DEATH has come for the humorist. Sir Terry Pratchett (b.1948) died on March 12 surrounded by his family. Pratchett had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. This struggle has led Sir Terry to take a leading role in the battle for the right to die with dignity.
Pratchett’s first novel was The Carpet People published in 1971 and was followed by The Dark Side of the Sun in 1976 and Strata in 1981. Moving the flat earth from the science fiction novel Strata to a fantasy setting, he published the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic in 1983. While the Discworld books were originally intended as a satirical look at the tropes of fantasy, Pratchett quickly used them to examine modern culture and technology, publishing scores of books in the series as well as books related to them. Many of the books were turned into plays or television shows as well. The Discworld novels have also inspired their own conventions.
When the Discworld novels were first published, Pratchett was frequently described as being fantasy’s version of Douglas Adams. Although this was an obvious comparison, it was wrong on many levels. Both men wrote satire, but Pratchett’s had more depth, at least as his series went on. Pratchett also was much more prolific than Adams, who used to say he loved deadlines and the sounds they made as they rushed by.
On occasion, Pratchett collaborated with other authors, including Neil Gaiman for Good Omens, Jack Cohen & Ian Stewart for the Science of Discworld books, Jacqueline Simpson for The Folklore of Discworld, and Stephen Baxter for the Long Earth trilogy. Pratchett’s recent works have been written with Pratchett dictating them to an assistant as Alzheimers impaired his ability to type.
In 2000, I had the privilege of interviewing Terry Pratchett. He was flying into Chicago from Austin and it was a stormy night. I arrived at the hotel to learn that he wasn’t there. I checked at the desk…no message. I waited in the lobby for about an hour, hoping he would show up. Eventually, a sodden figure entered. I approached him and introduced myself. “Oh, good. You got my message that I would be late.” I told him I hadn’t as we walked up to the front desk. As he checked in, the clerk said, “Mr. Pratchett, we have a message for you.” And he informed Terry that he would be late in arriving and should wait until he got there. It seemed a perfectly absurd introduction to Terry Pratchett.
In addition to being knighted as a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth, Pratchett has received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Karl Edward Wagner Award for Special Achievement, the Forry Award, and the Skylark Award. His novel I Shall Wear Midnight won the Andre Norton Award and the Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Award. Pratchett was a Guest of Honor at Noreason IV, the 2004 Worldcon.
When I was editing Magical Beginnings, I contacted Terry to see if I could reprint “The Hades Business,” his first short story. He declined the offer, telling me it was an horrible piece of juvenilia which would never be reprinted. You can judge for yourself, since the year after Magical Beginnings was published the story appeared in the NESFA Press collection Once More* with Footnotes. More recently, it was reprinted in A Blink of the Screen, which will be published in the US for the first time next week.
Sir Terry will be missed, as will the potential for more Discworld novels written by him. However, he has left behind a legacy of humor in his books, plays, television shows, video games, board games, statuettes. His battle with Alzheimers and the struggle for the right to die with dignity led to three documentaries: Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, and Terry Pratchett: Facing Extinction. Even when talking about the ultimate journey with DEATH, Pratchett infused what he had to say with his trademark humor, perhaps because since The Colour of Magic he knew DEATH well.
He was the foremost humorist of our field.