in a way that I used to describe Neil Gaiman's work, but it's also notable how he used this sprawling, chaotic world to talk about, well, everything, evolving from his original concept of a parody of sword and sorcery novels.

The closest I ever came to meeting Sir Terry was at World Fantasy Con 2013, in Brighton, where he was interviewed briefly. It was clear even then that he was quite ill, but he soldiered on gamely in a packed room. Because of his illness, however, there was no signing or meet and greet, and so this remains my one encounter with him.

But a near-miss, if you like, also stands as a big memory I have of Sir Terry. In the months after I'd moved to London for the first time, back in 2001, I passed by the Forbidden Planet on a weekend when he was due to have a signing. I'd headed over in the expectation that I'd finally get to lock eyes on this mysterious author who'd co-written Good Omens, but was surprised to see a huge line stretching down the block. A lot of the fans were goths, or goth-looking, at least, and both factors - the types of people who read his books and his massive popularity - indicated that this was an author to look out for.

So I'm glad that I did manage to read his own work, and hope to resume soon. I'm also glad that, although there won't be anymore Discworld novels after the upcoming Shepherd's Crown (at least not from him), I'm far enough behind that I have a lot still to discover.