Random Fact Friday: What links Terry Pratchett with Saturn?

I don’t need to tell you Terry Pratchett was a comic genius and a campaigner for many things that matter. I’ve got a feeling you know that already.

File:Terry Pratchett at Powell's 2007-cropped.jpg
Terry Pratchett (Photo: Robin Zebrowski)
I also don’t need to tell you that he created Discworld, a flat planet carried through space by four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle; a turtle who is swimming through space towards, it’s widely believed, a rendezvous with another turtle of romantic inclination.

But perhaps I do need to tell you that we have our very own Discworld in our solar system!

Okay, to be fair, Saturn isn’t as flat as the Discworld is portrayed to be. If Saturn did have water, it wouldn’t be flowing off the edge of the planet as it does on Discworld.

But Discworld is the flattest planet (that we know of) in Terry’s imaginary universe, and while Saturn may not be the flattest planet in our universe, it is the flattest planet in our solar system. Its polar diameter is just 90% of its equatorial diameter, due to its low density and fast rotation (it turns on its axis once every 10 hours and 34 minutes. That’s pretty fast). So it’s not so much flat as… squashed.

Saturn is also the most distant planet that can be seen with the naked eye and it has the most extensive rings of any planet in our system too. It isn’t full of wizards, dwarves, reformed vampires and cantankerous witches – in fact, it’s not capable of supporting life (or not as we know it, Jim).  But its largest moon, Titan, is the only moon in the Solar System to have a substantial atmosphere – and could potentially support life.

G is for Goofy: Because Fantasy Can Be Funny

Don’t worry, we will get to the goofy part. Yes, it was a bit tenuous. But I wanted to finish off the whole fantasy books thing, ok? Just settle down…

I know a lot of the time scales have overlapped, because from around age 12 -25 I read a lot of these series simultaneously. Sorry; of course if I’d looked into the future, I would have bought all the books and then started on them as each series was complete – just to make it easier.

So we’re back around age 13 again, and I start on:
Raymond Feist: The Riftwar Saga, The Empire Trilogy, Krondor’s Sons, The Serpentwar Saga, The Riftwar Legacy, Legends of the Riftwar, Conclave of Shadows, The Darkwar Saga, The Demonwar Saga, The Chaoswar Saga

File:Riftwar.JPGFor a long time I’d have named Raymond Feist as my favourite fantasy author, and I’m still following this never-ending, spin-off producing series of series which all started with Magician. 
But he should have stopped around two series ago. There are still mysteries to be solved and it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s getting repetitive. There aren’t enough new characters or twists, and it feels thin. Also the writing is getting sloppy. In the last one I read, a paragraph of description (of a specific demon, if you’re curious) sounded far too familiar. I went back a chapter or two and found the identical paragraph. Identical! Ouch.

Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn seriesThe Dragonbone Chair, first novel in the epic saga of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
I think I must have read these in my mid-twenties. Just like Raymond Feist’s series, this starts with a young boy who’s apprenticed to a magician. The rules aren’t as complex, but the action is compelling, the characters are likeable (where appropriate!) and well-drawn, and unlike Feist he knew where to stop – with a trilogy (although the last book often appears as two volumes, as it’s a bit weighty). No insights into the meaning of life here – just a darn good trio of fantasy books: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. Thanks Tad. And thanks to the editors of the Legends anthologies (short stories that are spin-offs from major fantasy series by various authors), because you introduced me to Tad and Robert Silverberg, jsut down the page there. Although I may never forgive you for starting me off on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Oh, those wasted years…

Robert Silverberg: The Majipoor Series
Love, love, love Robert Silverberg. I think we’ve reached my mid to late twenties now. I love all the different races, a huge world that’s so similar to ours in some ways and so different in others.  Some intriguing ideas (having your morals tweaked in your dreams?) and the sense that he’s making subtle statements about real life (something I enjoy in TV sci-fi and fantasy as well. I’m often surprised the USA aired the Canadian produced Stargate – some of the criticism wasn’t that well-hidden!).
He’s written dozens of other novels and short stories under dozens of pen names and is still writing, although unfortunately he seems to have pretty much finished with Majipoor (although I notice he’s recently produced a ‘Tales’ book I don’t have – *reaches for birthday list*).

Now as promised: the goofy side of fantasy. Please welcome the Right Honourable…

Sir Terry Pratchett: the Discworld Series, The Nome Trilogy, The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1.jpg
I was probably around 18 when I read the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, and met the most-definitely-goofy wizard, Rincewind. I was well and tuly hooked from the start and now of course, Rincewind is an old friend – as are Mort, Death, the Three Witches and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. What can you say? The man’s a genius, whether he’s wandering into out-and-out parody (the classic ‘When shall we three meet again?’  “Well, I can do next Tuesday…” still makes me grin) or weaving in satire so subtle it’s hard to spot (I’m thinking the recent non-Discworld novels here: Nation, The Long Earth). He can handle fantasy and sci-fi with equal ability, and has produced some of the funniest material I’ve ever read. Long may he reign!

I still read Feist and Pratchett, and I don’t plan to leave Williams and Silverberg behind either. I’ve got my eye on them, but so many books, so little time… Alongside these, most of the fantasy and sci-fi I’ve read in the past 10 years or so has been aimed at 10-18 year olds. But I’ll save those for a future post.

Sorting Out Your Sub-Plot: Part 1 – What The Butler Did

Scared Smiley

Plot can be a bit of a scary word. Hence all those famous writerly sayings.

You know – ‘Plot me no Plots’, ‘Out, vile plot!’, ‘Is this a plot I see before me?’, ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent plot?’, ‘It was the best of plots, it was the worst of plots’ and of course the infamous ‘When shall three plots meet again? In thunder, ligh-‘ well, you get the concept. (Ok, I made the last one up. It is of course a parody of Terry Pratchett’s ‘When shall we three meet again?’  ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday…’)  *waits for torrent of abuse from Shakespeare fans who think irony means ‘how clothes look when you’ve put that hot flat thing over them’*

I digress (constantly. It’s a writer thing). The point is, plot is a bit of an obsession if you’re a writer. Is it strong enough? Does it fit the theme? Aren’t they kind of the same thing? But no – you’ve read that plot grows from theme. You’ve read theme grows from plot, too! Eeek – now you’ve read that plot grows from characters! But surely characters come from plot? No good having a Special Forces sniper, then plotting a regency romance! Hold on – what’s this: a plot is a set of events linked by causality. Er – what’s that? What are plot holes and where are yours? Is your plot believable? pen on notebookWould Mrs Tiggins-Mapleleaf really commit suicide in the jacuzzi just because she discovered her layabout husband, Fortescue Tiggins-Mapleleaf, in a state of undress with the butler in the library? (Maybe not – unless, ooh, unless she didn’t give a stuff about Mr T-M, but had yearned for the butler for ages! Where’s my notebook… jacuzzi, butler… library, yearnings… there. I’m back in the room.)

Then, just to scare the socks off you (your pants are gone already, fleeing at the mere mention of ‘causality’), someone asks what your sub-plot is. 

You explain that none of the action is under the sea; have they not read your magnificent synopsis? The novel’s a regency romance set in Derbyshire. They look at you blankly. You squirm and try again. There are no popular high street chain design-your-own-sandwich establishments in it either. You clear your throat nervously, and add that you don’t think there was such a phenomenon in regency Derbyshire. Was there?
They still look blank and you realise it’s time to admit you don’t know what the hell a sub-plot is; now, before you run out of a) ideas that begin with sub b) self-respect.

If that’s you, fear not. Over the next few posts I will attempt to put my Diploma head on, the one that’s meant to understand this stuff; nick quotes from other writers that explain it better than me; and generally Reveal All about sub-plots.

For now, we’ll just establish what a sub-plot is.
Firstly, like a plot, a sub-plot is a series of events ordered by causality. If the term ‘causality’ is unfamiliar to you, think of it as ‘with a cause’; each event like a falling domino in a line. (Remember the domino metaphor, because we’ll come back to that in future posts). Still not clear? Enter Mrs Tiggins-Mapleleaf, stage right:

brandies,brandy snifters,cigars,glasses,libraries,library,males,men,people,persons,stogies,stogy

Mr T-M doesn’t show his wife affection because he is secretly gay causing
Mrs T-M to look elsewhere for affection and develop a crush on the butler, AND Mr T-M to develop a crush on the butlercausing…
Mr T-M to reveal his feelings and get the butler in a passionate clinch in the library, unfortunately witnessed by Mrs T-M, causing...
Mrs T-M to feel betrayed and despair of finding lasting happiness, causing…
Mrs T-M to commit suicide in the jacuzzi, causing…
Mr T-M to leap in to save her, causing…
Mr T-M to fail – but hit his head and drown in the attempt!, causing…
The butler to inherit the huge estate and erect a memorial to them both, also mounting an international campaign for increased jacuzzi safety measures, causing…
him to meet a lovely bloke named Jeff at the Jersey Jacuzzi Conference and live happily ever after.

Obviously if you wish to steal this stonker of a plot, get in touch and we’ll discuss terms. It’s not often I let a gem like that out on public view, but I like to think I’m part of a supportive writing community. *yes, the clothes do look flat, don’t they*

Secondly, a sub-plot is a secondary plot – less important than the main plot. You would expect it to ‘occupy’ less of the text. Some sub-plots interact hugely with the main plot; some barely at all. It depends on the effect the author want to achieve, and the nature or genre of the story. Which brings us on to:
What Can A Sub-Plot Do For Me, And Do I Need One? But we’ll think about that next time.