Early Announcements

Today, it seems, is adaptation day. Or, at least, the day I’m finding out about pending adaptations that were announced Tuesday.

According to Entertainment Weekly, The Jim Henson Company is adapting Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men into a feature film.

This is–IMNSHO, naturally–a brilliant move, albeit one with a couple of potential pitfalls.

Wee Free Men is not, as the EW article, suggests “Discworld‘s introductory novel”. It is, however, the introduction to the Tiffany Aching subseries of the Discworld novels; a set of works aimed explicitly at a YA audience. A film version–a good film version–could bring a whole new generation of fans to Terry Pratchett’s writing. And there are enough Tiffany Aching books in the series to allow for multiple sequels without stretching on for so long that the filmmakers risk descending into self-parody.

But there are those danger points. Henson has shown they can mix puppetry and live actors to good effect (see Labyrinth, for instance). But I’d be concerned if they went with an all-Muppet approach a la The Dark Crystal. Maybe they could pull it off, but I’m pessimistic enough to hope they don’t try.

More worrisome is the question of how the script will treat the titular Nac Mac Feegles. The joy of the characters comes directly from their reckless disregard for their personal safety coupled with a default assumption that an unplanned, all-out attack is the answer to any problem. Add their unrestrained use of creatively salty language, and any scene featuring them quickly reaches levels of chaos not found in this universe since the Big Bang.* Cleaning up their language or moderating their behavior in the name of “protecting the children” from bad influences would absolutely destroy them, both as foils for Tiffany’s peculiar brand of common sense and as characters in their own right.

* Remember Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin? Lock him permanently in manic mode, give him an impenetrable accent, a vocabulary that would would make Queen Victoria blush (if she could decipher it through that accent), shrink him to six inches in height, and multiply him by twenty. That’s the Nac Mac Feegles.

Fingers crossed–but on the whole, I’m optimistic about this partnership.

The other announcement comes from The Hollywood Reporter. According to their “Exclusive” piece, Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels are being adapted for TV.

I’m dubious at best.

Keep in mind that this is not the first time a video adaptation has been mooted–in particular, I recall a planned animated film of the first book, Nine Princes in Amber in the late ’70s–and the idea keeps popping back up. As far as I can tell, none of the attempts have made any significant progress. And let’s not forget that the producers don’t even have a writer in hand to do the adaptation yet, much less an agreement with a TV outlet (though the production company’s multiple ties to AMC suggest who they’ll likely approach first).

On the other hand, the choice to shoot for TV instead of a movie or series movies is a good one. Splitting the ten books across several seasons gives plenty of scope for a faithful adaptation. The story’s extended intra-family intrigue and the need for some spectacular effects demand a very cinematic approach. Game of Thrones has demonstrated that a TV show can be made with that orientation. Maybe they can pull it off.

Then there’s that third thought: the producers in question are Robert Kirkman and Dave Alpert of The Walking Dead fame. I don’t know if that bodes well or poorly for Amber: I haven’t seen The Walking Dead in any of its incarnations, but what I’ve heard doesn’t fill me with happy thoughts about how much reverence they’re likely to pay to the source material when given an opportunity to go for shock value or artificial tension.

Done well, Amber would make spectacular television. Done poorly, well, the cancelation notice might find us in prophetic sympathy with the first novel’s opening words: “It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.”

A Call to Action

“…those first pyramids had been built by human beings, little bags of thinking water held up briefly by fragile accumulations of calcium.” Terry Pratchett, Pyramids

As you might expect, I’m not happy today.

In case you hadn’t heard already, Terry Pratchett has died.

I’m not going to eulogize him here; I firmly believe that should be done by those who knew him personally*.

I think Neil Gaiman was on the right track when he said on Twitter, “Donate to Alzheimer’s research and make it so things like this don’t happen.” I’ll just add “And go read one of Pterry’s pyramids.”

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for fans of science fiction and fantasy. We’ve lost two major icons***. Inevitably, many will react with “OMG, who’s going to be next?” comments, based on the superstition that bad news comes in threes. There are certainly any number of major SFF icons whose health is precarious. But let’s face it, Death can tap any one of us on the shoulder at any time.

We’re also going to be multiply reminded of how much Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Pratchett accomplished in their lives. And we’ll think, if only for a second, that it wasn’t enough. We’ll think about the shows and movies that will never be made and the books that will never be written.

In memory of those never-to-be-created works, get out there and do some creating of your own. Write a book, cook a meal, make a movie, plant a tree, compose a tune, vote to recall a corrupt politician. It won’t be enough, but it sure as hell beats the alternative.

