Volume 21, Number 3, Fall, 2003

Prometheus Award acceptance speech

Terry Pratchett offered the following remarks on accepting the Prometheus Award:

G. K. Chesterton pointed out that the opposite of funny is not serious, it is not funny. The true opposite of serious is not serious. But the rumour persists that to be funny is not to be serious.

Night Watch was funny, I hope, even if the humour had a dark edge. And it was serious. I didn't set out to make it so. It just happened.

But first, the prologue...

Discworld is a series of more than thirty novels (plus maps, guides ands yes, its own cookbook.) It's sold about 32,000,000 volumes worldwide but it's only in the last five years that U.S. sales have grown into something respectable. It began, in U.S. terms, as rather wacky and a bit zany. By now, there not much wack and hardly any zane. But it does grow and live.

And a lot of it lives in the quasi-Renaissance city of Ankh-Morpork, ruled very much on the one-man, one vote system; Lord Vetinari is the Man, and he has the vote. Is he a libertarian? Well, he believes firmly in all freedoms, and particularly in the freedom to take the consequences of exercising all the other freedoms. The city, in a wobbly kind of way, works.

Night Watch is a time travel book, at least in its framework. It centres on a familiar character in the series: Sam Vimes, commander of the City Watch, formerly a street copper and still an honest man (by the standards of street coppers). A magical accident, so easy to arrange in a city like this, throws him bodily back in time thirty years, to the days when he was a raw recruit. He has to become the sergeant who pointed his younger self's mind in the right direction, in a city ruled by greed, policed by torturers, and torn by revolution. He has, in fact, to change the past.

And what can he tell himself? Only that, whoever you fight for, the damn government always gets in; that when lawlessness walks the streets, the authorities will bend all their efforts to keeping honest men unarmed (they possibly don't see it that way, but can never quite grasp the fact that criminals don't obey the law, the cads), and that policemen are sometimes tempted into being sheepdogs who prefer to keep the flock corralled rather than protect it from the predators, because it's easier to bite sheep than wolves. He learns that the people who declare that the innocent have nothing to fear are wrong, because the innocent certainly should fear; they fear the guilty and, especially, they should fear, distrust, and fight the kind of people who say "the innocent have nothing to fear."

I like Sam Vimes. But he'd never think of himself as a libertarian—just as a copper. although I must say that when I was writing the book he made me think.

So am I a libertarian? We don't have that tradition in England. where just about every politician would classify themselves as a libertarian and each one would mean something different. But currently we have a government that lacks wisdom, perspective, or talents, is centrist, arrogant, talks incessantly about rights while it curtails freedoms, and is led by a man who is passionately devoted to appearing to be passionately devoted to things. I see fragments of Night Watch all around me. So, right now. I'm feeling very libertarian indeed.

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