How to find classic science fiction writers you’ll Really Like.
Geoffrey Wellum, Spitfire pilot

I had never heard of Terry Pratchett before.

In the early 1980s I started a new job in Aylesbury, Bucks. From then on I made frequent visits to the two book shops in Kingsbury square, Weatherheads and, er, the other one. Can anyone remember its name?

The other one had a good science fiction section and I found quite a few good books there. One book told the story of a Dom Sabalos:

Probability math, the infallible science of foretelling the future, has predicted his assassination in twenty-four hours. But, by an extraordinary paradox, it has also predicted that he will go on to discover the fabulous, almost mythical world of the Jokers — the gods of the universe.
When, by a million to one chance, Dom survives the assassination attempt, he takes his destiny in his own hands and sets out in search of the Jokers.”

        (From the back cover)

I bought the book. It was called The Dark Side of the Sun, and was by an author I didn’t know: Terry Pratchett. I liked it, and when I saw a copy of his book Strata a year or so later, I bought it like a shot. The books in the photos are those same copies.

I looked forward to his next book, but searched the science fiction shelves in vain. After two or three years I gave up and assumed he had stopped writing, and I wondered what had happened to him whenever I read either book again.

Dark Side of the Sun for blogCan anyone tell me what the relevance of the background is, and the character in which early Discworld novel it refers to?

Then one day the book Wyrd Sisters came to my notice, and at first I didn’t register the author’s name. It wasn’t the first Discworld novel, but I hadn’t been looking in the fantasy shelves. I was quite surprised and pleased to see who it was by. The rest is (Discworld) history…

 Once I’d read several Discworld novels I began to notice things in my first two Pratchett books. These two quotes are from The Dark Side of the Sun:

        “Joan closed her account book and began to play with a white-hilted knife.
‘In a few days it’ll be Soul Cake Friday, and also the Eve of Small Gods,’ she said”

It was Soul Cake Thursday in the novel Guards, Guards, and the Eve of Small Gods gets a mention in Sourcery.

        “On Widdershins it was Hogswatchnight, which coincided with Small Gods in the greater Sadhimist calendar.”

Hogswatchnight is, of course, in the book Hogfather.

Strata detail

In Strata Terry Pratchett tried out a much bigger idea; a flat Earth. In Strata it is a product of technology and the whole book is a parody (but not a cruel one) of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. In Strata, our explorers are viewing this discworld from their spaceship:

        “They watched the waterfall slide past under high magnification. There were rocky islands, some tree-lined, overhanging the drop. It was a long drop — five hundred miles into a turmoil of steam. But the disc itself was only five miles thick. As the ship passed under the disc there was nothing but a space-black plain on the underside.
‘Some humans used to believe the world was flat and rested on the backs of four elephants,’ said silver.
‘Yeah?’ said Kin. ‘What did the elephants stand on?
‘A giant turtle, swimmingly endlessly through space’
Kin tasted the idea. ‘Stupid.’ she said. ‘What did the turtle breathe?’
‘Search me. It’s your racial myth.'”

Of course, some early Discworld novels were also parodies (but with their own internal consistencies) before the idea grew and matured into a complex and logically arranged world.

The Dark Side of the Sun detail

These days I might just have spotted the first Discworld books a little earlier, possibly the only good thing to come out of the deplorable modern book shop practise of mixing all the fantasy and science fiction works into one category. Sometimes the horror books are chucked in there too.

Often, I just can’t be bothered with searching through swords and sorcery epics and tales of romantic vampires, just to see if there’s any decent scifi. At least I know the Pratchett books will still be there when the categories are mixed up; they are of course with their consistent logic and rules, science fiction.

The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) both by Terry Pratchett


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