There was a phrase going round SFF fandom in the late 80s and early 90s: ‘rare unsigned Pratchett’. It was also said that no convention was complete without Terry Pratchett himself, because he went to everything, installing himself in a corner of the bar, typing away on his briefcase-sized laptop.
Some organisers gave him a programme slot, and that was always worth going to. I remember his talk on Tolkien at a Novacon, when he described reading Lord of the Rings as ‘the half-brick in front of the bicycle of my adolescence’. I nodded along to that. And laughed. He always made us laugh.
Although I met him, I never got to know him well – unlike some of my friends, who ended up in his books. Had he not been creating stories we wanted to read, his constant presence at cons might have been something we (as in SFF fandom) mocked, or even became irritated with; the same way some authors’ online presence today is out of proportion to the value of their work. But as well as being a great person, his books were good, and we knew it. A friend recommended The Colour of Magic to me shortly after it came out saying, not inaccurately, that it was ‘like Douglas Adams, only fantasy’. Actually there is a difference: Adams had an underlying cynicism; Pratchett never lost his faith in human nature.
When the mainstream discovered him I was delighted. Mainly. His stories are easy to read, witty, engaging … and illuminate deep truths about the human condition. The world needs to know about this genius. That ‘mainly’ reflects the fact that, because he was considered a ‘genre’ author, he could never be truly ‘great’. I came as close as I ever have to picking an online fight last night, when some ignorant tit posted under the TerryPratchett hashtag on Twitter, that ‘for a man whose main achievement was to spell fairy with an ‘ae’, he was getting a lot of love’. (Fortunately my inner editor reminded me not to feed the trolls.)
And now he’s gone. Not a surprise, but still a loss. Even in his ending he did something great, drawing attention to an awful thing we’ve been ignoring for too long. I like to think that he faced his upcoming end with the same calm equanimity and quiet wit that he faced his considerable fame. Here’s to you, Uncle Terry.