We engage the matrix drive and set course for the Discworld that might have been, as EJ Mann joins us to discuss Terry Pratchett’s first attempt at writing a flat Earth, 1981’s Strata.
200-year-old human Kin Arad works for the Company building planets – the traditional, oblate spheroid kind. So when deep space pioneer Jago Jalo shows up wearing an invisibility cloak, and says he’s discovered a flat Earth full of advanced technology, she can’t resist. She’s joined by Marco, a four-armed paranoid Kung pilot who thinks he’s human; and Silver, a huge, gentle, bear-like and potentially ravenous Shand linguist. But the expedition soon goes wrong: betrayed by Jalo, their ship destroyed, the trio are stranded on a bizarre Disc-world full of dragons, demons and humans with strange beliefs. It’s also a duplicate of medieval Europe – but the world is breaking down. It’s a race against time as they journey to the centre of the Disc looking for a means of escape – and something is watching them all the way…
Pratchett’s third novel, the last before The Colour of Magic changed his life forever, Strata is a direct parody of Larry Niven’s 1970 sci-fi classic Ringworld. Many of Pratchett’s favourite ideas, jokes and themes appear here for the first time. You’ll find talking ravens, magic mixed with technology, characters who TALK LIKE THIS and an author taking the fantastic seriously to the point of absurdity. There are even a few bright young things who’ll later make it big on the Discworld, like the Broken Drum and Mrs Widgery’s Lodger.
Did you know this was a parody of Ringworld? Does it stands on its own, or is it doomed to live in the shadow of it’s more successful younger sibling? Could Pratchett have made it as a science fiction writer if he hadn’t switched to fantasy? And what standalone novel do you wish would inspire a series of 41 similar-but-different novels? Let us know! Use the hashtag #Pratchat68 to join the conversation. Though not on Bluesky, if you’re joining us there, because apparently they’re too good for hashtags?
Guest EJ Mann (they/them) is spec fic fan, occasional spec fic writer (as E. H. Mann), nature nerd and long-time participant and organiser on the Australian convention scene. You can read some of their short fiction at their website, ehmannwrites.com. As mentioned at the top of the episode, EJ currently works for conservation charity Bush Heritage Australia, who work to preserve Australian wildlife by buying and caring for bushland in consultation with traditional owners. You can find out more about them at bushheritage.org.au.
As usual, you can find notes and errata for this episode on our website.
Next month we get back to the actual, honest-to-Glod Discworld with the short story “Theatre of Cruelty”, which we’ll be discussing with Irish author Caimh McDonnell! You can most easily find the story in Pratchett’s fiction anthology A Blink of the Screen. Get your questions in via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat70 (again, not on Bluesky), or send us an email at email@example.com.