Remembering Terry Pratchett

I think Terry Pratchett’s death finally hit home for me today. I’ve been kind of numb about it before now, but today I learned abut this proposal for GNU Terry Pratchett. And as I was commenting about it on G+ I found myself crying.

Here’s a very slightly improved version of what I said on G+. I don’t think I knew Terry well enough to give him the tribute he really deserved, so this will have to do.

What – you think Terry would want us to increase the clacks overhead on his behalf? No, no; I don’t claim to have been a really close friend of his, but I knew him for enough years and through enough conversation to object that that wasn’t like him at all.

IMO, the proper tribute is to keep his name not in excess and useless reply headers but in our hearts, thoughts, and actions.

Remember how human he was. How his comedy mellowed and broadened into deep wisdom. How he laughed at humanity’s foibles without descending into bitterness. Everything he wrote celebrated intelligence and kindness. So should we.

Fuck, I’m tearing up. Dammit, I miss him. It sucks that I’ll never get to teach him pistol 102. I will remember to the end of my life the way that his reserve cracked a little when I gave him his “hacker” ribbon at Penguicon 2003 – how the child who’d been told he couldn’t be a programmer because he was “no good at maths” felt on finally knowing, all the way down, that we accepted him as one of our own.

Because Terry loved us. He loved everybody, most of the time, but he loved the people of the clacks especially. We were one of his roads not taken, and he (rightly!) saw himself in our earnestness and intelligence and introversion and determined naivete and skewed sense of humor and urge to tinker. It mattered to him that we loved him, and in the unlikely event there’s an afterlife it will matter to him still.

So don’t forget Terry, not ever. Because if we showed him what he could have been, he showed us what we can be. Wiser. Funnier. Unafraid of hard truths, but gentle in our use of them. To remember him as he deserves, become better than you are.

37 thoughts on “Remembering Terry Pratchett

  1. Among his many honors: the author of the books most often stolen from English libraries (so I’ve heard).

    I hope this isn’t indelicate to ask, and perhaps nobody here knows, but given his public support for assisted suicide, I wonder if that was his choice at the end. AFAIK, Alzheimer’s (even the early-onset kind) isn’t fatal so quickly.

  2. @PapayaSF: “I hope this isn’t indelicate to ask, and perhaps nobody here knows, but given his public support for assisted suicide, I wonder if that was his choice at the end.”

    According to news reports, he died of natural causes, surrounded by his family, and did not take his own life. I think I’m grateful he was spared the need to make that choice.

    I also understand that what he had was not, in fact, early onset Alzheimer’s, but a different and rare condition that attacked the brain whose *symptoms* were similar to those of Alzheimer’s. It would explain his fairly rapid demise.
    ______
    Dennis

  3. “Natural causes”, unfortunately, could be many things. I’ve seen it used as a euphemism for “drug overdose”. I could easily see it as a substitute for “took some substance that naturally induced cessation of brain activity”. In general, I interpret “natural causes” as a veiled request to not inquire more deeply, and since I’m not a professional homicide investigator, I leave it at that.

  4. A writer of his capacity does not need anything but his books and their hopefully never waning readership to preserve his name. Besides, his books are the primary reason why he deserves this, so it is just fitting.

    As a personal pledge I can promise I will buy a hardcopy for every book of his I acquired or will acquire as an e-book, regardless of whether it was purchased in that format or torrented. Both because torrenting and respect don’t match well (the main reason I am unashamed about piracy is because most books, music or games are so mediocre they are single-use only, fire-and-forget, so they are the equivalent of borrowing a book or CD once and never again from a public library, demanding such a payment for that is IMHO preposterous) and because my child(ren) or other people discover them easier if they are hardcopy. In fact, I am looking at the Unseen Library leather bound ones now, as those preserve even better, just not sure they are genuine.

  5. Apparently his daughter twittered the final tweets:

    AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

    Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

    The End.

