WHEN he was knighted in 2009, Terry Pratchett made a sword. It was the natural accoutrement for a man who, without one, resembled an amiable wizard kitted out by a Houston department store.
With a little help from friends, he dug 80 kilos of iron ore from a convenient field and built a kiln in the back garden. Together the team forged a sword that might have bisected a snowflake, had one drifted past.
It also had a hidden ingredient. Mixed in with the smelt were bits of meteorite, the stuff of thunderbolts. By this Sir Terry put himself on a par with Blind Io, chief of his Discworld gods. Io held the monopoly of throwing bolts about, and thus effortlessly lorded it over Annoia, goddess of Things That Stick in Drawers; Bibulous, god of Wine and Things on Sticks; Errata, goddess of Misunderstandings; and Reg, god of Club Musicians.
The disc-shaped world in which these gods were worshipped—or, more often, blamed—had been created by Sir Terry in 1983, though it had possibly existed from all eternity, borne steadily through space on the backs of four giant elephants standing on an immense dim-sighted turtle. It had swum into his mind as he wrote press handouts for the Central Electricity Generating Board, and by 1987 had proved so phenomenally popular that he left the board to fend for itself. His 40 Discworld novels made him Britain’s bestselling author in the 1990s, and by this year he had sold 85m books in 37 languages: though not, to his disappointment, in Klatch or heathen Trob*.
The literati sniffed at his fantasies, but he gave as good as he got. He had no intention of writing literature, or adding to the piles already mouldering about. Instead he ornamented Discworld with Unseen University, which was never precisely Here or There, where faculty such as the Professor of Indefinite Studies had only to show up for meals, and where the Librarian was an orang-utan who, swinging through the shelves with his prehensile limbs, had reduced all existential inquiry to a craving for bananas.
Sir Terry had not been to university himself, Seen or Unseen. He had just about scraped through High Wycombe Technical High School. Astronomy was his passion, but his star-gazing was not backed up by being any good at maths. He learned instead—mostly from P.G. Wodehouse and H.G. Wells—that universes could be explored in other ways, and could be funny and dark and slyly topical, all at once.
So it was that he built the sprawling, unsewered metropolis of Ankh-Morpork and peopled its mazy alleyways with thieves, beggars, trolls, vampires, vegetarian werewolves and bemused tourists, as well as overworked wizards. People wondered how he was not overworked himself, producing two books a year. He simply loved doing it. Feature-film-makers and their bags of gold were regularly rebuffed; he was the only controller of this universe. (Just to prove it, he gave it eight colours of the spectrum, the eighth being fluorescent greenish-yellow-purple octarine, and let some characters move so fast that light stood red-faced in embarrassment.) His enormous cast of characters, once set in motion, would generally do what he wanted, give or take the odd axe malfunction.
Brandy with Tallis
Among those characters was Death. He had appeared in Sir Terry’s childhood playing chess in “The Seventh Seal” on TV, and had not changed much since. When noticed, as humans tried not to, he had sparkling blue eyes, a glowing scythe and a white horse called Binky. His gathering of souls was untidy—the good fingered, the bad spared—and his life oddly endearing, with cups of tea and curries, and a rubber duck in his bath. He spoke IN CAPITALS, like a coffin lid slamming. In 1991 a New Death appeared with no nice features, but he soon tangled with that scythe.
Knowing Death as he did, Sir Terry was taken aback when in 2007 Binky came nuzzling at his door. He was diagnosed then with a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s. As an optimist by nature, he determined to beat it; when, within a year, it had removed his power to write and type, he realised that might be too tall an order. But his anger was undiminished; and since he had always told Death what to do and where to go, he began to campaign loudly and publicly for the right to die when and how he liked. This was preferably not in a clinic in Switzerland, but in his garden, with his cat on his lap, an excellent brandy in his hand, and Thomas Tallis in the background. In the event he managed, unassisted, some of that; and also put the right-to-die debate in a useful forward gear.
