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Pratchett, Terry

Entry updated 16 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-2015) UK author who began publishing with "The Hades Business" in Science Fantasy in 1963, collected with other (mostly early) stories as A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction (coll 2012). For many years he was in full-time employment, as a journalist until 1980 – contributing many short stories to the Bucks Free Press "Children's Circle" section under the pseudonym "Uncle Jim" – and as a publicity officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board until 1987; as a consequence, his early books were written and published intermittently. Early tales which first appeared in the Bucks Free Press and Western Daily Press 1965-1973 were collected as Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories (coll 2014); further such stories for the Western Daily Press, chiefly as by Patrick Kearns, were eventually traced and assembled as «A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories» (coll 2023).

His first novel, The Carpet People (1971; rev 1992), is a fantasy for children based on the Great and Small notion of a world of minute beings living among the (to them vast and forest-like) strands of a carpet (see Wainscot Society). The Dark Side of the Sun (1976), sf, makes gentle fun of the Alien-cluttered Known Space books of Larry Niven; further targets, including Ron Goulart, Jack Vance, and favourite sf tropes like Macrostructures, mysterious Forerunners, Living Worlds and a Robot playing barrack-room lawyer with the Laws of Robotics, are also affectionately addressed. Strata (1981) also Parodies Niven in particular and other Hard-SF writers in general, in this case by depicting an artificial flat world embedded within Ptolemaic heavens – it is a Pocket Universe, in fact – seemingly constructed by the ancient Spindle Kings (one of many apparent sets of universe-shaping Forerunners), though in fact Builder Gods were responsible and much more of the galaxy's past has been faked than was suspected even by the most sceptical.

The flat world of Strata is generally regarded as the prototype of Discworld, nominally a fantasy creation borne through space on the back of a huge turtle: an sf world-building premise does unseriously underlie the Discworld books, which made Pratchett famous. The novels themselves are Fantasy, but fantasy to which the usual trappings of Magic become increasingly incidental. The central series comprises The Colour of Magic (1983), The Light Fantastic (1986), Equal Rites (1987), Mort (1987), Sourcery (1988), Wyrd Sisters (1988), Pyramids (1989), Guards! Guards! (1989), Eric (1990) with Josh Kirby (responsible until his death for all the UK Discworld novel covers) given equal billing on the original edition (the text is heavily illustrated; paperback editions, lacking the illustrations, give Pratchett alone as author), Moving Pictures (1990), Reaper Man (1991), Witches Abroad (1991), Small Gods (1992), Lords and Ladies (1992), Men at Arms (1993), Soul Music (1994), Interesting Times (1994), Maskerade (1995), Feet of Clay (1996), Hogfather (1996), Jingo (1997), The Last Continent (1998), Carpe Jugulum (1998) (see Vampires), The Fifth Elephant (1999), The Truth (2000), Thief of Time (2001), The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable (2001) – extensively illustrated by Paul Kidby, who replaced Josh Kirby as default UK cover artist for the series – Night Watch (2002), Monstrous Regiment (2003), Going Postal (2004), Thud! (2005), Making Money (2007), Unseen Academicals (2009), Snuff (2011) and Raising Steam (2013). They make up the finest set of pure comedies the genre has yet seen.

