Collaborating with Terry Pratchett, by Stephen Baxter

June 5th, 2014

The Long Earth, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

My collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the books that became the Long Earth series came about because of shared enthusiasms.

Terry has always been a science fiction fan. He has fond memories of meeting Arthur C Clarke at a convention when Terry was around 16. And two of his early novels were full-blooded SF, The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata, though in retrospect the latter can be seen as a kind of dry run for Discworld. Perhaps in another universe Terry Pratchett could have become a rather good SF writer – but he put his SF ambitions aside when the Discworld novels took off, and he found his true voice.

But he remained an enthusiast. After we first met at a Clarke Award event in 1992, where my first novel Raft was a nominee for best SF novel of the year, Terry followed my work as I did his, and we kept in touch, at conventions and dinner parties. ‘What news of the quantum?’ he would ask me over the starter.

At one such dinner party in 2010 Terry mentioned fragments of an unfinished SF novel, abandoned in the 1980s in favour of work on Discworld. This would have featured adventures in a series of parallel Earths, reachable by anybody with the aid of a simple gadget – Earths like our own save for an absence of humans, Earths that became more exotic the further away you travelled. Terry’s sketched episodes hinted at a tale of a new frontier with a quite American feel, like much of the classic SF he and I had grown up with – like the work of Heinlein, Simak or Niven perhaps. This struck me as a classic SF idea, simple to express but with ramifications that could take you anywhere. We talked about the idea until we got thrown out that night, we started to think about collaborating on developing it – and our mutual agent, seeing an opportunity, set up a publishing deal.

The Long War, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

After that Terry sent me his 1980s material, and we went from there, first with long phone calls and then get-togethers, mostly at Terry’s office in Wiltshire, lubricated by pickled eggs and brandies in his local pub. It quickly emerged that we had quite different writing styles. The Long Earth (as it became) is a kind of extended landscape which you could map, and as the series went on it evolved a history spanning decades, so from the beginning I showed up with sketch maps and timelines, all subject to revision but settings for the stories we would tell. This was ‘hard SF’ after all, SF of the kind I’d always written, where you stick to the laws of physics (given the odd tweak such as the existence of the parallel worlds in the first place) and you convince the reader through internal consistency. Whereas Terry likes to find his way into a story by following the people: give him two characters sitting in a room and the story will come, he says. As it’s worked out, the tensions between the two methods have basically been constructive.

I remember a moment when it came together. We sat before his voice-recognition computer system and worked through a revision of Terry’s early material, as our Daniel Boone-like hero Joshua Valienté is summoned to the presence of the mysterious artificial intelligence Lobsang for the first time. Terry veered off unexpectedly into a flashback to Joshua’s past, when he was a troubled thirteen-year-old on ‘Step Day’, the day when the Long Earth suddenly opened up for mankind. Terry likes to drill down into the heads of his characters; I think young Joshua had something in common with Tiffany Aching. We had Joshua saving other, less capable kids who got lost in the forests of the parallel worlds – and then I took over, thinking of my world mappings, and had Joshua go off alone deeper into the Long Earth, until he suddenly came upon one world locked in an Ice Age. So between us we ended up with a nice character study concluding with a hard-SF dash of and brandies in his local pub.

The Long Mars, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

In practical terms after that, we came up with a rough outline for the whole of the first book, and went off for a few months to write up the separate narrative strands we’d agreed on, with occasional meetings at conventions and the like – and including field research at Madison, Wisconsin, where we attended that year’s Discworld convention, and were shown around a key setting for the books by kindly local fans.

I got the job of splicing together our separate contributions, only to find that we’d both diverged wildly from the outline – but this after all is in the nature of creative writing; you discover the material as you create it. I took a rough cut down to Terry and then we literally read through it, amending it chapter by chapter, line by line. (This being Terry Pratchett, some of this had to be done in a car on the way to a reception in Downing Street.) I think we became confident that this had worked; we had put Terry’s characterisation, humour and wisdom together with my sense of the hard-SF structure necessary for establishing the universe of the Long Earth.

But we had signed up for two books, and had always had an eye on the sequel. Early in the game Terry had come up with a sequel title: The Long Mars, no detail then, but clearly a way to move the idea on. However as we worked on Book 1 we realised that we’d taken the story too far, that we were hinting at a what-happened-next story of colonisation and conflict in the Long Earth that should be following our initial tale of pioneering and discovery. So Book 1 split into two, and Book 2 was pushed back to become a Book 3. And as we discussed how we would explore the ultimate meaning of the Long Earth Universe, Books 4 and 5 shivered into existence . . .

I’d collaborated before, and will again. Writing is a solitary profession, and while collaborating can be ego-collision frustrating, it’s also terrifically exciting when some idea sparks into life in the conversation between the two of us. It’s like a holiday from the narrow corridor of my own mind. And it’s at its best when we look back at a sentence or a paragraph, and can’t remember who originated it, as if there has been a third person in the room…


Terry Pratchett: Those of us with dementia need a little help from our friends

May 22nd, 2014

Terry writes for The Guardian about writing with dementia, and society’s marginalisation of those with the condition.

