I remember my first exposure to Terry Pratchett. I was, I dunno, thirteen or thereabouts. My mom, an avid subscriber to the Science Fiction Book Club, got a copy of The Colour of Magic and left it on the end table. I'd heard her talking about how funny it was, with positive comparisons to his fellow Briton Douglas Adams, so I gave it a go. Several pages into it, I was still waiting for the funny parts. I gave up, put the book back, and went back to my collection of X-Men comic books in my own room. What can I say, I had a short attention span.
Some years later I tackled The Colour of Magic again, after seeing several more of Pratchett's Discworld novels make their way into my mom's collection. I pushed through the not-so-funny parts and got through the first chapter. I liked it. Then I got through the second chapter. I loved it. By the end I was in love with the puns, sideways parody, and of course Rincewind and the Luggage which made the story so utterly bizarre. I soaked up the sequel, The Light Fantastic, just as quick as I could.
I'm an obsessive fan now, pretty much. Because while his comic fantasy novels in the Discworld series do have their bad moments, they're outshined by the brilliant good ones. No writer since the American Dave Barry has ever made me laugh so much, so often, so consistently, and still made me think about and enjoy what was being said. Terry is clearly more interested in telling a good story and making it funny than in telling jokes and making them into a story. The latter would get old quick; the former is what draws readers back to the Discworld again and again. The characters are -- well, I was going to use words like "compelling," "believable" and "sincere," but what I really mean is that they're human. Each and every "hero/heroine" in Terry's novels are just as flawed, even at times intolerable, as real ones.
It didn't really surprise me to find out that Pratchett had an enormous following in his native land, far overwhelming the one he has here in the United States. It did cheese me to learn that every other English-speaking country got his books a full year before we did, but that's been rectified now. I no longer have to order them from overseas to get them first, but I do anyways. The British covers are just that much better. I don't know why Pratchett's American publisher thinks that his novels need these bland, minimalist covers in order to sell here, when the crowded, bizarre, amusing paintings that fill the British covers are so much more in line with the story that's inside.
It also didn't surprise me to find he has had, for some time now, a sizable following online, beginning with the newsgroup alt.fan.pratchett (which has thrived in part because Terry himself reads and posts to it when the opportunity is right) and culminating in the multi-mirrored Web site "The L-Space Web," http://www.Lspace.org . The site collects quotes, biographies, interviews, information about upcoming books, pictures, and other text straight from Pratchett himself. It's from there I first found a good biography of the guy, which I shall attempt to sum up here:
He was born in 1948 in Beaconsfield. Entered high school without any concrete ambitions to become a writer. Got his first short story published in a school magazine at the age of thirteen, and another in a commercial magazine at fifteen. He left school and took on a journalism career in 1965. While there, he finished writing his first book, The Carpet People, which was released in 1971 by a small publisher. The few reviewers who took notice of it loved it immensely, and Terry was off and running.
The Dark Side of the Sun followed in 1976, Strata in 1981, both done during the author's spare time while he continued in journalism and badly marketed by his current small publisher. The Colour of Magic was completed in 1983. It was, with a little work, given to a new publisher and eventually became a six-part serial on the BBC's "Woman's Hour." Listeners loved it. A major publishing house was found to maximize Terry's bestseller potential by the time The Light Fantastic arrived in 1986. Two novels later, Terry was confident enough to quit journalism and begin writing full-time. Readers were ecstatic. His bank account didn't suffer nearly as much as he thought it would, so he kept going. And he's still at it.
And he shows no signs of slowing down, either -- he went on to publish at least one new novel every year, and he maintains that pace today. By the mid-1990s a fellow by the name of Stephen Briggs had gotten permission from Terry to publish several playtexts of his novels, which became just as popular in Great Britain as the novels themselves. Terry published a short trilogy of non-Discworld book around that time -- Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Bomb, and Johnny and the Dead -- which fans bought, but he and his readers kept coming back to the Discworld again and again. Over the years his popular characters have evolved, grown, and changed with time, and Terry has even abandoned certain popular characters when they run out of story potential. Given that the usual trend is to milk any popular character, no matter how limited, for as long as humanly possible, this is a testimony to how dedicated Terry is to keeping his fans happy and his writing meaningful. I honestly think that if he ever stopped loving what he did, his readers would be the first people to notice.
He's a lot like his contemporary Tom Holt in style, people say. I've read Tom Holt. Personally, I think Terry's got him utterly outclassed.
As of this writing there are thirty-one Discworld novels and eleven non-Discworld novels he has authored or co-authored, which are being reprinted by publishers on a pretty much ongoing basis. For the sake of completeness I'll list them here, with a note for any content editor reading this that they should feel free to update it and the above numbers if I'm not around to do it myself:
The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy:
There are also several "reference books" to the Discworld Terry has authored or co-authored, as well as a number of short writings, which will not be enumerated here for the sake of brevity. You can find 'em at http://www.Lspace.org if you're interested, along with a few of the writings themselves.
Editor's note: Terry Pratchett died, aged 66, on March 12, 2015 from complications of Alzheimer's Disease.