RIP Terry Pratchett

“Don't think of it as dying, just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.”

Condolences can be left on his Facebook page.

I didn’t get into Pratchett when everyone else did in the 90s. I’d already grown out of humorous fantasy like the Xanth novels in my early teens and wrongly assumed that Discworld was roughly the same. Pratchett is a much, much (much!) better writer than Anthony, and practically requires annotations or an extensive yet wide-ranging education and acute attention to possible allusion to fully appreciate. A decade later, I finally read Pyramids and later Small Gods. The latter has proven to be a reliable gateway drug to of the other Discworld books for many of my friends and acquaintances.

Something I didn’t appreciate until fairly recently is that writing humorous fiction — particularly fantasy — is bloody hard. It’s far too easy to slip into parody, and consistently writing things that are both clever and funny for most people is very difficult to do. You can count on the fingers of one hand the people who managed the feat at all[1]. Pratchett managed to do it for 40-plus novels in the Discworld setting alone, which makes him frankly amazing and deserving of every penny he earned from it.

“I realized I was rich,” he recounted, “when I got a call from my agent one Thursday. That cheque I mailed you—did you get it? He asked. And I realized I couldn’t find it: lost down the back of the sofa or something. Can you cancel it and mail me a new one? I said. And he said, yes I can do that, but you realize you won’t be able to deposit it before next week and you’ll lose the interest on it? And I said sure, just go ahead, cancel it, and send me a new one. Then I put the phone down and realized it was for half a million pounds.” — anecdote recounted by fellow author Charles Stross

He will be remembered for decades as that be-hatted fellow who wrote all those wonderfully many-layered books about a cosmologially (and temporally) improbable nexus to humor. I sincerely doubt that in my lifetime any other author will even come close enough to be compared to him. Take good care of him, Death.

  1. In my opinion at least: L. Sprague de Camp was clever, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Fritz Leiber, ditto. Piers Anthony was always more punny than funny, best appreciated before age 14, and the sexual subtext of nearly all of his work is more than vaguely creepy once you get old enough to start recognizing it. Robert Asprin’s output was inconsistent, and I strongly suspect that Jody Lynn Nye was heavily involved in everything he wrote after Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections, whether credited or not.  ↩