I have never spoken to Terry Pratchett, yet I feel he was among my dearest mentors, teachers and friends. Because though I never spoke to him, for over 30 years, he spoke to me.

We often debate the differences between Message Fiction, and Fiction with a Message. The importance of a great story versus the importance of advancing an idea or a value. Can you enjoy a story when the story itself is overwhelmed by the message the author is trying to promote? Is there value in a great story with no message at all? Can a story be great without a message? These are all great debates to have, an import discussion that our community should go through often. But ideally, I think we can all agree that if an author were able, on a regular basis, to embed messages and values into engaging and engrossing stories so well, that at the end, all you could do would be to tell friends, “you have to read this, it may be the best thing I’ve read this year”. And in all that, you’d never even talk about what a great message it was, well, that author would be a Master. Which brings us to Terry Pratchett.

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Most famous for his Discworld books, Pratchett has authored 41 books within that setting. While I would consider any of them appropriate for any reader over the age of 12 in your house, 5 of these books, The Tiffany Aiching series (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight) and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents are considered “Young Adult”. Additionally, he has collaborated with Stephan Baxter in The Long Earth series and Neil Gaiman in Good Omens. Finally, he has assorted other works, many related to the Discworld, such as The Discworld Companion, The Diskworld Mapp, and Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook. But enough about his bibliography, let’s delve into the stories of the Discworld.

For a new reader, in might seem a little daunting at first. 41 books, where to start? Do I have to read them all? Will I get bored? There are several ways to approach this challenge and for just about the only time in my life, I am not going to recommend reading them in the order they were published. While it probably wasn’t his original intent, Pratchett’s Discworld books very conveniently break into themed runs or groups. While there are several books, such as The Small Gods, Pyramids, and Moving Pictures that could all be considered stand alone, most of the books can be grouped into the following categories; Rincewind, The Witches, The City Guard, Tiffany Aiching, Moist Von Lipwig, and of course, Death. Since I really don’t like to recreate the wheel, I’ll just point you to a great table, breaking out the order of publishing as well as the groups on the Discworld Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld). For my purposes, I’m going to concentrate on the City Watch.

I think the reason I love the City Watch books so much is that in these books we see most clearly the development and evolution of characters within their universe. Or perhaps, the characters get tested and stressed, until we can see what was at the core all along. Sam Vimes we meet as a drunkard, a man stuck in a job that he knows will probably, eventually, leave him dead in an alley, unmourned. Carrot, a human adopted and raised by dwarves, but in all the ways that matter, a dwarf in his heart. He must learn about human expectations and society as an outsider And of course, Sgt. Colon, who just wants to make it home each morning, and Corporal Nobs, who carries a document attesting that he is, in fact, human.

But Sam Vimes rises. The drunkard is burned away, and what is left is the steel of the Servant of The Law… eventually. From the first book, Guards! Guards!, Vimes chafes at the restrictions forced on him by expectations and the numbing force of the city bureaucracy. He has given up, and retreated into the bottle, but finds that he cannot stay there. When a dragon is unleashed on the city, he comes out and fights to protect what is his. He pushes through on stubbornness and a sheer refusal to be stopped.

All of this is presented in a gloriously funny manner, poking fun along the way at government, bureaucracy, secret societies, dragons and dragon-slayers. As well as any other targets of opportunity that might present themselves along the way. While it is not the first Discworld book, it is a great place to start. Guards! Guards! brings us into a more developed world than Color of Magic (The first Discworld book) and The Light Fantastic (The second), one that has allowed Pratchett to work out his mythologies and rules that govern his fantastic universe. In it, he builds wonderful characters with lives and histories and motivations. Each endearing, and each relatable in their own way. Within the city of Anhk-Morpork, and within the city guard, Pratchett is able to explore, the themes of crime and punishment, racism (or on Discworld, speciesism), the challenges of women in field populated mostly by men, the role of Kings and government, the rule of Law, and military adventurism. And still, with all the messages and points that he wants to talk about, you never feel like the message is the point. Rather, you feel like you’ve read a great story, one that you will return to read again, to share with your children. One that you will tell your friends that they have to read, because it might be the best, funniest, most amazing thing you’ve read all year.

Unfortunately, Pratchett has gone on to meet his maker. He made a wonderful character of Death, so I hope that when the final messenger came to meet him, it was as two friends who have talked many times, going off for a final walk together. I believe that was the attitude that he himself held. After all, this is the man, when knighted, chose to include in his personal Coat of Arm the phrase, “Noli Timere Messorum”. Do Not Fear the Reaper.

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Sir Terry Pratchett

April 28, 1948 – March 12, 2015