Best-selling author Terry Pratchett wrote The Carpet People at the tender age of 17. Now, many years later, Pratchett has re-written the story and it's being published in its new version on November 5th. In the author's note for The Carpet People, Pratchett refers to the novel as a joint effort between his 17-year-old self and his 43-year-old self. I couldn't help but picture a sci-fi moment after reading that...
When Pratchett sat down for a chat with one of our other favorite authors, Cory Doctorow, the result is as funny and interesting as you might expect from these two, as they discuss The Carpet People, authority, and the underdog:
Cory Doctorow: The
Carpet People was your first novel, and now the fortieth
book in your Discworld series is about to be published. Do you think you could
have kept us in the Carpet for anything like forty books?
Terry Pratchett: I was about to
say, “No,” but right now I wonder. . . . If the idea had taken, I don’t know. I
really don’t. But how would it be? People in the Carpet are more or less tribal.
What would happen if I . . . You’ve got me thinking!
CD: You took a bunch of runs at building a
world where a million stories could unfold—The
Carpet People, Truckers, and,
finally, Discworld. Is Discworld’s near-total untethering from our world the
secret of its staying power?
TP: It isn’t our
world, but on the other hand it is very much like our world. Discworld takes something from this world all the
time, shows you bits of the familiar world in new light by putting them into
CD: You write a lot of feudal scenarios, but
you also seem like a fellow with a lot of sympathy for (and suspicion of!)
majority rule. The Carpet People is
shot through with themes of who should rule and why. Where does legitimate
authority spring from?
TP: The people!
The only trouble is the people can be a bit stupid--I know that; I’m one of the
people, and I’m quite stupid.
CD: What should the writer’s relationship
with authority be?
TP: My personal
view is that you look askance at authority. Authority must be challenged at
every step. You challenge authority to keep it on its toes.
Carpet People concerns itself with many questions of infrastructure
and public works. Now that we’ve arrived at a time of deep austerity, what do
you think the future of infrastructure is?
TP: To crack and
fall away, I sometimes think. From what I see around me, it’s people doing it
for themselves. We know the government is there, but we know they have no real
power to do anything but mess things up, so you do workarounds.
CD: Ultimately, it comes down to the
builders, the wreckers, and the free spirits.
things need tearing down—and that might be, as it were, the gates of the city.
But if we talk without metaphors, I would say that building is best. Because it
is inherently useful. My dad was a mechanic; maybe it starts there.
CD: One thing I’ve always enjoyed about your
books with feudal settings is that it seems you get something like the correct
ratio of vassals to lords. So much of fantasy seems very top-heavy. Do you
consciously think about political and economic considerations when you’re
devising a world?
TP: I’ve never
been at home with lords and ladies, kings, and rubbish like that, because it’s
not so much fun. Take a protagonist from the bottom of the heap and they’ve got
it all to play for. Whereas people in high places, all they can do is, well . .
. I don’t know, actually: I’ve never been that high. If you have the underdog
in front of you, that means you’re going to have fun, because what the underdog
is going to want to do is be the upper dog or be no dog at all.
CD: Damon Knight once told me that he thought
that no matter how good a writer you are, you probably won’t have anything much
to say until you’re about twenty-six (I was twenty at the time). You’ve written
about collaborating with your younger self on the revised text of The Carpet People. Do
you feel like seventeen-year-old Terry had much to say?
TP: That’s the best question you’ve asked all day! I think that
he had a go at it, and it wasn’t bad, but that when I was younger I didn’t have
the anger. It gives an outlook. And a place from which to stand. When you get
out of the teens, well out of the
teens, you begin to have some kind of understanding: you’ve met so many people,
heard so many things, all the bits that growing up means. And out of that lot
comes wisdom—it might not be very good wisdom to start with, but it will be a
certain kind of wisdom. It leads to better books.