  6. Should an opensource developer be “blackballed” if he holds unacceptable views?

    A story on the Phoronix linux news site about a release of an Open Source videogame was manually removed after a few days.
    The reason cited was the developer’s views on social issues such as gender equality (1).

    The release story was titled “Xonotic-Forked ChaosEsqueAnthology Sees New Release – Phoronix” and can be accessed via the google cache(2).

    Are the social or political views of an author of free software relevant to that software’s inherent quality?
    Should the beliefs of an opensource developer weigh when when evaluating whether a piece of opensource software is worthy of any publicity or public notice?
    Should men with unpopular or “forbidden” views be excised from the opensource movement and “not allowed” to contribute, in a manner similar to that which is done in employment?
    Has the free/opensource software movement changed in these respects since its founding? If so is this a positive change?
    Should there be gatekeepers to opensource that decide who may and who may not contribute. Should abusive developers be “blackballed” to maintain proper social order and controls?

    Citations:
    (1) http://www.phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?115776-Xonotic-Forked-ChaosEsqueAnthology-Sees-New-Release/page2
    “Fortunately, the article has been removed now.”
    “Thanks everybody for speaking up.”
    (2) https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:JeCIgSFrBlgJ:http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page%3Dnews_item%26px%3DChaosEsqueAnthology-Rel-51%2Bchaosesque&gbv=1&tbs=qdr:w&hl=en&&ct=clnk

    Removed story URL:
    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=ChaosEsqueAnthology-Rel-51

    • >Should an opensource developer be “blackballed” if he holds unacceptable views?

      I see MikeUSA is back in action. I defended his free-expression rights once; it was not a pleasant thing to do, but it was necessary.

      However, MikeUSA’s “games” have a history of being propaganda pieces full of ugly misogynistic violence. Do not take his claims to be concerned with liberty at face value.

  7. @Shenpen: We have a complete set of the Discworld books in hardcover. I never really got into them, but my SO is a fan. Some were editions ordered through Amazon UK because she wanted the British covers.

    The Unseen Library editions appear to be genuine, in the sense of “authorized editions”. There are various “collector’s editions” by third-parties, done with the permission of the rights holder. An old friend was planning to produce hardcover collector’s editions of the works of H. Beam Piper. Ace Books held the rights and was willing to permit it, as his editions would not be competing with theirs, but their rights and permissions people were busy with other stuff.and couldn’t get to him just yet. Before they did, Piper’s work lapsed into the public domain, and most started showing up on Project Gutenberg. He was moderately gobsmacked.

    But the outfit that did the Unseen Library editions apparently went under, so good luck on getting a set at an affordable price. See http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=5330
    ______
    Dennis

  8. ESR: The game in question here appears to be a first person shooter.

    It is not clear who develops it. It does seem to use many mikeeusa assets, however. 50 maps, 2 texture packs, some music. It also takes another 50+ maps from other contributors, and lots of other texture packs.

    Seems to be alot of work just for propaganda. Violent though, yes. There doesn’t seem to be a way you cannot kill someone.

    Here is a link: http://www.lgdb.org/game/chaosesque-anthology

    The members of the linux news site demand he be “blackballed” and this project suffer the same fate because it either is run by him or it has contributions from him.

    What has happened to opensource? There was never calls to banish a developer or to get rid of their work due to their speech. Contributions were contributions and everyone had the right to fork. Now some wrong person forking is now said to merely be “technically” following the license, but a violation is implied anyway.

    Here’s a quote: “It’s not enough for something to be /apparently/ okay in terms of licensing”

    It’s not enough that the license is followed? There must be more? The developer also has to follow some set of social or political beliefs?

    There seems to be alot of back slapping for having dislike contributors software hidden or removed, and proclamations of software being poison just because a contributor is an asshole or hateful.

    Is this just because now that opensource has many contributors the undesirable people can now be cut loose and excluded? Whereas they were grudgingly accepted in the past or at-least didn’t have their projects censored, removed, hidden etc. (The new Linux Code of Conflict, aka Code of Conduct / Speech Code anyone?)

