A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction by Terry Pratchett

A Slip of the Keyboard cover imageA Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction by Terry Pratchett, foreword by Neil Gaiman, Doubleday, ISBN 9780857521224, RRP $54.99

“Terry Pratchett,” writes Neil Gaiman in the foreword to this tome, “is not a jolly old elf at all.”

Oh readers, did any of us really think he was? Can anyone read the words of Death and Vimes and Vetinari and think “What a cuddly fellow this Pterry must be!”

Rather what one (i.e. me) thinks is here is a man who is extremely thoughtful, a little cross with some things, impatient with fools and those who try to pull the wool over our eyes, a master with words, and very, very funny.

There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.

A Slip of the Keyboard is a very welcome addition to the Pratchett oeuvre, bringing together a collection of non-fiction writings and essays spanning the entirety of his career, from a 1963 letter to the editor as a young fellow to his recent, somewhat more unrelenting, pieces on the right to assisted dying. If reading Terry Pratchett’s new novels feels a little bit like watching a tide recede, reading A Slip of the Keyboard feels like watching that tide turn and start coming in, gradually pick up speed and flow, and crash up on the top edges of your brain.

Every book now makes me mourn Pratchett just a little bit. But it also sends me running back to all the other Pratchett books to once again discover the delight and enjoyment. As Gaiman reminds us in the Foreword:

I, who have seen some of them being built close-up, understand that any Terry Pratchett book is a small miracle, and we already have more than might be reasonable, and it does not behoove any of us to be greedy.

Every piece in this book is a bit of a gem, with a quote on every page. The timeline in writerly ability is amazing to see too, with not only the change in technique and in subject, but an obvious progression in tone. This is the story not just of Pratchett as a writer but as an aging human, with the growing sense that time is running out and he might not get every word onto the page…

I remember every detail of my visit like a jewel. I’m damn sure I wouldn’t have felt the same about aardvarks. I remember that the eyes of orangutans are the eyes of people, in a way that the eyes of dogs and cats are not, and how the orangutans would pinch the soap and go and wash themselves in the river, and how the camp’s motorboat had to be anchored in mid-stream because one young male was taking too intelligent an interest in how to start the engine. I remember the gentle feel of a hand that could have crushed every bone in mine.

This is an absolute must-have for any Pratchett fan, aspiring writer and lover of fantasy and sci-fi. It’s the perfect companion to the many Discworld books, bringing in to context the characters, ideas and history of that series. And, of course, everyone should read at least one Discworld book (I recommend starting with Lords and Ladies), which then means everyone should read A Slip of the Keyboard at some point also.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.

– From Lords and Ladies

No, Sir Terry is not a jolly old elf. He is a little bit Pterry elf though, a little bit Vimes, a little bit of a tyrant and a little bit of Death, a little bit of an orangutan librarian, a little bit wizard, a little bit witch, a little bit Carrot and a little bit troll. He is all my favourite author and A Slip of the Keyboard reminded me exactly why.

Where do you get your fantastic ideas from? You steal them. You steal them from reality. It outstrips fantasy most of the time.

Glory Days magazine issue 8

Glory Days issue 8 cover imageGlory Days vintage lifestyle magazine, issue 8, RRP $16.90.

Buy or subscribe online

Yep, Glory Days magazine issue 8 is here and this month the focus is on Americana and country style. Including a Q & A with Dolly Parton.

Dolly Parton!

There’s an eclectic mix of articles this month, covering country music, interior design/deco, interviews, vintage motorcycles, the history of the cowboy, Melbourne, Mods, wigs… you probably get the picture. The fashion spread is gorgeous too, with actual diversity.

Glory Days is getting better every month, with this issue seeming particularly packed. An amazing amount of work must be going into it. Long may it continue!

Buy or subscribe online (Christmas is fast approaching, after all.)

The Sunken by S.C. Green

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The Sunken by S.C. Green, Grymm & Epic Publishing, available on Amazon.

It’s 1830s London. Increasing numbers of dragons are invading the city. King George III is still alive but slowly degenerating into a mad, flesh-eating, blood-sucking monster. Science, art and engineering are the politics, religion and philosophy of the masses and the Royal Society governs the country. Engineers are divided into feuding sects and God is the Great Conductor. England remains at war with France, and blockaded from a Europe determined to stave off the industrial revolution.

Does that sound awesome? My god, it sounds awesome. And it is, it really really is. This is the world of The Sunken by SC Green, and the first book in a new self-published Steampunk series The Engine Ward that I honestly think deserves a huge audience. It’s original and thrilling.

The Sunken takes us on a journey with three characters: Isambard Brunel, son of an engineering master and himself a genius; Nicholas Thorne, aspiring architect and animal empath; and James Holman, blind naval veteran and frustrated world traveller. When we first meet the trio they are school friends and a gruesome tragedy is about to catapult them in varying directions.

I’m not going to go into the plot in immense detail because a) I don’t want to give anything away, and b) you don’t really need me to do you? Just buy the book and find out yourselves!

The Sunken was one of my most enjoyable reads of this year, cracking along at high speed and using intriguing ideas to create a world that’s like a cracked mirror version of our own history. Green makes liberal use of actual historical figures (Brunel and Holman among them) including Joseph Banks and Charles Babbage, to flesh out this alt-England, and does a fantastic job of combining science and engineering with all the delicious fear of a grisly horror. I know I called this steampunk above but The Sunken is more cross-genre than that, taking the reader on a wild ride through sci-fi, fantasy, history and monsters! I can only imagine the amount of research that’s gone into this book.

I do have two minor niggles; namely the female characters – I would absolutely love to see a female protagonist in the next books that is less incidental to the action and more in the centre of it, and the writing of James Holman, who is a blind character. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the writing of Holman, with some jarring points where it was unclear to this reader how a blind man could have known what was happening. Small niggles though, some work to tighten these demarcations and I would be hard pressed to find fault with the book.

I’ll repeat a point from above, in case you missed it. The Sunken was one of my most enjoyable reads of 2014. I am seriously excited for the next instalments in this series. Buy and read! Go, go!

Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman

My short review of Shifting Colours by Fiona Sussman from the NZ Herald on Sunday:

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Shifting Colours
by Fiona Sussman (Alison & Busby)

A beautiful and emotional story, Shifting Colours takes us back to apartheid South Africa, exploring maternal love and social bonds. Miriam is black and is adopted by the white employers of her mother and taken to England, away from the turmoil of 1960s South Africa. Sussman, born in South Africa and now living in New Zealand, uses this unconventional story to lay bare the lies and struggles of apartheid. She is not afraid to examine the grey areas of human relationships.