Soon after his diagnosis it was rumoured, mostly in the Daily Mail, that he had found God. He thought this unlikely, since he could not even find his keys, for the existence of which he had empirical evidence. All the same, he admitted to hearing a voice that told him all was well; and to a feeling one February day, when the sunset reddened a ploughed field, that there was “an order greater than heaven”. He knew then, he thought, “where the gods come from”. But why not, like the gods and the universe he had created, from his own black-fedoraed head, and his own thunder-wielding hand?
Terry Pratchett and I started work on our science fiction series, The Long Earth, in the spring of 2010. It came out of a dinner-party conversation. We’d known each other for nearly 20 years, and talked about shared enthusiasms, the fiction, the science – which Terry called “the quantum”. Terry had always been a science fiction reader, and had produced two fine SF novels, but abandoned a third. Now he described that shelved idea and I could see why Terry had got stuck; his work was of character and dialogue, whereas this project was about landscapes and exploration. So we decided to try collaborating. We worked up ideas on the phone, and a Discworld convention that year turned into a kind of mass workshop. Terry always enjoyed engaging with the fans. He listened to them.
In October 2010 we started working sessions at his home in Wiltshire. Terry’s study is the chapel of an old monastic house, lined with dusty books and cluttered with Discworld souvenirs. Terry was always prolific, but as we worked he would be deliberate. He would sit in silence, or poke the fire in the stove, and think, and then produce an almost perfect sentence. As he drafted he liked to improvise. He said that if you gave him two characters talking in a room, the story would come. And as we worked we drilled deep into the heads of the characters, especially the young ones. I could see why his Tiffany Aching novels, meant for young adults, are so popular.
But when we started work it was already a couple of years after his condition had been diagnosed [early-onset Alzheimer’s]. His sight was the first to be affected, a cruel affliction for any writer. But Terry found workarounds. He used custom-built voice- recognition software to dictate his drafts, then revised them with the help of his supremely loyal business manager, Rob Wilkins. I read printed manuscripts to him, which we would amend line by line, sitting by the stove.
As the core condition began to affect him, he needed more workarounds and assistance, and the work was interrupted by his commitments to the causes of dementia sufferers and right-to-die campaigns. But work was everything to Terry, after his family. If anything, he worked even harder.
The last time I saw him was a sunny day last summer. We went into Salisbury for an author photograph by the cathedral. Even then he had new ideas for the books. What he liked about science fiction, I think, was the way it addresses the bigger picture. “By the time we get to Book Five,” he said to me, “will we find out what it’s all about?”
Read the full article on the Guardian’s website.
Terry Pratchett, who died last week at the age of 66, will live on in people’s memory thanks to his books. But thanks to a tribute from the web community Reddit, Pratchett’s name will also live on in a way in keeping with his own ideas.
Going Postal, Pratchett’s 2004 Discworld novel, introduces “the clacks” (a form of telegraph, and thought by many fans to be the Discworld’s early predecessor to the internet in the books). A murdered “clacksman” called John Dearheart is honoured by other characters with GNU John Dearheart, a piece of code that keeps his name running up and down the clacks.
The letters GNU were a hack to ensure Dearheart’s name would continue indefinitely. G meant passing on the message, N meant “not logged” and U meant it must be returned on reaching the end of the line.
A thread called “GNU Terry Pratchett” was created as a way to keep Pratchett’s name running actively through the internet, rather than relying on a passive archive of articles.
Reddit users had originally planned to keep the thread running indefinitely, but new rules meant a thread can only last for six months.
It was then decided to set up a new thread each six months instead, but then a user came up with GNU Terry Pratchett and people quickly started to post the term on the Reddit Discworld forum, and in tribute threads.
The GNU code was designed as a way to add Pratchett to the HTML code of websites.
Initially, this was limited to people who ran their own specific type of server, but developers soon posted ways of adding the code to different servers, apps, proxies, and even to mail servers.
There is now even a plug-in for the popular blogging and website software, WordPress.
Now GNU Terry Pratchett will run through the internet forever, underlining Pratchett’s own line in Going Postal: “A man’s not dead while his name’s still spoken.”
The late Terry Pratchett will take his fans on one more trip to Discworld, with a final novel set in his fantasy universe, The Shepherd’s Crown. The news comes as fundraising in Pratchett’s name has reached more than £40,000 in less than a week.
