“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man
I’m rarely out of words, but today’s one of those. It’s around 20 years since I wondered why everyone kept stealing these kids books from the school library where I worked. It was astounding, no matter how often we restocked, they were gone within a few days.
They weren’t gone, as it happens. Turns out there’s no appreciable difference between books that are taken out as soon as they come back in, and books that never get returned. However, there was my empty shelf in Fiction, P-Z, where books should be but weren’t. One day, I found Eric had been filed under Kirby instead of Pratchett, thus lasted long enough for me to book.
Shortly afterwards I bought Mort, and then every other book in a scatter-shot order that was based partly on characters and partly on the fact that if Sourcery was £3.99 and Moving Pictures was £4.99 I was going to either get a book this week or after my pocket money came in. Such are the economics of early years (and, indeed, later ones).
In 1995 I bought the Discworld Companion in paperback, which contained a lot of things I already knew, several things I didn’t, and a blurb at the back about some fanatics who lived on a Usenet group called alt.fan.pratchett. This was shortly after we got Compuserve, and thus the internet, and a long time before such things as always-on connections and free ISPs. I learnt how to get on the internet, how to find AFP, how to cope with 600+ messages a day, and how to post. Then I posted. Then Terry Pratchett replied to it, and then I ran THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE SCARY THING.
I spent a while in the quieter backwaters of Eddings fandom until returning to AFP as well, and spent several years pouring words by the hundreds of thousands into opinions, arguments, bricktext, filks and short stories on the group. I joined the IRC channel, I went to the gatherings. There is fairly literally no part of the life I lead today that isn’t in some way descended from being part of Pratchett Fandom since before I could legally smoke. Jobs, houses, friends and relationships are all tied up with people I’ve met and talked bullshit with, all tied together in the name of all liking Terry.
A story he told: Before he was a novelist, he worked for the nuclear power industry as a PR man. In the wake of the 1979 nuclear incident, he was in a restaurant and he ordered a salad. When they asked which dressing, he replied, distracted, Three Mile Island. A short while later they bought him a salad, a serving of thousand island dressing, and with careful reverence, a bottle of tabasco sauce.
And he was *nice*. I mean, he was angry occasionally, and had all the wariness of anyone given a large group of strangers who all want you to know how much they like you (I’d imagine), but he maintained a level of respect and humour in the face of a thousand fans that will remain my model for grace under fire for a while.
(CW: Alzheimers, assisted death, suicide)
When he announced “The Embuggerence”, there was an element of the unfair to it. The vacuum of an uncaring universe briefly found enough irony within it to condem such an amazing thinker to such an ignoble fate. But he fought. He fought equally by drawing attention to the Alzheimers research that was so poorly funded, and to the assisted death laws he hoped he wouldn’t need.
I’ve no idea if he chose his own exit. It’s something he would do, and the description of his peaceful death supports the plans he made. While I can’t understand, I think I can sympathise. I find assisted death to be tricky as a moral standpoint, because I know too many people who would not be enjoying their life now if it was an option for them before. But I feel that for people like Terry, and his position, it should be… possible, I think.
I don’t have enough words to describe how much of an impact he had on my life. To say that he will be missed is to describe the sea as more than a mouthful.
And I liked his books, too.