Terry Pratchett Dies at 66

A sad day for SFF fandom, with the passing of Terry Pratchett at 66. Pratchett had been dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The Telegraph has a nice page of various tributes.

Pratchett was one of our great—if not the greatest—fantasy humorists. His long-running Discworld series is a wealth of humor, satire, and imagination; it has never gotten the credit it deserves as one of the best and most inventive fantasy series of the 1980s and 1990s.

I first read The Light Fantastic when I was in middle school. I bought the book at a bookstore on pure speculation, knowing nothing about it. Given that this is a direct sequel to The Colour of Magic, I read Pratchett’s book in a state of amazed confusion. I remember having no idea what was going on, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer scope of creation on display in the book: wizards, tourists, homicidal luggage. I told all my friends about Pratchett, and we proceeded to tear through his books over the next several weeks: The Colour of Magic, Mort (still a favorite of mine), and Equal Rites. Pratchett’s ability to continual generate new plotlines and new characters for his world, his ability to use fantasy not as a space of repetition but of innovation, his skill at poking fun at our society through the lens of another society, all placed him in the first class of fantasy writers.

I’ve read Pratchett my whole life. When I finished my dissertation—about the role of the Post Office in American literature—I celebrated by reading Going Postal. Just this summer I wrote an essay about Pratchett, Albert Camus, and the Luggage, set to appear in the forthcoming Discworld and Philosophy. Pratchett was one of the authors of my life, who touched me in my teens, twenties, and thirties. The world is lesser for not having him in it.

Pratchett never won a Hugo or Nebula award. Neither awards have ever known what to do with humorous/satirical SFF. Both awards failed to live up to the imagination that Pratchett showed in his best work: it’s easier to celebrate the serious and prestigious than the fantastic. Our field should have done better. Pratchett did receive Nebula nominations late in his career, in 2006 (Going Postal) and 2009 (Making Money). Neither are among his best books. Mort, Guards! Guards!, and Small Gods all would have been worthy winners, but I’d draw your attention to 2003, the year that Robert Sawyer won the Hugo for Hominids. Pratchett published The Night Watch in 2002, a twisty time-travel caper, that would have been an outstanding winner for that year.

None of that matters: Pratchett’s books matter. His legacy will stand, and I have no doubt that young SFF fans will be book up Pratchett books for decades to come, and discovering the same fantastic worlds that I did when I was a child.

Thank you, Terry, for everything you’ve done for me.

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4 responses to “Terry Pratchett Dies at 66”

  1. Joe Sherry says :

    From a Hugo standpoint, Pratchett declined his Best Novel nomination in 2005 for Going Postal. I am unaware if he had declined any previous nominations, though my gut tells me no.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      I didn’t know that. That makes me feel a little better about the Hugo process. I believe that was the WorldCon in Scotland? That was a very favorable year for British authors.

      I found this quote by Pratchett explaining his logic for declining: “The reason was that I wanted to *enjoy* the Worldcon. It’s not been a good 18 months, and I just *know* that the Japanese meal I had with friends that night did me more good than an evening of suspense:-)” Source. Seems as good a reason as any, and very Pratchett-like.

  2. Martin Wisse says :

    The thing about Terry was that by the time he was on the radar for the Hugos and Nebulas, ie. by the time he was known in America, he was big enough not to need or want them. He knew his worth and in British fandom certainly knew he was loved.

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