People’s reactions to celebrity deaths bother me.
Usually it’s an actor – often one that perhaps hasn’t been around much anyway, due to declining health. Then their publicist or manager announces their death, and then … it seems to be a race as to who gets to be first to announce it to their Facebook peers.
Very often, this excuse to be first to bring the bad news will be wrapped-up in some trite, easy-to-digest soundbyte, like “You will be missed. RIP.”. To me, this feels inappropriate. Unless you’re that actor’s family, can you really claim you’re going to miss them? You never met them. You’ve not seen them in anything new for the last decade, and you’ll continue to see them on TV whenever Dave or UKGold does a rerun, or perhaps the next bank-holiday Monday.
If that actor was your family, then it’s your privilege to acknowledge you’ll miss them. To you, he wasn’t “that actor off them Carry-On films” or “that guy who was in all those adverts? You know, with the beard?” … he was “Dad” or “Granddad”.
I like to think I’m respectful of the dead; but to announce it on Facebook, wrapped in a trivial condolence-card cliché seems to cheapen it a bit.
Having said all that (and in doing so, highlighting what a dispassionate arsehole I clearly am) I’d like to completely contradict it now and talk about Terry Pratchett.
This is a blog written by a geek, so obviously I’m going to be a Discworld fan. I don’t think it’s possible to work in games-development and not be. Discworld trivia should be a mandatory part of games-dev interviews. If you don’t know the significance of “Oook!” then you’re in the wrong place.
Terry’s mortality has been well documented for a number of years. Alzheimer’s is an evil affliction, but for it to hit such a creative mind is especially cruel. Nevertheless, even though we knew his days were numbered, I suspect most of us didn’t expect it quite yet. Only his nearest and dearest saw the decline – we, the outsiders, could merely hope for a new book. Preferably involving Sam Vimes and Vetinari, if at all possible.
And now he’s gone. I met him just once – I queued for five hours in Derby for a book signing. He was a lovely gent even though he was clearly knackered, and the wanker in front of me in the queue had just presented him with every book he owned to sign, despite a sign saying “two books maximum, please”.
The thing is: I really am going to miss him! And I’m surprised by how much I feel that loss. A 30-second conversation with him about how my wife and I got together because we both read Discworld books (for which he apologised profusely, and offered me a sweet) does not constitute a relationship. I can re-read his books any time I like (and in fact, I might very well start a Discworld marathon soon) and my life is unaffected by his passing. So there’s no logical reason why it should bother me as it does.
Terry embraced technology and the Internet long before any other author. Today, every author has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed – but I can’t think of any before Terry who engaged with his readers so intentionally. He communicated with his fans on usenet, engaged in debates both relevant to his work and irrelevant. He killed the notion of an author being an inapproachable entity, locked in a shed with a typewriter. To document his illness later (improving public awareness of Alzheimer’s and the legal ramifications of the Right To Die) was an extension of this mindset.
So perhaps the line between “fan” and “family” isn’t quite as clear-cut as I thought. When someone creates as much as Terry, and then continues to communicate with his fans afterwards, he is no longer just some guy whose books we read. He’s someone who really has had an impact on our lives; an impact we don’t appreciate until he’s gone.
So for the first time, I can genuinely declare that this is a public figure I’m going to miss!
I don’t want to make this blog post an obituary or tribute to Terry, because there’s already plenty of those around and I don’t feel I have anything insightful to contribute. Instead, I’m going to finish off by highlighting some of the tributes I’ve seen on the Internet, existing in blissful contrast to the usual “condolences. Will be missed. RIP” messages that I usually see.
First: here’s the messages on Twitter from Rhianna, announcing Terry’s passing:
If you’re a Discworld fan, you won’t need these explaining. The closing scenes of many Discworld novels involved a key-character escorted by Death into the afterlife (whatever that was for each character). To me, these tweets have echoes of the final pages of Reaper Man or Small Gods.
Next is a great cartoon from XKCD, highlighting that the fiction of the Discworld often helped you to think more, and to look further, and to consider that things might be bigger than your own world. Click on the image to see the cartoon at full-size.
From the rather excellent illustrator Chris Riddell (click to visit Chris’ website and see the larger image):
The developers of Elite: Dangerous name a space-station in his memory. Click on the image to see it full-size, or click here for more details.
This quirky graphic illustration from Scriberia (click on image to visit their site):
This rather fabulous quote came from a certain game-development discussion forum. I think it sums up how I feel perfectly:
And to wrap it all up, here’s a quote from the man himself: