12 March 2015

Between the falling angel and the rising ape: Thoughts on Terry Pratchett

First of all: Context.

I don't know that this is going to make any sense. I don't know that this is going to be anything but word salad. But there is so much welled up in me right now, boiling and melting and freezing and raging and crying, that I have to let it out. To keep it in would be insane. To try to write it out would be, perhaps, equally insane. But here I am nevertheless.

I am not the best person to tell you what Terry Pratchett was like. That would probably be Neil Gaiman, or Terry's daughter Rihanna, both of whom are writers better at the craft than my pale imaginings will ever make me. All I can tell you is what Terry Pratchett did for me.

Terry Pratchett made me better.

Terry's books found me in my early 30s, and what they found was an angry, cynical, bitter ball of a man. They took that man and made him laugh, and made him see that there is hope, that love is worthwhile, that faith can be a fiction and still be necessary, that there is someone out there for each and every one of us, and that even a dragon needs a good shag once in a while. And they did not do this by being syrupy affirmations of the goodness of humankind; no. That would be the easy way, and I would not have responded to that.

They did it the hard way. They did it the hard way by being hard. By acknowledging the cynicism, the bitterness, the anger, not denying them--and then using them to confound themselves, by showing their characters putting aside the bitterness, overcoming the anger, moving past the cynicism, and rising above to become the better people they always could have been. And that is the mark of genius.

Think about it. The man humanized Death, for God's sakes, and made him a relatable, understandable, beloved character. That takes a level of talent that is beyond my ken to describe.

It was Terry who showed me--or maybe just reminded me, which is just as good--that men and women could rise above their baser selves, be more like unto the angels we like to imagine ourselves as being--closer to that point where the falling angel meets the rising ape, to use Terry's beautiful, indelible phrase. It was Terry who showed me (or reminded me) that you could be angry all you wanted--it was what you did with that anger that counted. It was Terry who reminded me (or showed me) that as unpleasant as human beings can be, there are always particles of joy and hope and caring tucked away inside us all, and that it is our job to nudge those particles together and turn them into something more.

I never laughed harder than I did when reading Terry. I never cried for more reason than I did when reading Terry Pratchett. I never felt angrier than I did when Terry was angry in one of his books. And I never left one of his books feeling cheated or let down.

And Terry made me better. He made a lot of us, better I think. And that is why losing him now, as we have, hurts so much. Because we need him now, more than ever. To help us be better. To find the falling angel within us, to give wings to us poor little apes, trying so hard to rise above. To make us laugh. To help us cry. To give us joy.

And now he's gone, to whatever reward awaits a genius who touched millions. And those millions are left behind wondering what is next.

Well, I'll tell you.

We do what Terry would have wanted us to do.

We keep rising.

Goodbye Terry. We'll see you when we get there. We send our love and our smiles with you as a last, nourishing gift as you cross that long, black desert with your good friend the Reaper Man.

Thank you, Sir. Thank you.

07 March 2015

The Challenge, Week 1: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love walnuts with teeth

So: it’s been a week since I agreed to take up K. Tempest Bradford’s challenge to spend a year reading books by people other than white cis males. So far I have read one book, and now cats and dogs are living together, two headed calves are being born to three headed chickens, hands are writing MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN on the walls wherever I go and no, none of that is really happening. Actually, I’ve been a little gassy but that’s about it, and I’m pretty sure that has more to do with my calorie count than with someone else’s word count. 

Though to hear some people tell it, I am worse than a Nazi for reading a book outside the normal white male hetero milieu. Tempest tweeted Thursday morning that someone had accused her of running an Inquisition. Which, aside from being fucking hilarious, is further evidence that Some People Are Ignorant And Do Not Know What Words Mean. Tempest is, I assure you, not running any sort of Inquisition. I know this because neither I nor anyone else has been issued one of those sweet-ass red uniforms. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have anywhere to wear the damn thing.

Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear!
Plus an almost fanatical devotion to the fire hydrant!

But I digress. Onward:

So: last week into this I read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. Ursula is someone I've been aware of for years, via her art and her comic Digger. I knew she was writing prose now, but hadn't had a chance to read any of it because I am a) lazy, b) lazy, and c) lazy. But by a delightful coincidence my wife acquired a review copy of Vernon's upcoming kid-lit book, and I jumped at the chance to read something by someone I've always wanted to read. 

Without divulging too much since it is still an upcoming novel, Castle Hangnail is a delightful confection of a novel about a young witch who wants to take possession of an ancient castle. It is fun, funny, wastes neither a moment nor a breath on extraneous business not related to the story, and has just enough darkness to keep things interesting and add real stakes, without it being too scary for the kiddos. The characters are a delight--including a goldfish you may recognize if you are at all familiar with Ursula's art--and I blasted through the book with a grin on my face. So. Much. Fun. 

Next up are Sherri Tepper's True Game trilogy, followed by some Walter Mosely and Octavia Butler. After that, I have some more ideas. So much to read, so little time!