    Things seem to have changed alot. Is this freedom?

    • >The game in question here appears to be a first person shooter.

      It’s a bunch of skins over someone else’s game engine – or at least that was MikeeUSA’s M.O. before. AFAIK he hasn’t written any actual code, just wanked around with a level editor.

      >The members of the linux news site demand he be “blackballed” and this project suffer the same fate because it either is run by him or it has contributions from him.

      I’m not sure what they think they mean by that. If he puts up a website to publicize the thing, I don’t see how anyone can stop him.

      >It’s not enough that the license is followed? There must be more? The developer also has to follow some set of social or political beliefs?

      I don’t think there’s any such requirement, and I don’t believe most other hackers would either. Usually people who posture in that way are not contributors themselves, just loudmouths and ideological trolls who are not much better that MikeeUSA themselves and are best ignored.

  9. “It’s a bunch of skins over someone else’s game engine – or at least that was MikeeUSA’s M.O. before. AFAIK he hasn’t written any actual code, just wanked around with a level editor.”

    This does not seem to be true at all. As far as I can tell it never was. In the past in the blog post you linked the issue was a perl script, which certainly is some sort of code. The current issue is a fork of xonotic and if one reads the git commit logs it looks as if mikeeusa has been coding quakeC for atleast 2 or 3 years, probably more since usually forks of projects don’t suddenly happen but occur when the parent and sub projects can no-longer swim in the same direction (often there is an inflection point where the parent project makes sweeping needless code changes after a trusted developer steps down or becomes inactive… and someone new steps up to take over and not leave well enough alone (system…d?)).

    This project, in addition to the libre assets of which whom’s licenses are being “violated in spirit” consists of original quakeC code, original maps, original textures, so on and so forth. There has been over 2 years of code contributions committed by a single developer that can be attested to via the git repo. There are also discussions when roadblocks in the code were hit(1). Before that a google search locates uploads to xonotic’s dev wiki(2) consisting of diffs and zip files which goes back to december 2011, which would make for 3 years of quakeC coding at a minimum.

    It appears that he does program, in addition to dicking around with media work.
    The liberal idea that only liberals have the mental capacity to contribute to anything technical is a false narrative.

    Here’s what was said about blackballing after the editor first added the article about the release of the forked game, and then later deleted the article after accusations were made at to its progeny:
    “It’s not enough for something to be apparently okay in terms of licensing. See also Joerg Schiling’s software being excluded from Debian over him being a shitweasel. See “Unteralterbach”, a freely-licensed visual novel about child rape which someone proposed for inclusion in Debian.

    Being a shitweasel is enough to be blackballed. Sorry (actually lying, not sorry in the slightest). “(3)

    Citations:
    (1) http://opengameart.org/forumtopic/chaosesque-anthology-opensourcefree-fps-standalone-mod-of-xonotic-released
    (2) http://dev.xonotic.org/issues/855.html
    (3) http://www.phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?115776-Xonotic-Forked-ChaosEsqueAnthology-Sees-New-Release/page3&s=10ad66ba40c1fa8b228ee1b33eca1909

    • >It appears that he does program, in addition to dicking around with media work.

      I stand corrected.

      >See also Joerg Schiling’s software being excluded from Debian over him being a shitweasel.

      I can sort of sympathize. Schilling isn’t an outright loon, but he has some very strange fixations that he can be quite obnoxious about. None of them are political in even the broadest sense, though, so there’s no suppression-of-debate issue with ostracizing him.

      >See “Unteralterbach”, a freely-licensed visual novel about child rape which someone proposed for inclusion in Debian.

      Say what?

      What would a “visual novel” be doing in a Linux distribution, anyway?

  10. “I’m not sure what they think they mean by that. If he puts up a website to publicize the thing, I don’t see how anyone can stop him.”

