5 Terry Pratchett Novels You Should Read That Aren't Discworld Novels
Sir Terry Pratchett was perhaps one of the most respected and prolific authors of fantasy in the world, and certainly in the UK. Most commonly known for his mammoth Discworld series, Pratchett has authored well over fifty novels and has been a regular on bestseller lists across the globe.
Given that 41 of his novels are set in his award-winning Discworld universe it’s not surprising that he’s most well known for that series, but Pratchett was far from a one-trick pony.
In this article, we’re going to cover five Pratchett novels that you should read (if you haven’t already) that aren’t part of the Discworld series or universe. Here's what made the cut:
- The Long Earth
- Good Omens
- The Dark Side of the Sun
Nation was Pratchett’s first non-Discworld novel in over a decade and one that took his publishers—who were expecting a new Discworld novel—a little by surprise.
Set in a fictional rendering of history during the height of the British Empire’s time as a naval power, It follows the plight of Mau, a boy who lives on the island of Nation along with his tribe. One day a tsunami hits Nation, and everyone save for Mau is killed.
Mau isn’t alone on the island, however. An unfortunate ship that was caught in the storm has run aground on the island, and a young girl by the name of Ermintrude is the only survivor.
When a tsunami wipes out his entire tribe, a boy has to pick up the pieces of his destroyed home. But he doesn't have to do it alone.
As a near-lifelong fan of Pratchett and owner of all of his works, I have observed a definite predilection to write strong, youthful characters. His works, in general, carry an air of devious innocence to them—like the dear old grandma with a sweet smile and a jar full of cookies who, nonetheless, winks at you at inappropriate times.
Nation fits with this theme, as his two child protagonists find their way through the story with a sort of naive determination that offers a great perspective on the world they’re living in. Both characters are intelligent in different ways, and Pratchett does a masterful job of clashing Mau’s tribal world view with Ermintrude’s western, civilised outlook.
When Pratchett announced that he was working on this book, he said he wanted to write it “so much I can taste it," and it comes across in the story. These characters feel important to the author.
2. The Long Earth
This pick is more of a series than a single book, but you need to start the series somewhere, and if you don’t like there’s a good chance you won’t like the rest of the series, so we'll focus on the first book only. The Long Earth,
The Long Earth is actually co-authored with award-winning science fiction author Stephen Baxter and is Pratchett’s first foray into science fiction since his earliest works some 30 or so years earlier.
The story is based around the premise of a theoretically infinite string of Earths like our own, which some people can access by “stepping.” When a person "steps," they find themselves in a whole new universe where the Earth is almost identical, save for one crucial factor:
The Long Earth
An infinite string of alternate Earths are just a "step" away, but what will the fallout be when humanity begins a mass exodus out into the depths of the Long Earth?
The alternate Earths are completely free of human interference. No industrial age. No wars. No people. That changes, however, as the Long Earth series follows human kind’s expansion into these new worlds following the mass-sharing of knowledge on how to do it.
The concept of the world Pratchett and Baxter created is interesting to say the least. Things differ ever so slightly from world to world until our protagonists find themselves in worlds undergoing ice ages, or featuring wildly different flora and fauna. The whole thing feels like a bit of a thought exercise that has had a narrative written on top of it.
The narrative itself may be a matter of personal preference. The “cast” is ensemble, and the story jumps around between the different players to paint a larger picture of what is going on in a post “Step Day” world. This can be a bit off-putting when you don’t gel with particular characters, but personally I didn’t have a problem, and found the overall story worth persevering through the sub plots I was less interested in.
The Long Earth seems to draw a lot of inspiration from the American frontier, and much of this first book centres around the kinds of problems that the pioneering Long Earth settlers face as they expand out into the wild depths of this new world.
And if any of this interests you, there are four more books that follow this one!
3. Good Omens
Another co-authored novel, Good Omens was written with legendary dark fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. This is one of those books that people who have never read another Pratchett or Gaiman novel love. The kind of book that finds its way onto the bookshelves of people who would otherwise have no interest in fantasy. The authors themselves have remarked that fans bringing their copy to conventions to be signed would present them with dog-eared, torn, worn, books that had been beaten about in bags and dropped in bathtubs. Good Omens is a book that gets read, re-read, then lent to friends and read again.
To sum the plot up in brief, it’s about the apocalypse.
Not the zombie apocalypse, or the wiping out of most of the human race by some government-engineered plague, but the Biblical apocalypse. Four Horsemen, angels, demons, judgment, and so on.
The end is nigh, but then, Agnes Nutter saw it coming a long time ago...
It’s told through the razor-sharp wit and observations of Pratchett and Gaiman and tells a meaningful story while constantly poking fun at the premise in general. Only a book by Terry Pratchett could get away with having a fifth horseman of the apocalypse who left the group before they got famous and feature a subplot involving a number of people looking for the Anti-Christ but chasing the wrong child because of a mix-up at the hospital when he was born.
Any fan of apocalypse stories, stories with heavy roots in religious myths, or just fans of comedy or fantasy should read this book at least once in their lifetimes.
The chances are, however, once you’ve read it once you’ll want to read it again.
As with the Long Earth series, this recommendation is actually for the whole “Nome Trilogy” (also known as The Bromeliad Trilogy), however, we’ll just focus on the first novel, Truckers.
The story follows a group of tiny people, like gnomes, who live among regular human beings like you and I. The main protagonist, Masklin, leads his increasingly hungry tribe away from their long-time home near a motorway truck stop in search of lands with less danger and more food. They soon find themselves interacting with “inside nome’s” who live in a department store and don’t believe anything exists outside of the store walls.
Life is hard when you're just four inches tall. It's even harder when you have to leave your home in search of food and find yourself in the middle of a department store war between feuding families of fellow tiny people.
The story deals in a number of themes and metaphors, but mainly the reluctance of culture and society to change when presented with new evidence. The inside nomes of the department store refuse to accept that there is a world outside of the building they live in, despite a group of their own kind coming from the outside world.
It also features a strong commentary by Pratchett on how impressionable people are, and how humans have a long history of misunderstanding the world around them. The inside nomes’ belief that there is nothing outside of the department store stems from an advertising sign that reads, “All Things Under One Roof,” an easy misunderstanding to make.
5. Dark Side of the Sun
I’ll admit to a little self-indulgence here. Dark Side of the Sun is by no means one of the greatest science fiction novels you’ll ever read, and certainly nowhere near Pratchett at his best. Then again, that should be expected, given that it was his first adult novel!
I include this on my list because I truly feel that Pratchett is an author that any fan of fantasy, comedy, or just good fiction should be aware of, and this novel is where it all started.
The Dark Side of the Sun
Humans share a small bubble of inhabited space with over fifty other sentient species... but where is everyone else?
The story is set in a future where humankind is one of around fifty or so sentient species that all exist in an area of space centering on one particular star. As far as these species can tell, there is no life anywhere else in the Universe.
It follows the protagonist, Dom, as he sets out on an adventure to find the home world of the “Jokers,” a mysterious and vanished race who have left technological marvels strewn across the galaxy.
Dark Side of the Sun is a good science fiction novel. Not one of the best, perhaps, but good. It is more the posterity of it that gets it onto this list.
That's All, Folks
If I were simply picking Pratchett’s best work (in my opinion), there’d be at least three Discworld novels in this list of five. The series consisted of 41 novels spanning most of his career; it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of his best work came to be in those novels. It wasn’t all he did, however, and hopefully, this article will bring a few of his non-Discworld works to the eyes of those who would not otherwise have known of them.
© 2016 John Bullock