A SLIP OF THE KEYBOARD
by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While Terry Pratchett is best known for his humorous Discworld series, over the years, he has also written numerous articles and essays dealing with topics as diverse as writing and health care issues. A Slip of the Keyboard collects many of these articles, as well as the text of speeches Pratchett has given in a variety of locations over the years.
The first section of the collection, entitled “A Scribbling Intruder,” focuses on his writing related to his career as an author. In this section, he discusses writing Discworld, finding his way, the difficulties and joys of touring, and related topics. It also includes speeches he gave at places such as the 2004 Worldcon, at which Pratchett was one of the guests of honor. These essays range from the nostalgic to professional, but always include the wit for which Pratchett is known.
In the second section, “A Twit and a Dreamer,” Pratchett’s articles move away, for the most part, from the literary, and look at his own life. His discovery of science fiction, his relatives, and growing up in general. Many of the ideas he discusses in this section can be seen in his writing, as Pratchett has drawn, naturally enough, on his own life to create, not only his characters, but their attitudes towards life.
The final section of the book, "Days of Rage," is a compilation of articles on activism that Pratchett has written over the years. While some of them are about his quest to save the orangutan ("The Orangutans Are Dying"), the vast majority of the articles are Pratchett's annoyance with the British National Health Service and the personal affront he feels from having developed Alzheimer's Disease. While the individual essays are well written and interesting, when read one after the other, as can be done in this collection of essays, they become repetitive, and more depressing than any individual essay read on its own would be.
As with many books of this type, Pratchett’s essays are best read interspersed with other short stories or essays. When originally written, they were not meant to be written as a single entity, and doing so reveals their weaknesses, such as the repetitiveness so evident in the third section. These essays do reveal parts of Pratchett’s mind and experiences which are not revealed in his fiction, although in some cases, the ideas engendered in the essays can be inferred from his tales.
For those who are familiar with Pratchett only through his fiction, which is probably most of his readers, although some of these essays have previously been collected in Once More* with Footnotes, these essays provide a profound insight into Pratchett. For those who enjoy the essays, whether taken individually or collectively, Once more* with Footnotes also includes several essays (and some stories) which do not appear in the current volume.
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