The Discworld sequence as listed above contains several intersecting subseries, ranging from romps featuring the inept wizard Rincewind (introduced at the outset, in The Colour of Magic) to noir humour of considerable power. Of particular sf interest is Pratchett's development of Discworld's chief City, Ankh-Morpork – initially perhaps no more than a nod to Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar – into an intricately sleazy metropolis with all the bustle and stench of Victorian London. This city is subjected to gradual industrial revolution under the watchful eye of its ruthless and Machiavellian yet oddly sympathetic dictator, Lord Vetinari the Patrician. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch police-procedurals confront Captain Vimes of the Watch – an instinctive socialist and anti-Patrician – with threats that move steadily away from fantasy (a dragon in Guards! Guards!) to the high-velocity rifle of Men at Arms; an elaborate poisoning plot complicated by Robot-like Golems in Feet of Clay; a highly popular and potentially disastrous War in Jingo (also featuring a voyage Under the Sea in another new Invention, the submarine); all too familiar problems with restive immigrant communities, here dwarfs and trolls, in The Fifth Elephant and Thud!; and even the dynamics of an internal city revolution in Night Watch, albeit thirty years in the past and visited by Timeslip. Irreversible-seeming Disaster afflicts Discworld in Thief of Time, when a Mad Scientist based in Ankh-Morpork creates the ultimate Time-measuring device and thus brings about the End of Time. The Watch becomes sidelined by the Invention of the printing press and hence of investigative journalism in The Truth, and recedes into the background as a new ex-conman hero is recruited by the Patrician to tackle huge financial frauds involving the continent-wide "clacks" semaphore system (featuring knowingly Internet-like protocols and "c-mail" addresses) and the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork in, respectively, Going Postal and Making Money. Pratchett's serio-comic rephrasing of hard Political questions in the Discworld context is highly effective; Night Watch won the Prometheus Award for Libertarian SF. The final adult novel Raising Steam introduces steam-powered rail Transportation and uses it to help solve an acute political problem; in what seems a conscious farewell to the Discworld sequence, the story features many more references to past novels (including brief character cameos) than Pratchett normally permitted himself.

Of the standalone novels, Pyramids plays entertainingly with Ancient Egyptian mythology and burial customs, with sober as well as comic reflections on a death-obsessed culture. Small Gods (incidentally featuring the Discworld version of ancient Greece, with a plenitude of Mad Scientist philosophers) is Pratchett's angriest novel thanks to its unsparing depiction of an oppressive monotheist Religion that makes routine use of Torture and ritual execution – as seen through the eyes of a young monk who is a kind of holy fool, possessed of eidetic Memory, and who eventually speaks truth not merely to power but to the gods (see Gods and Demons).

Discworld, once described by its author as a "world and mirror of worlds", is full of literary, science-fictional and real-world echoes. When a Golem joins the City Watch to help maintain law and order in Feet of Clay, there are clear resonances with RoboCop (1987); a full-fledged Ankh-Morpork Space Flight programme in The Last Hero, though powered by dragon combustion, slyly imitates the Apollo missions; Hex, the ant-driven Computer of Unseen University, develops from a source of joke slogans ("Anthill Inside") and error messages to a powerfully idiosyncratic AI. Such a list could be extended indefinitely. In The Science of Discworld (1999) with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, and its sequels, the real-world links are deliberately planted for Pratchett's collaborators to expound upon in lively and provocative popular-science commentary. A subsidiary Discworld series about the young witch Tiffany Aching, beginning with The Wee Free Men: A Story of Discworld (2003), is no less successful though written for children and/or Young Adults (Tiffany grows up throughout), but remains firmly planted in fantasy. The fifth volume in the sequence, The Shepherd's Crown (2015), is Pratchett's last completed novel; as in Raising Steam there is some falling-off of coherence, but the outline of his intentions is clear and it won the Locus Award as best young adult book. Once More with Footnotes (coll 2004) assembles, along with other fiction and essays, the few Discworld short stories.

Pratchett's first non-Discworld series, the Book of the Nomes Children's-SF trilogy – about small extraterrestrials stranded for many of their brief lifetimes on Earth, ejected from the comfort of their initial Wainscot-Society existence in an old-fashioned English department store, and eventually attempting escape from Earth – comprises Truckers (1989), Diggers (1990) and Wings (1990), all three being assembled as The Bromeliad (omni 1993). Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990; rev 1990) with Neil Gaiman is a comic fantasy about angels, demons, Antichrist and the End of the World. The youthful protagonist of Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), sf for Young Adults, finds himself morally obliged to help the Alien space warriors of a computer Videogame escape further futile combat with human players; the sequels are Johnny and the Dead (1993), Science Fantasy in which Johnny fights on behalf of its dead residents to keep developers from destroying a cemetery; and Johnny and the Bomb (1996) in which Johnny and friends experience the complexities of Time Travel to and from World War Two. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001), a standalone Young Adult novel of Discworld whose travelling troupe of rats led by a scheming Cat (all talking animals granted Intelligence by magical contamination) operates a profitable scam version of the Pied Piper legend, won the Carnegie Medal.

