Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

A time of endings and beginnings

illustration, white cat

illustration, white cat

I’ve just finished reading the last Discworld novel. “The Shepherd’s Crown”.  The tile of this post comes from the book’s blurb.

A SHIVERING OF WORLDS

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning . . .

Endings and beginnings… It starts with an ending. An ending that stopped my bed time read. I wasn’t ready for… that. In the morning I tried again. With numerous breaks to clean tear-splattered glasses, or blow my nose one more time.

But as we all (should) know, every ending is a beginning. There’s a gathering of witches, the Feegles – it’s a Tiffany Aching story so that’s hardly a surprise – and a number of surprises. Oh – and laughs. Many, many laughs.

There’s a page at the end of the book, written by Terry’s editor. He’s anticipated the question so many of us must have asked ourselves as we read page one. How much of this is REALLY Terry? Yes, he wrote it. You can feel it, especially in that early part, where he writes about ending. “Nation” was published in the year his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed. It wasn’t Discworld, it wasn’t a part of any of Terry’s lexicon. And it was a hard read. So much death. So much pain. So much “why me?” “The Shepherd’s Crown” is much gentler, as though he’d come to terms with his mortality. It gathers together characters, and themes, from many of his earlier works. Although only one wizard, and none of the Watch, made the cut.

A reviewer on Amazon commented that some things were left hanging, things that might have been finished if only he’d been given more time. Even now, just writing about the book I feel the tears pricking. But it was a good ending. I’ll read it again. Hey – it’s a Terry Pratchett book. I’ve read every single one many times. I’m pleased to know there won’t be another Discworld novel. Terry’s legacy might not live forever – forever is a very long time – but it will last for as long as his die-hard fans live. And if something like Star Wars is anything to go on, new fans will read his work, and so it goes. Just like Shakespeare, Dickens, Asimov, Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he has a form of immortality. And now I’m blathering, so I’ll stop.

Oh, by the way, there’s a cat.

GNU Pratchett – a tribute to the late Sir Terry

The reverberations from Terry Pratchett’s demise are still circling the globe. I came across an article via Facebook. “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.” Here’s the link to the whole article

Since the ‘clacks’ is sort of a Steampunk internet, and Terry was a well-known geek, a few clever people came up with the idea of creating just such a function to honour Terry’s memory so his name will live on in the interwebs for as long as they exist. I (of course) have added the plugin to my website.

And while I was doing that, it occurred to me that there was an eerie echo of a story I wrote a while ago. It’s up on Wattpad, but here it is for you to read.

Into the Dark

Cover of Into the Dark

Cover of Into the Dark

Richard Newby put the razor back down on the wash stand. There didn’t seem much point in shaving, really. It wouldn’t matter anymore. Not where he was going.

He sidled out of the ensuite, taking care not to disturb Mary. He paused and looked down at her as he passed the bed. They’d been married for fifty-four years; she’d been his companion, his soul mate. Perhaps he should tell her what he was about to do? He shook his head. He’d been through this, agonised over the decision. Best he kept it to himself.

Richard moved on, closed the bedroom door softly behind him and went into his study. He spent most of his time here, sitting in front of his computer, surfing the net or fiddling. Mary told him he should walk or play golf, and she was probably right. But he’d been in IT all his life, and the doctors told you to keep your brain active, didn’t they? Find something you love and do it. That’s what he’d done

He eased himself into his chair and turned the machine on, a slight smile playing around his mouth as the operating system loaded. He licked his lips, not sure himself if he was nervous or eager. One way or another his life would never be the same again.

He loaded the song and listened one more time. It had been his inspiration, gentle and lilting. He smiled. Heaven and Hell displaying a ‘no vacancy’ sign.

The helmet was on a stand next to him, already plugged in. Richard slipped it over his head and pulled the visor down over his eyes. It fitted exactly, which was understandable. That was how he’d built it.

“Into the Dark,” he said.

***

Mary came in an hour later with his cup of tea and two biscuits.

“Here’s your tea, dear,” she said, putting the cup on the desk. “Are you going to take that thing off your head?” She shook his shoulder.

His body slumped sideways in the chair, the left arm dangling almost to the floor, the right on his lap.

Mary’s hands flew to her face. “Richard?”

She lifted his right hand, her fingers slipping around his wrist to feel for a pulse.

“Mary? Mary, over here.”

Mary frowned and peered at the helmet. “Where?”

“The computer, hunbun. Behind you.”

Mary peered at the screen, her expression wary. “Is this a joke?” she whispered. “Because it isn’t funny.”

