Terry Pratchett ascends to the pantheon, alive!

Some years ago, in The Delusion of Expertise, I wrote about the memorable occasion in 2003 on which some friends and I were able to bestow on author Terry Pratchett the accolade of hacker, recognizing him as what he had always been: one of us.

Now comes the news that as part of his preparations to be formally knighted by the Queen of England, Terry made his own sword – smelted the iron, and helped hand-forge it. Including, as he says, “several pieces of meteorites — thunderbolt iron, you see — highly magical, you’ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not”.

To heck with a trivium like knighthood – with this beautiful hack, Terry ascends to a different pantheon. Here’s what I emailed him:

That is take-my-breath-away *awesome*. Even though no actual code is
involved, it arguably exceeds the awesomeness even of the guys in
Norway who actually implemented TCP/IP over carrier pigeons in 2002.

Some instances of ha-ha-only-serious achieve a sublime quality that
will be praised as long as there are geeks and hackers to remember
them. I think this is one.

Happens I taught Terry how to shoot pistols that weekend in 2003. I hope his sword is properly balanced for combat use, because this I swear on my honor as a swordsman and a geek: if I ever make it to within travel range of Terry and his sword, I will teach him at least the basics of what he needs to know to use it properly.

Well, unless he already knows. It never came up when we talked, but he could be a swordsman too. I think I’m long past being surprised by any brilliant talent Terry exhibits.

31 thoughts on “Terry Pratchett ascends to the pantheon, alive!

  1. Pratchett has stored the sword, which he completed last year, in a secret location, apparently concerned about the authorities taking an interest in it.

    He said: “It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime.”

    That really puts a point on a dreadful irony, doesn’t it? In England’s bad old days, a basic human right was denied to all but a privileged few. Now, in this more enlightened age, it’s denied to everybody.

  2. My young daughters are addicted to ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ on Nickalodeon. I’ve started to watch with them, and this story of sword making reminds me of this episode: Sokka’s Master.

    http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Sokka%27s_Master

    This series is evocative of Terry’s works…

    Now if I could just get my kids to read the stories instead of watching them…

  3. No, no. Not only did he smelt his own iron in a makeshift kiln, he dug up the ore himself.

    Clearly, this man is not just a hacker, he’s a Real Programmer, too. Those guys still writing hand-hacked assembler have nothing on him.

  4. You should be more careful with your headlines; I saw this coming up in my RSS reader, and I thought it meant something entirely different.

  5. Eric, if you’re into handmade swords from scratch, you should go visit this guy, a scant 30 minutes from Malvern:
    http://www.goldmountainforge.com/forge.php

    I met him at an Aikido seminar in Montreal a couple of weeks, back. He had a few blades on display, and I got to hold one and inspect it closely. I don’t know a whole lot about Japanese swords, but he sure impressed the socks off me. ‘Course I was in my Aikido-get up, so I wasn’t wearing any socks to begin with. He’s a first rate Aikidoka too. That I can say for sure.

    Anyhow, he makes his swords out of sand that fetched from a beach in a canoe no less!

    Heck, maybe you know him already…

  6. Yeah, I had the same terrible thought as grendelkhan.

    Also, note this sign that while there’ll always be an island off the coast of France, England’s not there anymore:

    “Pratchett has stored the sword, which he completed last year, in a secret location, apparently concerned about the authorities taking an interest in it.

    He said: ‘It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime.’”

  7. >Yeah, I had the same terrible thought as grendelkhan.

    I think I’ll change the post title.

    I’ve added “, alive!”

  8. @Daniel Franke:

    That really puts a point on a dreadful irony, doesn’t it? In England’s bad old days, a basic human right was denied to all but a privileged few. Now, in this more enlightened age, it’s denied to everybody.

    Not really. The privileged few still get protected by weapons. It’s just the Knights aren’t privileged anymore. MPs are a whole different class.

  9. Thanks for the title change.

    After reading “The Delusion of Expertise,” I had a thought, and checked. Sure enough, the conference referred to by “Expertise” seems to have taken place in May 2003.

    Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, which prominently features telecommunications hackers of the Discworld’s semaphore system, and including the clandestine group The Smoking Gnu, was written in September 2004.

    I can’t help but think that you, and the others at that conference, inspired that novel.

  10. >Heck, maybe you know [Goldberg] already…

    I think I might have met him at a mat-cutting event run by local aikidokas a few years back.

  11. >I can’t help but think that you, and the others at that conference, inspired that novel.

    Seems not unlikely. That was the first Penguicon, an amazing good time that kicked off a string of excellent conventions that’s just passed year seven. Terry and I were co-guests-of-honor for that one.

  12. >That really puts a point on a dreadful irony, doesn’t it? In England’s bad old days, a basic human right was denied to all but a privileged few. Now, in this more enlightened age, it’s denied to everybody.

    That’s not actually true: England had few weapons laws until comparatively recently, and what laws they did have were mainly restrictions on when and how they were used. Don’t forget that England built an empire at least partly on yeoman soldiery, men who owned their own weapons of war and trained with them on a regular basis (at least in theory). The longbow of 1350 was the ‘assault weapon’ of it’s day.