    The same way they got rid of the “terrorware” presumably.

  11. “What would a “visual novel” be doing in a Linux distribution, anyway?”

    No clue, I don’t really understand why the person brought that up. I think it has to do with Debian’s obsession with packaging /everything/ so some people started throwing media collections at it (they package extra desktop backgrounds and things like that) untill they found something Debian wouldn’t package. Debian didn’t say “this is a visual novel, why would we package it?”, instead they said something like this violates social norms and cited the earlier removal of the “hot babes” X11 toy (I remeber when that happened, after that they started kicking people out of debian who were the types that protested the removal of that small program).

    This, in the person’s mind, proves that it is part of the “opensource” way to exclude and excise projects which have content that would be offensive to social justice minded people, and he is further extending that principal to include projects which are simply associated with persons who oppose social justice.

    IE: You’re either with us, or we will do our best to throw you out of the opensource movement, delete what we can, if we can’t do that we will try to make sure there is no publicity for and no one downloading that project.

    See: node.js (all sexist developers are removed), the debian project post systemd (critics are removed, accused of being trolls), or soon the linux kernel post “code of conflict”.

    Seems the way it is going. No more merit. Only the same thing we have in our waking lives: social justice all the way up and down, and penury or prison for the rest. Just think: being thrown out of writing free software for the same reason you would be thrown out of a corporate job writing payed software. That’s the situation that we have in parts now, and it is being promoted heavily as the new way.

  12. While topic drift is the usual state of affairs on this blog, can I ask that we keep this one related to Sir Terry in some way? The discussion about rejecting someone’s code over their political positions seems much more suited to the Mozilla post than this one.

  13. I am not qualified to have an opinion, but I think open-source methods, ways of thinking, rules and customs were developed for making tools that have a utility and their visuals are at best functional. Historically, open source programmers sucked at visual stuff, just look at how FreeCiv looks like – and look at how the Linux community does not consider that a shame and still plays with it.

    The point is, visual arts – or just generally arts – require an entirely different set of rules, customs and strategies.

    And yes, I think an offensiveness argument is a lot more relevant to arts than to tools. You judge art differently than tools, perhaps, you judge them largely through their psychological effect or how they affect people’s feelings, because if say a musical song would not affect people’s feelings then what the sweet heck would it be good for?! And from this it follows that that “it makes me feel bad” is a whole lot more valid argument against an artwork than against a tool. A song that makes you feel bad is being dysfunctional, effectively buggy for you, while it is not so for regex engine or some similar tool.

    Since open source programmers tend suck at judging art – or else they would refuse to play FreeCiv or TuxKart in disgust, or the whole Tux logo could not have came into existence – I would recommend ruthless excluding artwork form the packages and distros. People can download their own desktop backgrounds. You can make an exception for 100% relevant artwork like Debian logo, Tux etc. but that is where it stops. If you don’t do this, you have to deal with idiots who think a nice photo of a didgeridoo is cultural appropriation. This type of idiocy and the potential attacks / twitterstorms is simply not something smart people should waste their time on. It is better to stick to functional tools that look functional and nothing more.

    I mean it for the majors like Debian. Awesome looking smaller sub-distros made by artistic people is a good idea, right now I would fancy to have a Puppy Linux type fast, low-hardware live DVD with a Game of Thrones visual theme, but the point is that in this cases only a few people, a small sub-community would open themselves to attacks and not risk the main thing. And that sub-community would be artistic people who know how to defend it.

  14. Right, ontopic. Was magic in the Ringworld series purely a parody of the magic systems of other fantasy books / RPGs or did Sir Terry study the history of Wicca, occultism etc. and made joking references to that too? @ESR did you ever get this impression “wow this joke relates to not something e.g. Jack Vance or Tolkien wrote but what people like me actually practiced” ?

    E.g. the taboo of the number 8 reminds me of Chinese taboos of the number 4 and Western taboos of 13.