* While being fully aware that thousands who knew him only through his writing** will rush to say what they feel.

**Yes, I’m one of the millions who knew him only, etc. I’ve already said most of what I feel about Pterry and his work; I won’t use up too many more electrons talking about what he meant to me.

*** For those of you who aren’t fans, Leonard Nimoy, aka Star Trek’s Spock, died on February 27.


I heard recently that the Texas School Board had banned Terry Pratchett’s books from schools. As a big fan of his work, I was disturbed to hear it. Also rather surprised, as I hadn’t thought there was anything in his works that was likely to lead to a ban. Granted, the Texas School Board is notorious for banning books on little provocation,* but if they were going to start banning Pratchett, they’d almost have to ban the entire SFF canon.

* In 2010, a children’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” was banned because its author had the same name as the author of “Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation”. The latter book is obviously a “very strong critique of capitalism and the American system”, and children must be protected from any works by an author who could create such dubious content. The fact that it was a different author altogether escaped the attention of the Board member who added “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to the list. 2010 was a busy year for the board, which revamped the social studies curriculum to remove mention of Hispanics, stress the superiority of American capitalism, and eliminate discussion of the separation of church and state, then later in the year banned books that have an “anti-Christian, pro-Islamic slant“.

So I went online and did a bit of digging. Given Pratchett’s ardent large and vociferous fanbase, I didn’t figure it would take much digging to turn up the details. I spent rather longer at it than I expected. After a couple of hours of digging over two days, I could only find one mention of a ban on Pratchett’s work. It is in Texas, but it’s not a blanket ban, and it has nothing to do with schools. The single book “The Last Hero” is banned from Texas prisons. The reason for the ban isn’t stated in the report, but presumably it has something to do with the plot which features an attempt to destroy the home of the gods with a sled load of explosives.

I’ve just used over 300 words on this, not to debunk an apparently non-existent banning or to warn about the dangers of believing everything you hear, but because it reminded me that I really should do at least a brief write up on Terry Pratchett. Long way around the barn, isn’t it?

Stylistically speaking, Pratchett is almost as great an influence on my own writing as Douglas Adams. (It probably says something significant about me that my major stylistic influences are British, but that may be a topic for another day.) Where Adams’ style is, in my opinion, monological, Pratchett’s is more conversational. I can almost hear the pauses where he expects the reader to ask questions. His use (some might say “abuse”) of footnotes is legendary, and certainly has had great impact on my own use of digression in both speech and writing.

Pratchett’s dedication to his craft is admirable. Despite having been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease in 2007, he has continued writing. He has used a combination of speech recognition software and dictation to produce at least four more books in the Discworld series, now at forty titles, as well as other works of both fiction and non-fiction.

Forty titles in the Discworld series, and they haven’t gotten stale?

Nope. He’s kept them fresh by focusing on different characters, different locations (he does have a whole world to play with, after all), and even different time periods. Even when he says with a single character for an extended period, the characters grow and change, learning and taking on new challenges.

The majority of the first book in the series, “The Colour of Magic”, is made up of his takes on Lovecraft’s Cthulu and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders; in both cases, he expertly straddles the line between parody and pastiche. Almost in passing, Pratchett built a universe which has far outgrown its origins. Few readers would advise those new to the Discworld to begin with “The Colour of Magic” or the second book in the series, “The Light Fantastic”. Beginning with the third book, “Equal Rites”, Pratchett began focusing on the characters who inhabit his universe; the tropes of fantasy became places to begin an exploration.

My own recommendation would be to begin with “Equal Rites”, which introduces the Witches and the town of Lancre; “Mort”, which elevates Death from a bit part to a starring and continuing role; and “Guards! Guards!” which brings the Ank-Morpork City Watch to the fore (and says some very complimentary things about libraries). With those three books, the majority of the ongoing characters and most common locations are in place. The reader, by now probably well-hooked, can then move on to the remaining thirty-seven books in the series.

Although the Discworld fantasies are the work for which Pratchett is best-known, he began his career writing children’s fiction in both fantasy and science fiction modes. His first two adult novels were science fiction, and has lately returned to science fiction in collaboration with Stephen Baxter. Personal preference here: while Pratchett’s SF is good, the fantasy is much better at each stage of his career. The stories flow more smoothly and seem more internally-consistent. Perhaps most importantly, in fantasy Pratchett seems to feel free to let his sense of humor fly free, but reins it in in his science fiction.