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<   No. 3375   2015-03-15   >

Comic #3375

1 {scene: The Infinite Featureless Plane of Death}
1 Terry Pratchett: Oh, it's you.
1 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: {on a special assignment} YOU ARE NOT AFRAID?
2 Terry Pratchett: Afraid? Of you?? Do you know who I am?
2 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: SHOULD I?
2 Terry Pratchett: Terry Pratchett.
2 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: NEVER HEARD OF YOU.
3 Terry Pratchett: Huh. I could have sworn...
3 Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs: WHAT?
3 Terry Pratchett: Never mind.
4 Terry Pratchett: So. Dead, huh?
4 Terry Pratchett: Wait a second...

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Many people over the years have asked if the Deaths in Irregular Webcomic! are based in some way on Terry Pratchett's Death, a character from his Discworld novels. When asked this question, I have always denied that I've ever read any of Terry Pratchett's work.

Let me let you in on a little secret:

A full bookshelf.

Sir Terry Pratchett (knighted for services to literature in 2009) is best known for his Discworld series, consisting of some 40 novels plus additional works set in the same fictional world. He has also written several other novels, stories, and other miscellaneous stuff.

I first heard of Pratchett in the summer of 1989-90. I had a summer job during university holidays, working for the Australia Telescope National Facility. They employed several students from all over the country on summer programmes, and we formed friendships and hung out together outside the work environment. Naturally we got to discussing hobbies and one student mentioned a book series she had been reading. It was a humorous fantasy thing, with a bumbling wizard and a hilarious magical luggage that followed him around, running on hundreds of little legs. She said it was the funniest thing she'd ever read.

I sought out a copy of the first book: The Colour of Magic. Many Discworld aficionados, when asked about the series by people who haven't read it before, immediately say, "Don't read the series starting at the first book!" They then go on to recommend reading Mort, or Wyrd Sisters, or Guards! Guards!, or possibly something else first instead. I am no exception - when my wife expressed curiosity and a desire to read some of Pratchett's work, I insisted she read Guards! Guards! first, despite her strong completionist desire to start at the beginning.

The reason for this is twofold: Firstly, the Discworld books are not strict sequels of one another. Certain subsets of the books do form a linear sequence and should be read in order, but these are interspersed with unrelated novels which are merely set in the same world, and in fact jump about in time a bit. So it's not necessary to read them in publication order. Secondly, Pratchett was experimenting with and developing his style in the early novels, and it shows. He doesn't really hit his stride until about 4 to 8 books in, depending who you ask.

The first and second Discworld novels, The Colour of Magic and the direct sequel The Light Fantastic, are farcical parodies of fantasy literature tropes and fantasy role-playing game clichés. They pretty much require some familiarity with classic fantasy such as Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern, as well as Dungeons & Dragons, to understand many of the parodic references and humour. If you don't have this familiarity, then you will likely find the books to be puzzling, incomprehensible, and perhaps quite dull.

But fortunately I had enough familiarity with the background material to appreciate The Colour of Magic and rather than be put off I immediately sought out its sequel and further books in the series.

A year or so later, Pratchett visited Sydney on a signing tour for one of his new books. A friend of mine was planning to go and have some books signed, but I had an appointment I couldn't get out of. So I asked if he'd be so good as to take one of my Pratchett books in to be signed. I couldn't decide which Discworld novel I wanted signed, and figured it might be odd to have one of a series signed and none of the others, so instead I chose another book written by Pratchett: my copy of The Unadulterated Cat.

The Unadulterated Cat
Title page of my copy of The Unadulterated Cat.

As it turns out, I never managed to get to a signing session on any of the later occasions when Pratchett visited Sydney in later years either. The Unadulterated Cat remains the only book I have which Pratchett has signed. Many fans of his works have briefly met Pratchett at book signings or conventions or other public appearances. I never did.

In 1998, Steve Jackson Games published a roleplaying game treatment of the Discworld, thus turning the source material back around to one of its roots. GURPS Discworld was written by Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters. Around the same time, I was beginning to write articles on GURPS and roleplaying in general for Steve Jackson Games's Pyramid magazine. Roll forward to around 2000, and Phil Masters was writing a sequel gaming supplement, again with the help of Pratchett. As was the case, Steve Jackson Games ran a semi-open playtest of the material before publication, releasing preview material to Pyramid subscribers and contributors. Being a fan of Discworld, I made substantial enough comments which were incorporated into the text that I was given credit in the front of the resulting book as a playtester.

So this roleplaying book, GURPS Discworld Also, has Terry Pratchett's name on the front cover, and my name listed inside as a contributor. I felt incredibly honoured at the time, and perhaps moreso today as I write this, to be associated in even this tiny way with a man who gave the world so much of himself.

Perhaps he inspired the Deaths in Irregular Webcomic! Perhaps not, and my previous denials have all been true. Perhaps it doesn't matter - things are as they are. But perhaps, without Terry Pratchett, things might not be as they turned out to be.

Even if I've never read a word he's written.

Sir Terry Pratchett, 28 April 1948 - 12 March 2015.

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