Recommendation: The Johnny Maxwell books

I find it strange how there are some of Terry Pratchett’s books that tend to get forgotten. Maybe people have come to blend him and the Discworld so much that his books outside that series don’t get the same recognition? Or maybe they just aren’t aware of them? But, as a whole, I believe his children’s books don’t get the recognition they deserve.

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The Johnny Maxwell books are examples of these. Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), Johnny and the Dead (1993) and Johnny and the Bomb (1996) tell three separate stories about Johnny Maxwell, a boy who seems to have a ability to see through the world into something more; whether it be entering a computer game while he sleeps to save the aliens from the players, speaking with the ghosts of the dead to save their graveyard from destruction, or travelling back in time to the Second World War.

I’ve always felt that Pratchett had a real knack for children’s books. He was able to take the ideas and themes found in all his work and streamline them for a younger audience. Rereading them now I find it a little odd and oversimplified, which is maybe why they are overlooked, but as a child I remember them being incredibly real. They felt like adult books to me. I was already reading the Discworld novels at this point, but I know now that a lot of the details went over my head.

I prefer the Bromeliad Trilogy (Truckers, Diggers, and Wings) (a separate series, but there are enough connections to assume these two series are in the same universe) but I’ll always have a soft spot for the Johnny Maxwell books. If you’re a fan of Pratchett but not given these ones a go, I highly recommend it. 

For the record, Johnny and the Bomb is my favourite.

One final point: having been introduced to these book through the audio book versions I cannot read them without hearing the words in Tony Robinson’s voice. I don’t get that with the Discworld books. There’s just something about these three that sticks in his voice. Weird how that happens. 

Review: A Blink of the Screen

I can never quite get my head around Terry Pratchett doing short fiction. I don’t know why, but for me he’s a long form writer. That’s not to say anything in this collection is bad, far from it. Possibly its because he books usually have so many layers and meanings and shorter fiction doesn’t really have time for these. Pratchett himself says – in his notes – that he found short fictions hard to to, so maybe he thought the same thing.

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So reading A Blink of the Screen is enjoyable, yet slightly weird. We’re in that strange place where you’re defining each work as inferior to his full novels, but inferior Pratchett is still superior to most writers. I think, if I had to put my finger on it, the issue I have is all of them feel like rough ideas waiting to be developed. As if Pratchett was simply putting down an idea on paper, fleshing it out a little bit with the intention of coming back later. I couldn’t help feeling like there was more there somewhere.

The most obvious example of this being that one of the stories in this collection is almost literally a synopsis of Truckers. Each of the other stories feel like they could be the same.

I did love the longer Discworld story, The Sea and Little Fishes though. That was a wonderful stand alone Granny Weatherwax story that could have been a subplot in a larger book, but actually works well on its own and made me want to pick up one of the older Discworlds that I haven’t read in a while.

I really enjoyed reading this collection, more-so than I did it’s companion collection, A Slip of the Keyboard, which collects his non-fiction works. Pratchett was never an author lacking confidence, style, or ability. But reading through this collection is an interesting way for a fan of his work – which should of course be everyone – so gain a snapshot of how his writing developed.

The Charmed Realm of the art of Paul Kidby

I was visiting my family a couple of weeks ago and discovered this in our local bookshop.

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Like a lot of people, I assume, I know Paul Kidby mainly as the cover artist who took over the Terry Pratchett books after the death of Josh Kirby. I’ve loved his work ever since, but in all honesty, I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of it outside of his association with Pratchett. In actual fact, his style has become so entwined with the Discworld books that it took a little while to get used to seeing his art in a world other than that of Pratchett’s work.

But that feel quickly faded. Kidby is such an amazing artist. There is such passion and attention to detail in every one of his creations. He’s the sort of artist that makes you a little sick with the perfection in his work. 

And, annoyingly, he was at an event I went to this weekend. If I’d known I would have brought it along to get it signed.

I really need to start looking out for more of the work. Let me know if you know of any collections or books he has worked on I might not know about.

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

About 20 years ago my mother took out an audio book from the local library for me. When I was younger I used to find it hard to fall asleep without noise in the background, so I would listen to tapes from the library, most of which were picked out by my mother.

Something about this story engaged me more than most, but much to my chagrin I discovered that ended abruptly and without closure. The main character simply dropped off the edge of the world, no less. When I mentioned how unsatisfying this was, my mother informed me that not only did the story continue in the next book, she actually owned it so I could read it straight away to find out what happened next.

Which I did.

This was my introduction to the Discworld, and the writing of Terry Pratchett. It was also the beginning of my true love of reading. I imagine everyone has that one book or author that got them hooked on the possibilities of the written word, and for me it was this. These were the first books I read – at least that I can recall – that were actual grown up books. They had been bought by my mother for herself, not for me or my sisters.

And so after listening to The Colour of Magic I went straight on to read The Light Fantastic. Then Equal Rights. Then Mort. Then the rest.

The Discworld series was my indoctrination into reading for pleasure; of losing myself in language and story. My mother already owned all the Discworld books which allowed me to read my way through all of them without stopping. By the time I had finished them I was ready to move on to other authors, but throughout my adolescence and adulthood I would always come back. Every six months, a new book. I sought out everything I could. I bought the Clairecraft Discworld models. I found the official side books, such as the maps and the diaries. I played all the point and click adventure games. I took part in the local kids theatre groups production of the theatrical adaptations. I found his non-Discworld stories.

Sir Terry Pratchett was one of the biggest influences in my life. His writing was witty, satirical, smart, biting, and yet somehow wonderfully easy to read. He had a style and ease with words that made his work universal, using the world he created to so wonderfully reflect our own. He could twist real world institutions, traditional fairytales and Shakespeare into something new and unique. He had a viewpoint that cut into what mankind is and what it could be. His novels, almost all of which are set in a fantastical world floating through space on the back of four elephants riding a giant turtle, contain ideas and discussions on morality and humanity that any philosopher could be proud of. He was someone who understood the world and had the talent to show the rest of us in a way that we could understand while at the same time making us laugh from our gut.

I’m not usually one for taking part in the mass mourning that pours out when someone famous dies. I’m cynical, and can never get over the fact that I’m sure 90% of the people who flood social media with tributes have no real emotional connection with the person they are eulogising. But Sir Terry Pratchett’s death truly is something personal to me. I never met him – to my sorrow – but his writing has been with me my entire life – literally, as the first Discworld novel came out the year I was born – and has played a major part in inspiring me to be a writer.

I can’t imagine how many words will be written over the next few days honouring this man. Writers all over the world, everyone who has ever read his words and shared in the worlds he created will feel his loss. I’m sure that people with far more skill than I, people who knew him personally and shared his life, will put what I am feeling into more eloquent words than these. And what better way could there be to honour such a great and influential writer than with words that try to reflect those he gave us.

Goodbye Sir Terry. I hope you knew exactly how much you meant to us all. The world is a slightly darker place, but a better one for having had you in it.

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