“No, it’s me,” said Richard, pointing at his chest. “That thing there,” he, pointed at the body in the chair, “that’s just a hulk. I’m not there anymore.”

Mary gasped, her fingers flying to her mouth. “You’re dead?”

“It depends what you mean, hunbun. The body out there doesn’t work anymore because the operating system has turned off. But I’m fine here, in the cyber world.”

Her eyes widened. “You’re in the computer?”

“You might say that. Sort of. See that helmet on my—it’s—head? I worked out a way to transfer myself—my thoughts, my memories, my mind—into data sets. I’ve loaded all of that into this.” His hands swept down his sides to indicate himself, the being she could see on the screen. “What do you think?”

He was young again, of course. But better looking, fitter, more athletic, like one of those lifesavers at the beach. No need for the glasses he’d worn all his life. And he’d given himself a nose job and wavy, dark brown hair. And of course the tumour, that malignant thing in his chest, sapping his strength, turning his lungs to mash, that was gone, too.

“You look wonderful,” murmured Mary. “But… what about us? Why didn’t you say? When are you coming back?”

“I’m not coming back, darling,” he said gently. “This was a one way trip. And I didn’t want to say anything in case it didn’t work. But it has and I want you to come, too.”

Another avatar appeared next to him. Mary at twenty five. Only with bigger breasts and thinner thighs. He’d given her thicker, longer hair and full, luscious lips.

“Remember her, hunbun? Wouldn’t you like to be her again?”

Hope and longing shone in her eyes. Of course she’d want to be twenty-five again.

“How? What do I have to do?”

“Put on the helmet and pull the visor down over your eyes.”

Mary frowned. “Will I die?”

“Only your body. You will be here, with me.”

“But what if somebody turns off the computer? They will, you know.”

“Won’t matter,” said Richard with a wave of his hand. “We’ll be out there in cyberspace, riding the net. There’s always a server switched on somewhere.”

“What about food and… and going to the bathroom and such?”

Richard dismissed it with a snort. “All bodily things. They won’t concern you anymore. Neither will arthritis and bad knees. We’ll live forever and never grow old.”

She chewed her lip. “What about the children? They’ll be upset.”

“They’re hardly children anymore. They’ve got their own lives. And really, we’ll be saving them a lot of pain. The doctor said the lump was getting bigger. He gave me six, eight months.”

“Oh.” Her gaze lingered on the corpse in the chair and then lifted back to the screen. “The lump’s gone?”

“Of course. And here, it can’t come back. Go on, Mary, take the helmet off the body. There’s a clip under my—its—chin.”

She hesitated, staring at the computer screen as if trying to see inside, beyond the glass. “I’m frightened, Richard.”

“Mary… hun… we’ve talked about this. You don’t believe in heaven or in hell.”

She almost smiled. “No. Of course not.”

“So the option is… darkness. One day, the operating system fails and it’s over. For all eternity.”

She rubbed her hand across her mouth. She always did that when she was nervous. “And then I’d be…” She sighed. “Alone.”

“And so would I, Mary. Come on. Darkness isn’t the only option.”

She stood a little straighter, head cocked to one side, considering. “What will we do?”

“Anything you like. You’d be amazed at the sorts of things you can find in cyberspace. Visit anywhere in the world, sample all sorts of places, do…” He sniggered. “Do some things we haven’t done for a long time.”

She blushed and smiled. A series of expressions flitted across her face. He knew what she was thinking; the things she’d be giving up. The children, the bowls club and her friends. He crossed his fingers. Please, Mary, please.

Mary sucked in a deep breath. “All right.”

Richard watched her take the helmet off the… his body. There was a smile on its face and its eyes were open. Mary closed them with her fingers. She stood for a moment with the helmet in her hands, pressing her lips together.

“Come on, hun,” he whispered. “Push the… me… out of the chair and sit down.”

Mary reached out with a tentative left hand. A push, little more than a tap on the shoulder. Richard’s bodily remains slumped a little more, but remained in the chair. Mary sucked in a deep breath, swallowed, and pushed harder. The body slid sideways out of the chair and collapsed into an untidy heap on the floor. She sat down, gripped the helmet in her hands and placed it firmly over her head. It was a little bit loose, but that was all right. She fastened the clip and stared at him, a sparkle in her dark eyes.

“Now put down the visor and say ‘Into the Dark.’”

A nervous flick of her tongue across her lips and then she slid the visor down over her face. “Into the Dark.”

Richard saw her body stiffen and then relax and sag, almost as if it was deflating.

