The L-SPace Web: Interviews

Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times In Adelaide

Terry Pratchett is the best selling author of the Discworld series - nearly twenty books set in a flat world, carried on the back of a giant turtle. His books are brilliantly funny, in a strange, sort of Monty Python way. Stuart Beaton caught up with him at the Hindley Parkroyal Hotel, in Adelaide, on the 24th of January, at 9am.

Terry Pratchett says that most of his ideas for his novels come from real life, and history. "It'd be easier for people to read Interesting Times, than sum it up, but I would say that one of things I wanted to develop in the story was the strange way in which revolutions can turn into tyrannies. People struggle to over-throw tyrants, then suddenly find that they're ruled by "The Government" once again - and popular uprisings don't stop often to ask common people what it is they need.

"This is the seventeenth or eighteenth or Discworld book. So by now, I'm writing for an established audience - outside of the Discworld trimmings, an awful lot of the stuff in Interesting Times is just based on things that have happened, or happened in the world in the real time."

Pratchett's books are set on world which is carried on the back of a giant turtle - The Great A'tuin, a place where magic rules, and anything is possible. As he says "the physical look of the Discworld is firmly fixed in world mythology, so I didn't really have to look very far to find anything there. I wanted to create a world which would look fantastic, and have lots of roots in fairy tales, but where the people could be quite real. I never, I suppose, thought of it quite in these terms, but it's amazing how they can get up to things which seem to have a relevance to things that happen in the real world. The whole thing evolved, but it would be a mistake to think I had a coherent design in mind!"

Terry doesn't have a single favourite character in his series, although he admits that "there are lots of reasons for liking a character, even if they are technically or morally a bad person, if they can lend themselves to good dialogue. I have a soft spot for Death, who turns up in all the books, and Granny Weatherwax is a particular favourite of mine. I suppose I have to admit to liking the librarian, 'cause (a) he's very wise and (b) the dialogue is very simple. The less he says, the more wise he appears - that could be a lesson to all of us."

Magic plays an important part in the Discworld books - but does he think that, as Arthur C. Clarke said, "Sufficiently complex technology is indistinguishable from magic"?

"Well, sufficiently complex magic is indistinguishable from technology - as the wizards from Unseen University are now finding! Arthur C. Clarke came up with a bloody good quote there, but it doesn't actually stand much rational examination - but it was a damn good quote. On a mundane level, old Arthur got it right. Take the TV remote control - by about 1890, some very bright guy might be able to comprehend some of the systems involved, but before then, it would be "magic", because people wouldn't have the background. Let's face it, to most people it is "magic" anyway - it may be done by demons as far as they know."

"There are other forms of magic which operate without any technology, and they work on other peoples' heads. If you ground up the entire planet, and went through the atoms one by one, you wouldn't find a single molecule of "justice" or "democracy" or "civilisation" - but people are more than prepared to fight and die for them. Now, there's a magic taking place there, and it's got nothing to do with magic, or remote controls."

"No, Arthur was right about the KAAAZOOM type of wizard magic - but real magic is something else again."

People form an image of writers, like William Gibson, who wrote the original short story that the Keanu Reeves movie Johnny Mnemonic was based on, and the cyberpunk Neuromancer series. He said that people "expected him to produce his work on a cross between a stealth bomber and a mainframe", when he only used a manual typewriter.

When I revealed this to Terry, he was stunned: "The bastard! I find that shocking. There's this guy out there, on the cyberpunk frontier, and he's sitting there, taping it out on an old '58, and stopping every other sentence to clean the gunk out of the "e" key? But there's all these super cool "DoOdZ" in the mirror shades, and the unwashed black jeans, and the scriber-pointers, and the 'decks hanging around. God - I find that very very funny."

"I suppose I'm quite backward though - I only have a 486 at the moment. It's weird - this high-priest of cyberpunk taps out on an old '58, and I have six computers networked throughout my house."

He's also a strong supporter of the information technology revolution that is now happening. Terry has pages on the 'Net, and an e-mail address - but when it comes to an information superhighway, "the thing is, no-one is certain on which side they're driving! And only if you can find a way of using it for sex. At the moment it's just a lot of hype. E-mail's fine, it really is, it's extremely useful. I only wish that when Neil Gaimmon and I were writing Good Omens, that we could have e-mailed each other reliably. It just makes everything so much simpler."

"A lot of the Internet is just a really, really glamorous way of becoming really, really stupid. It has its uses, but the thing is, it's going to have to settle down. Now Bill Gates has discovered it, after a long time of saying that it was just a flash in the pan, so no doubt he's going to come and mould it in his image."

Terry interviewed Microsoft Chief Bill Gates last year for GQ magazine, and is sure that there's a tendency for everyone who meets him, "to try and look behind the eyes, to try and see the real Bill Gates in there. I'm not certain I've got a big enough telescope. But, curiously enough, I don't actually dislike the guy. A lot of the things which people consider to be wrong with him, are things which are wrong with capitalism. He introduced capitalist ideas in an area when most people just sort of slobbed about. So, instead of selling code, you licensed it. He did things, which, in other fields, people were doing all the time - but you get the impression that a lot of the people he dealt with still had yoghurt juice still dripping down their t- shirts."

Terry Pratchett was interviewed by Stuart Beaton. Special thanks must go to Karen Reid of Transworld Publishers Australia, and the Hindley Parkroyal Hotel.

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