‘A few years ago, my novel Dodger took the reader back to times long gone to meet famous names of fact and fiction, and brought them together on a journey – ultimately – of chivalry. Enduring danger and peril, they chase a woman who needs saving and do their best to protect her. In the book, Dodger (who is based on Dickens’s masterful portrayal of the original Artful Dodger) gets into a number of scrapes for Simplicity’s sake. As a reward, we see him climb the social ladder of acceptance until, by the end of the book, he is honoured and revered.

Without appearing a curmudgeon, I worry that such kindness could be a thing of the past. As you may already know, I live with dementia. ‘

Read the full article here.

Review: New Terry Pratchett Novel is a Series of Tubers

June 13th, 2012

Sir Terry Pratchett first came up with the idea of the Long Earth multiverse back in 1986. He set it aside to focus on Discworld. The 75 million copies sold of those wildly popular fantasy novels would indicate that this was a pretty good idea. Even the Queen of England agrees.

As uncomfortable as it is to admit, Sir Terry’s career is drawing to a close. Before he makes his appointment with the tall, thin chap WHO TALKS A BIT LIKE THIS, there’s time to dust off old projects. The Long Earth is a brilliant Science Fiction collaboration with Stephen Baxter: a love letter to all Pratchett fans, readers, and lovers of wonder everywhere.

From here on out the main body of this review will contain spoilers *1, but nothing you wouldn’t get from the first 50 pages of this short but highly concentrated novel. Pratchett’s hallmark humor abounds, but this is nowhere near the level of Anhk-Morpork wackiness. There are no footnotes, but the text may contain trolls and elves *2.

Read the full review here.


It's all about Headology: Terry Pratchett and the Discworld novels

May 7th, 2012

Terry Pratchett has written many books for adults and children. They have a lot to offer psychology by providing good explanations and examples of how the human mind works, argues Chartered Psychologist Dr Kate Sparks.

The majority of Pratchett’s literary output focuses on the fictitious world of DiscWorld, a flat planet held up by four elephants which stand on a giant turtle which is slowly travelling through space. One could describe his work as fantasy meets fairytale, folklore, quantum physics and philosophy, but they also tellus a lot about psychology .

Read the full article on The British Psychological Society website


I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett – Review

April 16th, 2012

I Shall Wear MidnightThis was the most relaxed read I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in quite awhile. It was awesome; it was Terry Pratchett. If ever you’ve read a Terry Pratchett novel, you know what I’m talking about. His books are funny, quick, easy to read, non-stressful, and often delightfully punny. It was a 400-page novel, but it felt like a 200-pager. I love Terry Pratchett’s reliability; I love being able to pick up any of his Discworld novels and know I’m in for a good, hilarious, effortless couple of days of reading. I wholeheartedly recommend any of his Discworld books to anyone over the age of 8, whether ye be a Tolstoy fanboy or a book-a-year reader. There’s a little something for everyone, and I Shall Wear Midnight is no exception.

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in a Discworld plot sub-arc featuring the young witch Tiffany Aching, but that doesn’t mean you should pass it by if you haven’t read the first three. I hadn’t! It always adds a little something if you’re familiar with the recurring Discworld characters like Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and the Watch, but the books are written so that you can pick any of them up at any point and still be in for a wonderful journey. Pratchett’s style is just descriptive enough that, even without having read the three preceding Tiffany Aching stories, I didn’t feel like I missed out on any of the necessary details, and certainly never felt lost. I only every felt perfectly in tune with the characters and plot, and entirely absorbed into Tiffany Aching’s world.

Read the full review on the Nikki/Brewer website.


Review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

March 23rd, 2012

Small GodsSo my first reread and review is #102 Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. There are three good reasons for this: (1) this is one of my favourite books, (2) I already had a copy and was saving it for a rainy day and (3) it’s been a rainy day, literally as well as metaphorically.

Small Gods is brilliant. It’s a story about people and gods and where ethics come from and doing the right thing. It’s also a fast-paced tale about nearly getting killed a lot. Philosophy, it turns out, can be quick on its feet…

Read the full review on Elizabeth’s blog.



Jamie Reviews: Terry Pratchett – Snuff

February 23rd, 2012

As the sand pours through Sir Terry Pratchett’s gilded hourglass I find myself again honoured to be able to review his latest work of craft; Snuff.

The Discworld collection is comprised of several mini-series and several one-off novels; each has emotion and plot that comes together to make a meta-series that has allowed fantasy to become more than just swords and sorcery. In fact for the most part Pratchett’s works have been almost completely deprived of the traditional elements of the fantasy genre; sure it has dwarves and trolls, witches, wizards and the undead, but for the most part race has been more about background colour than overarching plot. Ankh-Morpork is home to any species with money in their pocket.

Over the last few years Pratchett has worked very hard to bring each of his mini-series to a satisfactory conclusion; not an easy task with a world as large as the Disc…

Read the rest of the review on the Burn Bright website.