Saturday, April 4, 2009

Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Fantastic

Quite a while ago, I reviewed the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Since then, we've (read: Alex) written a whole lot about Neil Gaiman and even included his blog in our blogroll, but Terry Pratchett fell off the map entirely.

Well, that's about to change.

It's been a long time since we've had a guest post, but neko-chan is back with a much-needed injection of literature, fantasy, and
not Neil Gaiman. I mean... uh... and Terry Pratchett. *ahem* Enjoy!

Sir Terence David John Pratchett, OBE (Onion Bagel Enthusiast) is easily the best English author to rock the world since Shakespeare. He is a master of his craft, bringing a stinging sense of wit and a dash of jovial spoof to the science-fiction and fantasy genres. In fact his writing is so brilliant that not only was he appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 for “services to literature,” but was also knighted at the start of this year.

Bottom line is: Why haven’t you read all of his books yet?

For those of you charlatans who are unknowing of his awesomeness, here is a good place to start:

Strata - One of his first books, Strata is a masterpiece of science-fiction. Set in a futuristic world where space has been conquered, aliens run amok, and planets and genetics are both custom-built, one woman will learn a secret that will change all of history. This book is both clever and psychologically intriguing, and it holds its own as a classic example of the science-fiction genre (i.e. humanoid beasties + space + broken technology).

Now in 1983, Terry Pratchett wrote what would become the first in an epic series of books about a little place called Discworld. This is where the majority of his stories take place, with recurring characters and settings that his fans have come to know and love. As of the end of last year, there have been 36 separate Discworld novels published.

The basic premise is that a flat world floats through space, resting upon the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand upon the back of a giant turtle. The characters and countries presented in this world are often satirical parodies of current events, historical happenings, or stock genre footage. It is a world full of magic and myth, where down-on-their-luck wizards can rub elbows with geriatric barbarians, and Death has a sense of humor and a love of kittens.

As he puts it [Pratchett, not Death --ed.]: "The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off."

Of the Discworld novels, the following are the key books every fan (that means you) should read. They contain an introduction to the main recurring plot arcs and characters, such as The Wizards, Death, The Watch, and The Witches.

The Colour of Magic – This book is the first novel in the series, and as such is the perfect introduction to Discworld. The story follows the exploits of Rincewind, a wizard of extraordinary luck who manages to get himself embroiled in the worst of situations and still survive to run away.

Mort – Death makes his first appearance, and he’s taking job applications.

The Light Fantastic – Continuing the saga of Rincewind, this book introduces Cohen the Barbarian. That’s really all I need to say. Cohen. The. Barbarian.

Men at Arms – Captain Vimes, an everyday copper and leader of the City Watch, is getting married. As if this isn’t bad enough, his new recruits include a werewolf and a boulder (read: troll), and on top of that he is confronted by a madman with new-fangled technologies who threatens political coup. How much drama can one man take?

Lords and Ladies – Tipping the hat to both classic and Shakespearian fantasy, this novel revolves around the epic battle between The Witches and Elves in an ultimate smack-down battle-for-control. Oh, and there’s another wedding.

Other choice novels include Small Gods, The Last Hero, Monstrous Regiment, and Going Postal. [Editor's note: The Last Hero was my first real exposure to Discworld, and I loved it. Hilarious and beautifully illustrated picture book (and as such was very easy to read--yay literacy!). Highly recommended.]

Now if books aren’t really your thing, there are countless other ways to commune with the genius of Terry Pratchett:

- Animated television specials of both Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters have been produced, as well as feature-length live action TV specials of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. A TV version of Going Postal is currently in production.

- BBC Radio 4 has dramatized at least seven Discworld novels into radio serial programs.

- Several books have been adapted into plays or musicals. The National Theatre in London will be performing a version of Nation towards the end of this year.

- Four of his books have been prettified into graphic novels, and are available at your LCS.

- Four videogames have been released based on the Discworld novels, including 2 PC games, one PlayStation game, and an old-school gem for the Commodore 64. My favourite is the point-and-click adventure game where you play as Rincewind, and The Luggage is your inventory.

- An online multi-user-dungeon has been fan-created so you can play as a character inside a text-based Discworld universe.

- GURPS has created not one, but two sourcebooks for use in the Discworld universe.

- A board game was produced a few years back, but is a rare treasure to get a hold of.

- Finally, countless merchandise opportunities are available for everyone from the unhealthily obsessed to the culturally-accepted obsessed.

In conclusion, why are you still reading this when you should be reading a Terry Pratchett novel? If you want to laugh, if you love geek or cultural references, if you even mildly enjoy fantasy or science-fiction then you will be an instant fan of his work. So grab a novel, raise a glass, and celebrate this paragon of the writing community.

[Images from all over the place. My opinion of Neil Gaiman from preferring the parts of Good Omens that Pratchett was allegedly responsible for, and from not enjoying Neverwhere or MirrorMask. At all. However, I loved The Last Hero. The way I calculate it, that's Pratchett with 2 for 2, and Gaiman with 1/2 for 3. Not a critique against Gaiman's talent; just a statement of my own preference in entertainment. The end.]


Anonymous said...

Note from Neko-chan:

I happen to love Gaiman and Pratchett equally. I bought Nathaniel his copy of Good Omens in the hope that he would get hooked on both authors at once. However, Gaiman has received a good bit of ink on this blog, whereas Pratchett has gone virtually unnoticed. I felt this was amiss, and thusly penned an article to rectify the situation. Both authors are masters of the written word, and deserve to be recognized for their works.

Anonymous said...

Your opinion of Neil Gaiman what? Your sentence kind of wandered away from you.

Flashman85 said...

Anonymous #2, I admit my sentence might not have been formed in the best way possible, but I think it was technically gramatically correct. Just view it as a stylistic continuation of the previous sentence. In other words:

"Images in this post came from all over the place. My opinion of Neil Gaiman comes from liking Pratchett's contributions to Good Omens better than Gaiman's contributions, and from a dislike of Neverwhere and MirrorMask."

Hopefully that's a bit better?

=Tamar said...

Rincewind first meets Cohen the Barbarian in the second Discworld novel, The Light Fantastic.

Flashman85 said...

=Tamar: I have consulted with the post author; this tragic error has been rectified, thank you!