Beside him, Mary’s avatar looked down at her new body and laughed. “How about a kiss, big boy?”

 

(c) Copyright Greta van der Rol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Terry has left the planet #pratchett

Mort-coverI wrote most of this post a few years ago, when we first learned Sir Terry had Alzheimer’s. Today he and Death walked through that final door, no doubt with cats curling around their legs. I have a bookcase full of hard backs with his name on the cover. Goodnight, Terry Pratchett. Your name will live on.

I’ll always remember the first Discworld book I read. I was kicking my heels in the domestic terminal at Perth airport, browsing for a book to read on the long flight to Sydney. I’d seen the book with the cartoon cover in the SF section a few times before, but had skipped over it for spaceships and things. This time, I picked it up and read the blurb. Then I read the prologue, in which TP introduced everybody to the great space-going turtles that carried worlds on their backs. It was an Indian legend that I’d come across in my studies.

Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory.

After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. Since then, I’ve bought hard copies of every book Sir T has written and enjoyed them all, some more than others. Why? Because I like them.

That, dear reader, is the only reason I read books. However, I shall go a little further. Sir T breaks every rule in the Little Red Book of Writing. He uses ‘there was’ all the time. He indulges in great swathes of apparently superfluous narrative, such as regaling us with the amount of food etc consumed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He writes in accents. Sometimes he has prologues which serve no other purpose than to bring the reader up to speed. And so on.

What I love about his work is the way he can brew an eclectic mix of myth, folklore, history, archetypes and pure, hard science, all laced with a shrewd understanding of human nature and politics, and make it funny. Mind you, much of what he writes has a darker, more serious side. He examines racism frequently, using the on-going tensions between dwarves and trolls, people and paranormal people like vampires, werewolves and zombies to mirror our own behaviour in our round world. Sir Terry has sent up just about every icon we hold dear – he seated the four horsemen of the apocalypse around a table and had them learning how to play bridge; he examined what happened to heroes like Conan the Barbarian when they get old; he has mocked sexism (in ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ to mention two).  The church, academia, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli’s Prince – you’ll recognise them all in the Discworld.

In the midst of all this he creates believable characters such as the reformed alcoholic, reluctant member of the peerage Sir Samuel Vimes; Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax the tyrannical witches; the wizards at Unseen University and their Simian librarian. (The librarian was turned into an Orang Utan by a random discharge of magic in an early book and has since steadfastly avoided any attempt to persuade him to return to human shape.)

Sir Terry examines truths and mores as if they were rocks in a field. He picks them up, turns them over, looks underneath. Take Christmas, that iconic Christian festival. Sir Terry’s version is Hogswatch, when the Hogfather comes down from the north in a sleigh drawn by wild hogs. Except Death has to take the gig because the Hogfather is missing and we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kiddies, would we? So the archetypal Death wraps himself in a red coat and does the department store ‘meet the kiddies’ thing, which is absolutely hilarious. However, Terry digs deeper. Underneath that rock labelled ‘Christmas’ we find the meaning of that red coat, blood sacrifice to bring in the turning of the year.

There are so many examples. I could analyse every book and find serious messages hidden amongst the hilarity. It saddens me more than I can say to know Sir Terry has Alzheimer’s Disease. Long may he hold back its ravages.

***************************************************

It wasn’t for very long at all. He was just 66. His ghost will loom large in that cavalcade I wrote about in a previous post.

What is it with vampires, anyway?

Sorry. I just don’t get it. Why would anybody find a vampire sexy? C’mon, folks. They ‘live’ in coffins during the day and crawl out at night to suck people’s blood. I don’t mind vampires per se, you understand. In the right context and all that. Like Dracula, who wasn’t nice, anymore than the lovely gentleman upon whom I believe he was based (that would be Vlad the Impaler). And Terry Pratchett’s vampires, such as the family of vamps in Carpe Juggulum. They’re not nice, either.

But this fascination for blood-sucking fiends as sexy heroes is- sorry – just plain weird. I mean, do you find mosquitoes sexy? They come out at night and suck your blood and while they’re at it, they can leave you a nice little reminder like malaria or Ross River fever. Same thing, really; admittedly without any gratuitous sex but that would be really kinky, wouldn’t it?

I haven’t read Dracula the book but I did have a go at Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. For me it was a DNF* but I skim-read and I found the early parts particularly interesting where she describes the MC being ‘converted’ and his experience of draining a man’s blood. For me, she concentrated on what the MC gave up to be a vampire; normal meals, human companionship, daylight. I felt it was pretty sad, really. A shadow existence albeit for hundreds of years.

