The science-fiction and fantasy community lost a giant earlier today: Sir Terry Pratchett, best known for his Discworld series, passed away this morning at the age of 66 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of his career, he published over 70 novels and became famous for his humorous and satirical wit.
Pratchett was born on April 28th, 1948. At an early age, he decided he wanted to become an astronomer. Lacking the necessary skills in math, however, he instead became interested in science fiction, and turned to writing in his teens. His first short story, “The Hades Business,” appeared in a school publication when he was 13 years old, and it was republished in the August 1963 issue of Science Fantasy magazine. After high school, he began work as a journalist and later as a press officer for a nuclear power plant.
Pratchett published a number of additional short stories during the 1960s, and in 1971, he published his first novel, The Carpet People, a children's fantasy about a group of tiny people who live in their own world within a carpet. His next, The Dark Side of the Sun, which appeared in 1976, was a satirical look at some of the major space opera tropes found in the works of Larry Niven, Jack Vance and others. In 1983, he published The Colour of Magic, the first of his famed Discworld series. Larry Finlay, MD at Transworld Publishers, noted that "Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: he did so brilliantly, with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention."
Discworld is a comedic series set on a flat world balanced on the back of four elephants, which in turn stand on a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. Pratchett noted that the world came out of a desire "to have fun with some of the cliches. It was as simple as that." Through the Discworld novels, Pratchett satirized many tropes from the fantasy canon, such as those utilized by J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. Pratchett said in an interview that "[the] nature of Discworld gave me the opportunity to do all kinds of things. I could fit more or less anything into it." From the publication of The Colour of Magic in 1983, Pratchett turned out dozens of Discworld novels, amassing an enormous following across the world. In all, a total of 40 novels in the series have been published, with another, The Shepherd’s Crown, to be released in Sept. 2015. Along the way, he published a number of other novels, including Good Omens, co-written by Neil Gaiman. In 1998, Pratchett was named an Officer of the British Empire, and in 2002, an asteroid, 127005 Pratchett, was named in his honor. He was also the recipient of the British Science Fiction Association, Carnegie, Prometheus, Mythopoeic, Skylark, Norton and British Fantasy Awards, in addition to dozens of other nominations. In 2010, he earned the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Sadly, in 2007, Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. He indicated that he had “at least a few more books yet,” left in him. That he did: between 2007 and 2014, he published an additional 11 books, including a science fiction trilogy titled The Long Earth, co-authored by fellow British author Stephen Baxter. During this time, Pratchett also became an advocate for assisted suicide for critically ill patients. On March 12, 2015, he passed away at his home surrounded by his family, and with his cat sleeping on his bed.
Fittingly, in his book Going Postal, Pratchett wrote the following: “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
May his name never go unspoken.
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He can be found online at his site and on Twitter @andrewliptak.