This one hurts.
I’ve written obituary articles on here for people like Leonard Nimoy, Elisabeth Sladen and Roger Ebert. And while all were important to me in certain special ways, none were quite as important, quite as interesting, and quite as enjoyable as Terry Pratchett.
Pratchett was born in the UK in 1948. From an early age he’d wanted to be a writer, and his first story was published when he was thirteen. Not bad. From there he drifted into a career in journalism, and eventually wound up as Press Officer for the Central Power Generating Board, which covered three nuclear power plants; something he found very amusing in the wake of the incident at Three Mile Island.
Things changed dramatically for Pratchett’s life in 1983 when he sold The Colour of Magic; the first of what would end up being forty books in the Discworld series. It wasn’t the best of his works, as he himself would later admit, but it was the start of something greater.
Pratchett’s writing career really took off with the publication of Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. Not long after that, the Discworld novels took a turn with one of the best books in the series; Small Gods. It was around this time that he did the math and realized it was now costing him money to go to work, so he left the nuclear industry to write full-time.
And write he did! In addition to the forty main range Discworld novels, he also wrote Nation, a book about a young boy and a young girl trying to survive and rebuild a society on an island devastated by a tidal wave. There was also Dodger, a story about a sewer rat in Victorian London and how he rises up into the world. There were also other small series of books, like the Truckers series, and the Johnny books. He even ventured into non-fiction with The Science of Discworld and its sequels, as well as A Slip of the Keyboard.
In 2007, Pratchett’s world took a bit of a turn, when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It was not a happy thing, to put it mildly, but he took it in stride, describing it as an “embuggerance”, and working hard to help Alzheimer’s patients throughout the UK and the world. It was an odd form of the disease, which left him with his memory, but severely impaired his motor skills. He also became an advocate for the “right to die” movement in the UK and worldwide.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pratchett twice. First was at a book signing in Seattle, where he talked about his love of Seattle’s chowder, and his record for the amount of time from landing at Sea-Tac to having his first bowl of that visit at Pike Place Market (something like an hour, which is fairly impressive).
The second time was here in Phoenix a couple of years ago. It was long after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, and it was clear that he wasn’t quite as vibrant and lively as he had been. Still, he related a story of getting his knighthood, which involved meeting the Queen. He said that while in Buckingham Palace, he’d noticed that the Queen and his own mother were about the same age and same build. He mentioned that he wanted to see if he could find the light switch and pull-off a bit of a swap.
One of my favorite quotes from Pratchett was this, “”It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.” I can think of few better statements about the man and his writing. He will be severely missed.