“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.”
My first Pratchett was so long ago I'd forgotten it. A YA novel taken from the library when I was trying out Fantasy novels: Only You Can Save Mankind. When I was out in in BC in 2012 I finally took another Pratchett from the library: A Monstrous Regiment. It was the thunderbolt. Love at first laugh.
It's hard to describe to someone what makes Pratchett funny, cause it's layered.
1. There's the great Wodehouseian writing--the similes and metaphors and witty images:
“There was this about vampires : they could never look scruffy. Instead, they were... what was the word... deshabille. It meant untidy, but with bags and bags of style.”
“There have been better attempts at marching, and they have been made by penguins.”
2. The Connie Willis style satire--that ability to make fun, to critique, but without being didactic (shakes fist at Kevin Smith).
"And if you couldn't trust the government, who could you trust? Very nearly everyone, come to think of it..."
“The four lesser apocalyptical horsemen of Panic, Bewilderment, Ignorance, and Shouting took control of the room,”
3. Then the silliness Pratchett couldn't resist--the endless playing on language, or on tropes, or on cultural references. The title alone refers both to the "monsters" in the regiment, as well as the feminist theme.
"You've got coffee, haven't you? C'mon, everyone's got coffee! Spill the beans!”
“This was not a fairy-tale castle and there was no such thing as a fairy-tale ending, but sometimes you could threaten to kick the handsome prince in the ham-and-eggs.”
All this in one book, my first Pratchett. There was also humor just in the plot, in the twists, but I can't spoiler those. But it was this interesting book about war, nationalism, and feminism, and it wasn't annoying. Amazing! As a writer I was so impressed. So I took out another book: The Truth.
The Truth is a standalone, but really part of the industrial revolution series: printing press/journalism; post office and communication; monetary system; railroads. It's hard to describe why these books are so funny and interesting. "Satires about the Industrial Revolution!" Oh yes, riveting [yawn.] And yet they are. And thoughtful, and philosophical.
“A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
“William: "I'm sure we can all pull together, sir."
Vetinari: "Oh, I do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.”
And I started to get a good look at Pratchett's fantastic world-building. He would take classic figures from fantasy, and take them to their logical conclusion. Or take classic elements of the fantasy, and make them logical. Like this description of the vampire homeland:
“Veil, you see, if I vas to say something portentous like "zer dark eyes of zer mind" back home in Uberwald, zer would be a sudden crash of thunder,' said Otto. 'And if I vas to point at a castle on a towering crag and say "Yonder is . . . zer castle" a volf would be bound to howl mournfully.' He sighed. 'In zer old country, zer scenery is psychotropic and knows vot is expected of it. Here, alas, people just look at you in a funny vay.”
And through it all, like with Connie Willis, you sense the heart. Pratchett is criticizing, but it's because he cares; he's empathetic, and he understands people. Loves them even with their flaws.
“...William wondered why he always disliked people who said 'no offense meant.' Maybe it was because they found it easier to to say 'no offense meant' than actually to refrain from giving offense.”
Then I read Guards! Guards!--the first book about the city watch. It's not even the best book in that series, but a necessary one because it's the origin of Sam Vimes. The self-loathing alcoholic, who somehow finds some meaning in life, and turns the city watch into something to be proud of.
Vimes is an old, grizzled, tired everyman. He's got prejudices, and he's cynical--but he believes in justice, and that trumps everything else. Things have to be put to right. And that's why I love the Watch series. Because they're generally about prejudice in the guise of specie-ism. About the ancient hatred of the trolls and dwarves, not dissimilar to the Israelis and Palestinians. The class differences between the vampires and the igors and the werewolves. And the last book is about a species that everyone thinks is subhumanoid, and is basically about ethnic cleansing. I read it twice.
But Vimes puts it to right--about as much as he can. And that's another wonder of Pratchett's books. They're cynical and true to life--the poor stay poor, the rich stay assholes--but the protagonists always manage to make some sort of meaningful change for the better. Sometimes it mirrors real life, sometimes it's just fantasy. But Pratchett pulled it off.
While still doing all the Funny Stuff I mentioned. And the Worldbuilding. And the Logical Conclusions.
So when I heard Pratchett was dead, I really did feel--as the Brits would say--gutted.
We all knew he would die soon, because of his illness. And it wasn't sad in the way Robin Williams' death was sad. But it really did feel like a star being extinguished. He was so talented, so funny, so moving, and more imagination in his pinky finger than is found in the average brain.
"A stellar explosion that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, radiating as much energy as the Sun or any ordinary star is expected to emit over its entire life span, before fading from view." (wiki definition of a supernova)
Of course, he's not gone--I've got The Last Continent tucked away in my purse. And lucky me I've only read a fraction of his works. But it still feels like... show's over, send in the clowns.