Zia Hassan

Emailing Terry Pratchett

+++ title = “02” date = 2019 +++

Do you remember your first experience with the internet?

When I was 9 or 10 (1994), my elementary school got a dial-up internet connection and the modem could connect to one computer only. So classes would go into the computer lab and huddle around one computer monitor trying to watch the magic happen.

My teacher explained that we may or not be able to connect to the internet, because the modem had been spotty during other classes. But if we connected, she said, we’d be connected to other people’s computers across the entire world.

The idea of the computer, a device I’ve used since I was 3, talking to other computers quickly and in remote parts of the world was exhilarating to me. These days, I take it for granted.

The device didn’t connect that day and we couldn’t figure out why. But when I went home, I convinced my dad to get us America Online since they were offering free trials of 50 hours on CD-ROMs at the local Barnes & Nobles.

And the first thing I did on my AOL account, named RAZA after all the first names in my family, was try to email famous people. And on every email to every famous person I contacted, I only wrote on one line. I asked them all the same question.

“Are you the real [insert celebrity]?”

I emailed this to Mariah Carey, who wrote me back. I asked her to prove her identity by telling me what her name meant. She responded to say she wasn’t totally sure, and then asked me not to send hate mail if I find out she’s not the real Mariah Carey.

I found her by searching Mariah Carey on AOL’s directory. Yes, I was young, but so was the internet.

In this way, I also emailed (people who I presumed were) John Popper from Blues Traveler, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, and one of my favorite novelists, Terry Pratchett.

If you’re not familiar with Terry Pratchett, go and read any of his Discworld novels. They are all hilarious. It’s hard to get fantasy right, and it’s hard to get comedy writing right, therefore it super hard to do both… and Terry Pratchett is masterful at combining the two.

His novels and his video game Discworld are weird, funny, obscure, and played a lot with the idea of time and reality. At one point in the game, for instance, the main character (a red robed wizard) is hanging upside down from a flagpole. The Grim Reaper appears and has a conversation with the wizard. The wizard tells Death that he doesn’t want to die; Death starts listing off the positive aspects to death, like “Have you ever thought about the savings on rent and clothing?”

Pratchett died of Alzheimer’s in 2015. And whoever I emailed on AOL’s directory named Terry Pratchett wrote me back. In fact, other than Mariah, he was the only one that wrote me back.

“Are you the real Terry Pratchett?” I had written in my initial attempt.

The return email came back about 4 days later.

“Depends on what you consider real ;)”

Yup. It was him. In six words, he had taught me a lesson and given me a a personal moment to remember forever. Thanks, and RIP, Sir Pratchett.