The standalone novel Nation (2008) is set in the Victorian era of an Alternate-World Earth with several slight differences from our familiar geography, including an island chain in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean (South Pacific) which includes the hero's tiny Nation – erased by a tsunami during his absence for an ordeal/ritual of transit into manhood. Rebuilding the shattered community with crucial help from a young, female and highly competent British castaway leads to an effective and tender Bildungsroman narrative, with warm pleas for the importance of retaining or regaining historical and scientific lore – including insights of Astronomy discovered by the Nation in ancient times long before "modern" science.

Pratchett was made an OBE for services to literature in 1998, and knighted in the UK New Year Honours list for 2009. Going Postal was a finalist for the Best Novel Hugo in 2005 until Pratchett chose to withdraw it; how it would have fared will never be known. Making Money won him a 2008 Locus Award; he received the World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2010 and the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult fiction (see Nebula) for I Shall Wear Midnight (2010). Though suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease – afflicting the posterior lobe, and therefore primarily visual and motor skills, forcing him to dictate rather than type his final works – he continued to write, publish and appear regularly on UK bestseller lists until 2014, when he announced his enforced withdrawal from public activities. In 2016 he was added to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. [DRL/JC]

see also: Adventure; BSFA Award; Chess; Comets; Games and Sports; Humour; Icons; Leonardo da Vinci; Paradox; Poisons; J B Morton; Poltergeists; Psionics; Psi Powers; Satire; Secret Masters; Skylark Award; Shapeshifters; Space Elevator; Stars; Subliminal; Swearing; Terraforming; Time Police; Worldcon; World Ships.

Sir Terence David John Pratchett

born Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire: 28 April 1948

died near Salisbury, Wiltshire: 12 March 2015




Discworld: The Science of Discworld

These works each consist of a short Discworld novel or novella written by Pratchett solo, whose chapters alternate with nonfictional scientific exposition of related concepts by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

Discworld: Tiffany Aching

Discworld graphic novels

Discworld plays and screenplays

This list confines itself to mass-market publication; further adaptations by Stephen Briggs have appeared as Samuel French or Methuen acting editions.

Discworld nonfiction

This listing omits the more ephemeral spinoffs, such as calendars, posters and greetings cards, to which Pratchett made no direct contribution. These are very numerous.


  • Truckers (London: Doubleday, 1989) [Nomes/Bromeliad: hb/Josh Kirby]
    • Truckers (London: Ladybird Books, 1992) [chap: cut version of the above, illustrated with images from the animated television series: Nomes/Bromeliad: hb/]
    • Truckers: Picture Book (London: Picture Corgi, 1992) [graph: picture book illustrated with images from the animated television series: Nomes/Bromeliad: pb/]
  • Diggers (London: Doubleday, 1990) [Nomes/Bromeliad: hb/Josh Kirby]
  • Wings (London: Doubleday, 1990) [Nomes/Bromeliad: hb/Josh Kirby]

Johnny Maxwell

The Long Earth

  • The Long Earth (London: Doubleday, 2012) with Stephen Baxter [special issue of this edition contains "The High Meggas", Pratchett's 1980s draft of first part of the novel: Long Earth: hb/Getty Images]
  • The Long War (London: Doubleday, 2013) with Stephen Baxter [Long Earth: hb/R Shailer/TW]
  • The Long Mars (London: Doubleday, 2014) with Stephen Baxter [Long Earth: hb/R Shailer/TW]
  • The Long Utopia (London: Doubleday, 2015) with Stephen Baxter [Long Earth: hb/R Shailer/TW]
  • The Long Cosmos (London: Doubleday, 2016) with Stephen Baxter [Long Earth: hb/NASA/Shutterstock]

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about the author


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