ppint., the "guerrilla bookshop manager" from Lancaster, has been in the trade for many years. In this three-part article, ppint. examines some of the best funny fantasy and science fiction which appeared before Terry came along and revolutionised the genre.


(part one)

or, A Look at what came Before Terry

"Funny Fantasy don't sell"? - no, seriously: it's trade wisdom that is, just as it is that books with green covers don't sell; and, like all trade wisdom, it's self-fulfilling. Books' success depends on wholesalers' and the chains' buyers - whose jobs depend on not making mistakes, so the funny fantasy and "sci-fi" books that have been published haven't sold very well. Either they didn't get covers that betrayed their humour to buyers choosing what would go into their shops, in which case, nor did they to potential readers - or they did; in which case, they mostly didn't see the light of day in the big shops which account for most of a book's sales - so readers couldn't buy them: they were never given the chance.

This is an introduction to some of the funniest SF & fantasy stories that were published "Before Terry" - stories that anyone who's enjoyed his should look out. It's nowhere near comprehensive, nor does it pretend to establish the influences upon him, though some may be seen. The sheer breadth of the references Terry makes throughout his work shows that his influences range far beyond any one category of fiction, and that the single greatest is that amazingly surreal thing - Real Life.

The first characters that we meet in the very first Discworld book, watching the impromptu pyrotechnic firework display of the city of Ankh-Morpork's first encounter with a Tourist, and idly wagering as to what had caused this particular wiping clean of the slate of their debts at the Crimson Leech - Bravd and Weasel - are Terry's bow to an author who's given him a lot of pleasure. They're clearly Fritz Leiber's characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as the tavern is equally a reference to the Silver Eel: two loveable rogues who'd rob you as soon as look at you - but they wouldn't kill you; not unless the next square meal depended upon it. Apprenticed to rival hedge magicians, Ninguable of the Seven Eyes, and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, they frequently find themselves sent out on quests rather more dangerous than their masters've seen fit to advise - and, not infrequently, in competition with each other. The first six books are best, but all're worth reading: in sequence: Swords and Deviltry, Swords against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords against Wizardry, The Swords of Lankhmar, Swords and Ice Magic, The Knight & Knave of Swords. [Ace p/bs, Gregg h/cvrs, now reissued by White Wolf h/cvr & p/b, in the US; The Swords of Lankhmar Hart-Davis h/cvr 1969, Mayflower p/b 1970; Swords and Deviltry, Swords against Death, N.E.L. p/bs 1971 & 72, then all Panther/Granada/Grafton p/bs, from 1979 through 1989 (& The Knight & Knave of Swords h/cvr 1988), in the UK.]

The Flying Sorcerers, by David Gerrold & Larry Niven, is enormous fun, and reads as though an alternate Terry Pratchett, living in a world where his first funny fantasies didn't sell, concentrated on subverting publishers of serious SF. A solo space-voyager's ship breaks down and lands on a planet which hides intelligent life beneath permanent cloud cover. Deprived by nature of any chance to observe the suns around which their world orbits, which might've allowed a native Gallileo to observe cause and effect in the weather; or any sight of the stars, which might've given a nudge towards science, the villagers he lands near make the only assumption open - he's a magician. Two wizards in one village has only one possible meaning - war!

Shoogar, their wizard, prepares his worst spells and enchantments, whilst Lant, the Village Speaker, tries his cowardly best to use diplomacy and tact to get the strange wizard to move on. All of which, to Lant's astonishment and Shoogar's fury, the stranger doesn't so much ignore as seem oblivious to, while he employs Lant's two bright sons, Orbur and Wilville, to introduce the village to technological marvels, the industrial revolution, and the balloon. The mixture proves explosive... [two-part serialisation in the magazine If May-June, July/70 (If UK June-July, Aug-Sept/70); Ballantine US p/b 1971, reissued as Del Rey; Corgi UK p/b 1975.]

These will take some tracking down; all of them will, in their different ways, repay the effort - and the hunt can be fun.

-Enjoy !

copyright p.pinto 31/5/97

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