A work which identifies itself as ‘a rebellion against the act of mourning’, In Memory is a beautiful anthology written by a team of writers who chose to transform their grief into something magical: a celebration of their much-missed literary hero. In this collection, seventeen devoted fans showcase Sir Terry Pratchett’s influence on their writing, and his even greater effect on their hearts. Accordingly, each contribution rings with the vibrant and often eccentric style of the man himself. Although the central theme is ‘memory’, every writer has approached the subject from a fresh and imaginative angle, making In Memory a rich and varied volume – a testament to what can be achieved with pure creativity and determination.
And, best of all, all monetary proceeds go towards Alzheimer’s Research UK, a charity that Sir Terry supported up until his death.
All contributors have paid tribute in their own way, adopting different aspects of the Discworld author’s expertly crafted writing. Luke Kemp’s ‘Thanks for the Memory Cards’, – a futuristic narrative in which SD cards can be inserted into the mind – has clear echoes of Sir Terry’s trademark wit and wry humour. Such comedic narration is used just as effectively by Peter Knighton (who wins the prize for most aptly named author). Knighton recounts the (hilarious) exploits of a bunch of sarcastic knights and lords in ‘How Fell the Towers Three’, reviving the classic medieval adventure story with a refreshingly contemporary voice.
Other writers seemed to take their cue from the wild (and wonderful) absurdity of some of Terry’s concepts. Scott A. Butler’s ‘Memoryarian’, for example, opens with the awakening of lock-picking pixie gremlin: a dung-beetle-sized creature with a flair for insults and a taste for smoked fairy faeces. But it’s also a tale with heart, one which takes us on a memorable adventure with an endearing memory-thief. Phil Elstob takes an equally bizarre but wildly different angle with ‘The Chicken Gospel’, which follows a group of loyal mules searching for their missing human – with the help of an enterprising chicken, of course. The strangeness continues with Mike Reeves-Macmillan’s ‘There’s a Tattoo, But the Robes Hide It’, a story surrounding the dealings between a wily Dark Lady and a shape-shifting trickster god, a tale which also questions the nature of identity and personal freedom. Choong Jay Vee’s ‘The Olivie Crowne Affair’, perhaps offers the wackiest concept: a dragon girl/electronics salesperson accidentally unleashes a genocidal computer on the world, and, naturally, chaos ensues. Why is a dragon girl working in an electronics store? What is she paid in? Why doesn’t she just hoard gold for a living? These are questions you don’t have to ask, because in fantasy fiction ANYTHING is possible.
Some contributors, in classic spec-fic tradition, chose to ponder the future. One of these is Michael K. Schaefer; in his offering, ‘Ackerley’s Genuine Earth Antiques’, we are plunged in a post-apocalyptic landscape, where humans have been forced to relocate to outer space, and the idea of returning to Earth is little more than a common dream. Here, everyday, ‘old Earth’ objects have become valuable artefacts, and old Earth memories even more so. This makes it a story which not only speculates about the future, but considers the way we look at the past. Simon Evans is another writer who looks ahead. His contribution, ‘If Only I’d Known’, is a scientifically-minded but also deeply human story which explores the paradoxes of time travel. Both tales are sure to be a hit with avid sci-fi fans.
Several stories seem to question the nature of memories by turning them into almost tangible entities. Charlotte Slocombe’s ‘Bubble Trouble’, for example, moves the spotlight onto a disillusioned IT consultant commissioned to remove a virus from a ‘memory database’ – one in which you can literally leap into someone’s bubbles of thought. But her commissioner, the ‘God of Memory’ isn’t quite what he seems… befuddlement ensues. Sorin Suciu’s ‘Doris’ takes a somewhat philosophical turn, embarking on a brief history of human laughter through a man who can open the door to any recollection – past, present and future. Anna Mattaar gives memory a similar kind of accessibility with ‘The Archive of Lost Memories.’ In this tale – which is perhaps analogous to the human mind – forgotten memories are sorted and stored by a kindly archivist in a strange world of filing cabinets, a system which makes finding them all the easier. By contrast, in Laura May’s ‘The Shells of Lethe’, forgotten memories are simply thrown into the ocean. May tells the story of a shore full of magical shells with the power to take away any recollection of bad experiences…and good ones. Expect consequences of the chaotic kind. Steven Mckinnon, meanwhile, contemplates a world in which everyone’s memories are communal. His story, ‘The Vividarium’, revolves around a cosmic network which allows us to experience the memories of others (and stare at infinite pictures of cats, if you so wish). Central characters are ‘Supreme Sorcerer and God King of All the Universe’, and the ‘Celestial Sculptor and Curator of the Cradle of Life’, AKA Dave and Sid – a comic duo with a charming old-married-couple dynamic. Expect all of these tales to both entertain and perplex you.
A couple of authors engaged with the ‘memory’ theme using very different concepts. In Lyn Godfrey’s ‘The Wondrous Land of Nib’, a seemingly mismatched bunch of characters – including a winged Amazonian, a creepy doll and a Greek deity – are thrown together in a mysterious wasteland without knowing how they came to be. The story seems to unfold as an allegory for the early stages of the creative process itself: eclectic, but also vibrantly diverse. Robert McKelvey’s ‘Strangers’, takes a less abstract (but no less effective) approach in the form of a cloak-and-dagger detective story. The narrative follows a rather hungover man who – with the help of an altruistic detective – attempts to remember just how he came to be lying in an alleyway minus his boots. It’s a story which teaches us to treasure the best of our memories, as well as advocating the importance of random acts of kindness.
Finally, we come to my two personal favourites. They’re my favourites not only because I’m a particular fan of high-fantasy, monsters, and cats, but also because both remind me of Sir Terry’s lesson that there is more to life – and to people – than meets the eye. D.K. Mok’s ‘The Heart of the Labyrinth’, is a wonderful foray into the fantastic. It begins in an ancient labyrinth inhabited by The Devourer, a man-eating monster who turns out to be surprisingly charismatic and health-conscious. One day, the fearsome but kindly Kaya draws him out from the gloom, and the two embark on a turbulent quest which reads like a well-planned Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It’s unusual, unpredictable and highly entertaining – and gives us proof that even those with scales and claws can suffer existential crises. A different kind of adventure can be found in my other favourite, Caroline Friedel’s ‘The Tale of the Storyteller’. Friedel tells a beautiful, bittersweet tale of a world from which magic is fading, and only the courage and imagination of one boy and his cat can salvage it. It’s also a story of hope, one which celebrates our eternal enchantment with stories and storytellers.
Sir Terry Pratchett was one such storyteller, a man who wove himself, his humour, and his unwavering sense of wonder into every book he wrote, bewitching us until the very last word. In the words of D.K. Mok, he ‘taught us to be kinder, wiser, and braver than we were.’ And that’s something we won’t ever forget.
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