I don’t have the same WTF feeling about some of the other paranormals, like shape-shifters. I can imagine it would be cool to be able to change into a wolf or a tiger and I can see lots of sexy elements in there. Take Sir Terry’s werewolf, Angua. She’s a beautiful woman most of the time but she can change into a wolf at will. And yet to Terry’s credit, that dark side of the original legend shines through. Angua is constantly fighting her other nature and The Fifth Elephant goes deeper into her family and her past and her very disturbing brother, Wolfgang. As I write, some of the images from the movie An American Werewolf in London come to mind. Seriously not sexy.

Maybe it was the introduction of tuxedos and virgins in flimsy white nightgowns in Hollywood that has led to the sexification (sorry) of vampires. I noticed at least four movie versions of the classic Dracula book, the most recent in 1992 directed by no less than Francis Ford Coppola. But the idea of a one hundred-year-old vampire at a high school? It’s all beyond me. What about you?

* DNF = Did Not Finish

Hogfather the movie. A mixed experience

I’ve finally had a chance to watch ‘Hogfather’ the movie – based on Terry Pratchett’s book. After I’d watched the first episode (the second will be on Saturday) my other half said “I didn’t hear much laughter.” So true. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d seen and how it affected me. I also went back and re-read the book.

I have to say I don’t think the book translated well to the screen. It’s just too complex and it’s actually a rather dark tale. Mister Teatime (pronounced ‘Te-ah-tim-eh’) is an evil nutcase, superbly played, I must say, by Marc Warren in the film. Teatime isn’t somebody like the fearsome Mrs Bucket (Boo-kay). A baby-faced young man whose only outward appearance of madness is his weird eyes, he murders for amusement, kills people for whom he has no further use. Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, charges Teatime with the task of inhuming the Hogfather, a commission he has received from the shadowy ‘auditors’.

Sure, there are some genuinely funny parts to the book. Pratchett ‘gets’ kids and the whole sitting on Santa’s knee stuff, and the little ‘s’ which is a shy kid’s ‘yes’. The notion of a real, raw wood Santa sledge drawn by four wild boars replacing the curly sleigh and the pink papier-mâché pigs in the department store’s Santa grotto is hilarious. The kids LOVE the boars, which pee on the floor, generally stink and scare the bejaysus out of management. And the notion of Death, a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe, taking over the Hogfather role is mind-boggling. Only TP could have come up with that. But while there’s plenty of amusing by-play on the sides (the death of rats, the raven, the Cheerful Fairy, the oh-god of hangovers, the wizards, Ponder Stibbons and HEX etc etc at its heart, ‘Hogfather’ is a serious story with an interesting message. You might say it examines the real meaning of … not so much Christmas, but the ceremonies of the winter solstice. The more recent religions have tacked their message onto a primeval fear, that the sun will not return. In fact, that fear is stated – if the Hogfather is not found, the sun will not rise tomorrow.

This isn’t the only deep-seated belief Pratchett uses in this book. The Tooth Fairy looms large in the plot. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the concept of giving a child money for a tooth may very well stem from the fact that if the wrong people collect the teeth, the child could be in jeopardy. The analogy is to hair and nail clippings, which are used in spells to control people. In fact, the whole book is about fear and belief.

I can quite believe people who had not read the book would find it very difficult to follow the thread of the movie. Even I had to work at it, and I’ve read the book several times. I think perhaps the people who made ‘Going Postal’, the more recent transfer of a Pratchett novel to the screen, learnt a few lessons. ‘Going Postal’ deviates from the book in several ways, simplifying the plot for a TV audience. I can’t help but feel that the resulting screenplay lost rather a lot in translation but it was probably wise.

Which all goes to show why I’d rather read a book. You can uncover so many more layers.

A dark, warped mirror

I’ve just finished reading Sir Terry Pratchett’s latest, “Snuff”, a Discworld novel. Most people who know me are aware that I am a one-eyed, besotted Sir Terry fan and some people wonder why? I mean, let’s face it. The Discworld is a flat expanse riding on the backs of four elephants which stand on the back of a turtle. The place is so unlikely that only a powerful magical force keeps it going at all. And there’s witches and wizards. Pure, unadulterated fantasy. And he uses adverbs and long passages of exposition. Good grief, the man even has footnotes.

Right, you’ve had your sneer. Now consider yourself grabbed by the scruff of the neck and look at the Discworld. Look at its Dwarfs, Trolls, Werewolves, Vampires and Nac Mac Feegles. Look long and carefully at their lives and struggles, their politics and prejudices and what you will see gazing back at you is us. It’s a dark mirror, perhaps a little bit warped but you’ll recognise the players.