Starring Tiffany Aching, the teenage witch possessed of “first sight and second thoughts” who has appeared in four bestselling young adult novels to date, The Shepherd’s Crown will be the 41st Discworld novel. The follow-up to 2013’s Raising Steam was first announced at last year’s Discworld convention, which the novelist had been unable to attend, citing the “embuggerance” that was his early onset Alzheimer’s. His assistant Rob Wilkins read the first chapter to fans at the event.
The work was originally to be published this October. Illustrator Paul Kidby wrote on his blog in February that he was “currently enjoying drawing the art for Terry Pratchett’s next Discworld novel, which will be published in the autumn”. Following Pratchett’s death on 12 March, at the age of 66, Kidby confirmed to the science-fiction site io9 that the novelist had completed The Shepherd’s Crown last summer. But Pratchett’s publisher Transworld said on 18 March that a date for publication is not currently set.
Another Pratchett novel is also due out this year. The Long Utopia, the fourth in his science fiction series The Long Earth, co-written with SF novelist Stephen Baxter, is set in a universe with an infinite number of parallel Earths which characters can “step” between. It will be published in June.
The two books look set to be the final additions to a literary career that spanned more than 70 novels and has won the author millions of fans.
Pratchett’s publicist, Lynsey Dalladay, set up a JustGiving page in his name following his death. So far, fans have donated more than £40,000 for the Research Institute for the Care of Older People.
Read the full article on the Guardian website.
It is with immeasurable sadness that we announce that author Sir Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66.
Larry Finlay, MD at Transworld Publishers:
“I was deeply saddened to learn that Sir Terry Pratchett has died. The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds.
In over 70 books, Terry enriched the planet like few before him. As all who read him know, Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: he did so brilliantly, with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention.
Terry faced his Alzheimer’s disease (an ‘embuggerance’, as he called it) publicly and bravely. Over the last few years, it was his writing that sustained him. His legacy will endure for decades to come.
My sympathies go out to Terry’s wife Lyn, their daughter Rhianna, to his close friend Rob Wilkins, and to all closest to him.”
Terry passed away in his home, with his cat sleeping on his bed surrounded by his family on 12th March 2015. Diagnosed with PCA  in 2007, he battled the progressive disease with his trademark determination and creativity, and continued to write. He completed his last book, a new Discworld novel, in the summer of 2014, before succumbing to the final stages of the disease.
We ask that the family are left undisturbed at this distressing time.
A Just Giving page donating to the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) has been set up in his memory: www.justgiving.com/Terry-Pratchett
These special early proof copies of The Long Utopia have just arrived in the office. The fourth in Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett’s Long Earth trilogy will be out in hardback on June 18th.
2045-2059. After the cataclysmic upheavals of Step Day and the Yellowstone eruption humanity is spreading further into the Long Earth, and society, on a battered Datum Earth and beyond, continues to evolve.
Now an elderly and cantankerous AI, Lobsang lives in disguise with Agnes in an exotic, far-distant world. He’s convinced they’re leading a normal life in New Springfield – they even adopt a child – but it seems they have been guided there for a reason. As rumours of strange sightings and hauntings proliferate, it becomes clear that something is very awry with this particular world.
Millions of steps away, Joshua is on a personal journey of discovery: learning about the father he never knew and a secret family history. But then he receives a summons from New Springfield. Lobsang now understands the enormity of what’s taking place beneath the surface of his earth – a threat to all the worlds of the Long Earth.
To counter this threat will require the combined efforts of humankind, machine and the super-intelligent Next. And some must make the ultimate sacrifice . . .
Read more details over on BBC Radio 4′s website.
Commissioning Editor George Spender said: ‘As a long-time admirer of the Discworld series it’s been a real thrill working on these new adaptations with Stephen. These highly inventive plays are perfect for theatre companies looking for something original to stage.’
Find out more.
We’re absolutely thrilled to reveal the cover for the next book in Terry Pratchett’s and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series.
The Long Utopia hits the shelves in the UK on 18th June 2015!
Find out more: http://bit.ly/LongUtopia
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