    • >Was magic in the Ringworld series purely a parody of the magic systems of other fantasy books / RPGs or did Sir Terry study the history of Wicca, occultism etc. and made joking references to that too?

      There are elements of both.

      It is obvious to any Wiccan that Terry knew a great deal about Wicca; I never even had to discuss this with him myself, it was so clear from some of the detail in the parodies. He even understood the difference between “hard” Wiccans like myself and what we sometimes call fluffy-bunny Wiccans, the credulous crystal-wearing New-Agey types. When Granny Weatherwax talks of “headology” she is being very hard-Wiccan.

      The theogony of Small Gods – gods as projections of belief, created by human imagination and gaining or losing power as their worshiper bases grow or decline, is generic to modern neopaganism, including but not limited to Wicca. There are both supernaturalist and rationalist/physicalist versions of it.

      On the other hand, wizard magic is pretty much the standard fantasy/D&D version, deftly parodied as usual with Terry.

  15. Tribute to Terry Pratchett from Randall Munroe:
    http://xkcd.com/1498/
    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/terry_pratchett.png

    I have quite nice “After the King. Stories in Honour of J. R. R. Tolkien”, a collection of fantasy stories… including “Troll Bridge” by Terry Pratchett. It would be much, much better tribute to gather authors and create such anthology in honour of Pterry, rather that pointless GNU Terry Pratchett.

    Now to find an editor… ;-)

  16. Please forgive another off-topic post, but have Eric and the rest of you folks heard about Ethereum? A programming language that lives on top of a blockchain. Fascinating.

  17. I remember reading The Colour of Magic and lapping up the sheer brilliance of it. At the time, it was a brittle sort of brilliance, but as time went on Pratchett mellowed and sharpened at the same time, until Discworld became amongst the best satire of modern groupthink orthodoxies around.

    Neil Gaiman thought that he wrote from a place of anger, and I can see his point, but there was a lot of compassion too, even for the villians.

    RIP, Terry Pratchett, you will be sorely missed.

  18. esr on 2015-03-16 at 19:14:28 said:
    > However, MikeUSA’s “games” have a history of being propaganda pieces full of ugly misogynistic violence. Do not take his claims to be concerned with liberty at face value.

    But you have not yourself actually seen this evil game content. It is sufficient that MikeUSA is a bad person condemned by the good people.

    I, however, have seen his artwork. In that artwork, he protests against obvious and undeniable injustices of the social justice warriors, speaking truth to power, for example: https://encyclopediadramatica.se/File:Legalandillegalinusa.png

    I have not seen his game levels either, but I see no reason to believe they would be any more “misogynistic” than what I have seen.

    • >But you have not yourself actually seen this evil game content. It is sufficient that MikeUSA is a bad person condemned by the good people.

      As so very often happens, you’re talking out your ass. I have in fact viewed many of the images from MikeeUSA’s sludge. I don’t recommend anyone else do so, they are crude and nasty in the extreme.

  19. esr
    > As so very often happens, you’re talking out your ass. I have in fact viewed many of the images from MikeeUSA’s sludge. I don’t recommend anyone else do so, they are crude and nasty in the extreme.

    Crude undoubtedly, but were they any “nastier” than the samples I found, whose only nastiness was to speak truth to power?

  20. That is upsetting about Pratchett. I just saw that now. I am glad though that he had such a productive life.

    I have read nearly everything of his, and have at least 20 books of his sitting around my office. It is amazing how Pratchett’s farcical characters and settings are so human. It’s hard for me to read anything non-Pratchett after reading Pratchett, because no one else is as good. It’s like generic fantasy writing is a Bud Light, when compared with the 18 year top grade Scotch of Pratchett.

    I always admired him. I figured anyone who can write like that, well, they’ve just admirable, as a basic principle.

    • >I always admired him. I figured anyone who can write like that, well, they’ve just admirable, as a basic principle.

      Yeah. Some writers are Really Like That. Pratchett was one. I miss him.

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