In this book I giggled at a six year old boy besotted with poo (well, they are, aren’t they)? I read the conversations between Sam Vimes, reluctant Duke of Ankh, Commander of the Watch, reformed alcoholic and one-time blackboard monitor from Cockbill Street in the Shades, and his patrician wife Lady Sybil, and giggled some more. They reminded me in many respects of my own conversations with my husband, accompanied by ‘yes, dear’ and knowing when to say nothing. Sir Terry described the machinations of a country manor house not with meticulous description but by playing out the interactions of the characters. He did the same with a country pub. As always, there is a mystery, which Sam notices because while he’s supposed to be on holiday, is a policeman ever on holiday? We have unlikely characters who discover that they could be heroes, prejudice in its most ugly form and politics at every turn. Vimes is the hero, of course, but he’s no Captain America. He is on the side of Justice despite having to prevent the dark side of his psyche from winning the internal battle. I was along for the ride, every step of the way.

And this without strict adherence to the Rules of Writing. There are no chapters, he uses adverbs and adjectives (although, it must be said, not excessively), he’ll tell you what the mood of the crowd is even though that’s outside the immediate point of view of the character, he’ll have sections of pure, unadulterated narrative as he explains certain points. And the footnotes; if you’re a fan like me, you’ll almost always read the footnotes as soon as they appear on the page. They’re always funny.

Sure, Sir Terry’s books are not to everybody’s taste. I’m sure he’d smile and shrug. When you’ve sold in excess of seventy million books, I guess you can afford to be magnanimous. One thing’s for sure – he’ll sell a hard back to me every time he has a new release.

 

Terry Pratchett – one of my favourites

Bookshelf full of booksI first met Terry Pratchett’s books in a news agents at Perth airport. I was looking for a book to read on the 5 hour flight to Sydney and idly picked up a paperback with a colourful cover showing all sorts of grotesque creatures. I read the first page (as you do) and discovered this novel was about a disc world carried on the backs of four elephants which stood on the carapace of a Star Turtle. So far so good. Then I read about the star turtle’s journey through the heavens. Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory.

After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. Since then, I’ve bought hard copies of every book Sir T has written and enjoyed them all, some more than others. Why? Because I like them.

That, dear reader, is the only reason I read books. However, I shall go a little further. Sir T breaks every rule in the Little Red Book of Writing. He uses ‘there was’ all the time. He indulges in great swathes of apparently superfluous narrative, such as regaling us with the amount of food etc consumed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He writes in accents. Sometimes he has prologues which serve no other purpose than to bring the reader up to speed. And so on.

What I love about his work is the way he can brew an eclectic mix of myth, folklore, history, archetypes and pure, hard science, all laced with a shrewd understanding of human nature and politics, and make it funny. Mind you, much of what he writes has a darker, more serious side. He examines racism frequently, using the on-going tensions between dwarves and trolls, people and paranormal people like vampires, werewolves and zombies to mirror our own behaviour in our round world. Sir Terry has sent up just about every icon we hold dear – he seated the four horsemen of the apocalypse around a table and had them learning how to play bridge; he examined what happened to heroes like Conan the Barbarian when they get old; he has mocked sexism (in ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ to mention two).  The church, academia, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli’s Prince – you’ll recognise them all in the Discworld.

In the midst of all this he creates believable characters such as the reformed alcoholic, reluctant member of the peerage Sir Samuel Vimes; Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax the tyrannical witches; the wizards at Unseen University and their Simian librarian. (The librarian was turned into an Orang Utan by a random discharge of magic in an early book and has since steadfastly avoided any attempt to persuade him to return to human shape.)

Sir Terry examines truths and mores as if they were rocks in a field. He picks them up, turns them over, looks underneath. Take Christmas, that iconic Christian festival. Sir Terry’s version is Hogswatch, when the Hogfather comes down from the north in a sleigh drawn by wild hogs. Except Death has to take the gig because the Hogfather is missing and we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kiddies, would we? So the archetypal Death wraps himself in a red coat and does the department store ‘meet the kiddies’ thing, which is absolutely hilarious. However, Terry digs deeper. Underneath that rock labelled ‘Christmas’ we find the meaning of that red coat, blood sacrifice to bring in the turning of the year.

There are so many examples. I could analyse every book and find serious messages hidden amongst the hilarity. It saddens me more than I can say to know Sir Terry has Alzheimer’s Disease. Long may he hold back its ravages.