  13. When I saw the title, I thought Pratchett was being made a SFWA Grandmaster.

  14. federico: Pratchett’s famous novels are not what most people consider sci-fi. Most people would consider them fantasy. I personally prefer the definition of science fiction that revolves around the story picking a coherent set of rules that differs from real reality and then running with a story that at least partially emerges from the different set of rules, in which case Pratchett’s works are pretty much is sci-fi, but that is not a conventional definition. (Though prior to Discworld he does have a couple of things that are sci-fi by every definition, that I can’t call “famous” in good faith.)

    A potentially-too-complete answer to “where can I start” is provided on LSpace.org; basically any of the yellow books in the picture. If you insist on one recommendation, Mort is the traditional answer. It is a fair representation of the series and doesn’t depend on significant prior reading, but I feel they get better after that, too. Unfortunately the better ones do read much better in order.

  15. >which would you advise a non-sf fan to start with?

    The only sf Discworld novel is ‘Strata’, which is not a Discworld novel. I love it; Only book that measured up to early Niven until Eliezer Yudkovsky. But then I love sf, and Irish bulls.

  16. First Pratchett:

    I strongly recommend the one I mentioned: Going Postal. Although characters from prior novels do appear, they’re supporting characters. Other than that, it’s a self contained story, of a popular type.

    Lords and Ladies and Small Gods are also pretty good standalones.

    If your audience is younger, Wee Free Men and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents are fine introductions.

    The LSpace chart seems to be aimed more at fans who want to read everything in the most convenient order, not necessarily the best introduction to someone who’s not a SF&F fan already.

  17. totally off topic, but somewhat in the vein of sir Pratchett and his thunderstones.

    If you are somewhere dark, go out and take a look at Jupiter. It is currently very close to Earth. Opposite the sun. You can’t miss it. Brightest thing in the sky to the east of the moon. should be high noon at midnight. I used a pair of binos and could see the Galilean moons. WAY COOL!

  18. I picked up Equal Rites a while back, and didn’t dig it. (It’s what the library had.) Should I try another one, or was that one representative?

  19. Equal Rites was the third book in the series, and the first novel. To someone who started out reading later books (me, for one), it reads somewhat strangely, as if it’s almost a Discworld novel but hasn’t gotten there yet. I recommend trying one of the later ones.

    There are three main tracks through the series: There are stories about the witches of Lancre, which start with Wyrd Sisters; there are stories about the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, which start with Guards! Guards!; and there are stories about Death and, eventually, his granddaughter Susan, which start with Mort. The last was the slowest to build up; it wasn’t really fully developed until Susan came on the scene, and she wasn’t fully realized till around Hogfather. The Night Watch books really take off with Men at Arms, in which the Night Watch starts having to deal with sex and species inclusiveness. On the other hand, Wyrd Sisters has its central characters fully realized practically from page one. But the Night Watch books have strong resonances with police procedurals, noir, and real world politics which may make them an easier read for someone who’s not strongly interested in the fantastic aspects.

    The single biggest criticism I have of Equal Rites is that the Granny Weatherwax in it isn’t the same Granny Weatherwas who appears in Wyrd Sisters.

  20. I’d be perfectly willing to say that Equal Rites might be the weakest Discworld book. You might give the series another try.

  21. I think Terry may have actually become a Monk of Cool, as well. “Yo, my son, which of these projects is the most interesting to implement? And the correct answer is: Hey, whatever I select.”

    Yours,
    Tom

  22. @Jeremy Bowers thanks for the info and the link. I followed the Queen’s advice and decided to start at the beginning, with The colour of Magic.

  23. That really puts a point on a dreadful irony, doesn’t it? In England’s bad old days, a basic human right was denied to all but a privileged few. Now, in this more enlightened age, it’s denied to everybody.

    Going from a situation where a small group is allowed to intimidate everyone else with bigass pieces of ironmongery to a situation where no one is ain’t necessarily a step backwards. Though I suppose if your society has no memory of going through the former stage you might have different ideas about what constitutes basic human rights.

  24. @everybody

    Aikido and swords do mix well.

    Some googling will find you Erik Louw, 5th dan Aikido and 7th dan Katori Shinto Ryu (sword). He forges his own swords. See this youtube movie trailer (sorry, sound in Dutch).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw7ZQ7x3fHo

    There are some more youtube movies starring him.

    For those who wonder what Aikido is all about:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bP5-MPTRu4&p=251BB6241B94A5BE&playnext=1&index=10

    Or for the handicapped:

  25. >Speaking of swords, how come a search for “Mongoliad” yields no results here?

    Because I’d never heard of it before. Those are my kinds of folks, all right; I’ve even been friendly with both Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson (Neal asked me for advice about guns once).

  26. Excellent, I thought you’d like that. They got together specifically to learn sword fighting so they could write better sword fighting scenes. In one of the supplementary behind-the-scenes pieces they even talk about going to sword camp.

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