Saturday, 2 March 2013

Terry Pratchett- A Blink of the Screen: Collected Fiction

A Blink of the Screen- Collected Shorter Fiction

"The traditional enmity between dwarfs and trolls has been explained away by one simple statement: one species is made of rock, the other is made of miners. But in truth the enmity is there because no one can remember when it wasn’t, and so it continues because everything is done in completely justifiable revenge for the revenge that was taken in response to the revenge for the vengeance that was taken earlier, and so on. Humans never do this sort of thing, much."

It's safe to say that the vast majority of popular authors eventually release at least one collection of short stories, letters and other previously unreleased miscellanea, as kind of an easy cash-in on their success and as a treat for their biggest fans, who inevitably can't resist making sure they have their favourite author's entire bibliography. I reviewed George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (which is one only many collections of the legendary author's many essays and articles) not long ago as an example, as is Hunter S. Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt. Another that springs to mind as a favorite is the posthumous Douglas Adams collection The Salmon of Doubt.

As a devout fan of the great man Pratchett, A Blink of the Screen was an essential purchase. Upon first thought, it seems strange that it's taken so long for such a project to be released, especially since Pratchett has hardly been shy about contributing to a great many Discworld companions of various types. When you consider he's been hugely popular for twenty years now it seems odder. It turns out that the explanation for this is a simple one, and one that really defines the nature and appeal, or lack of (I'll get to that) this book. A Blink of the Screen collects thirty-three individual pieces of shorter work dating from 1963 to the present day. Eleven of these are Discworld pieces, and constitute most of the appeal of the book.

This is a definitive collection, no doubt. The first story, The Hades Business from 1963 was written when Pratchett was 13-years-old, and there are a quite a few originating from his younger years. These are amusing enough, clearly showing a young writer with lots of potential, but inevitably aren't anywhere near the quality we're used to from him. The later writings, including several of the Discworld bits, are very short bits of miscellanea that seem included merely to pad out the Discworld content and sell more copies. They're funny little sketches from the recognisable pen of the mature Pratchett, but I have the feeling many will be disappointed with their briefness.

The meat and potatoes, as they say, lies in Pratchett's years of developing fame, roughly encapsulated here from 1986 to 1993, where his stories clearly display the work of a man just beginning to plumb the depths of his imagination. The High Megas (1986) is the short story which eventually evolved into last year's The Long Earth novel (which I annoyingly don't have, yet alone have read) and it's a breath-taking piece of imaginative sci-fi reminiscent of the short stories of Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, only with a lot more wit. Meanwhile, there are three brilliant Discworld short stories that are almost worth the price of admission themselves, if only they hadn't been available on the Internet for free since they came out.

Pratchett gives short introductions to each piece, and it's through this that he reveals the truth; he doesn't enjoy writing short stories whatsoever, and envies those people who do them for fun. It's an honest admission for someone selling a short story collection, but it really defines the truth. There are at least 100 pages of legitimately great, on-form Pratchett stories in here, but the rest of it is merely collected for the sake of it. Rather than having reams and reams of material to source from, Pratchett was left with the scraps. It makes complete sense because there's absolutely loads of published material from Sir Terry, he doesn't leave many scraps. So, as it is, this book is really only for obsessives, or for people who don't mind paying for convenience. I'm happy to have it because it looks very nice and makes me feel like a cool librarian (oxymoron?), but I doubt I'll be referring to it as a must have to any burgening fans of my favourite author.