UK hbk: Colin Smythe (cover illus. Tim White), 1,001 copies on 15 June 1981 (0-901072-91-5).
With dark green cloth-patterned paper-covered boards.
Pbk: New English Library (cover illus. Tim White), c.5,000 copies, ? May 1982 (0-450-04977-9)
This edition was remaindered by NEL in 1985, and Colin Smythe Ltd. bought about 300 copies, ‘publishing’ them on 20 May 1985. These had a label on the title verso (copyright) page: ‘This edition of Strata is now | published by Colin Smythe Ltd., | Gerrards Cross, | Buckinghamshire | ISBN 0-86140-232-4’. The new ISBN was allocated to ensure that orders were not sent to NEL who would have merely told booksellers that it was ‘out of print’.
2nd UK pbk: Corgi, 39,600 copies on 22 April 1988 (0-552-13325-6)
Originally issued with 192 pages, it was reprinted in 1990. In 1991 it was reset to increase its length to 208 pages (including advertisements), reprinted in 1992 and 1993. With the 1994 reprint the cover was redesigned, but still used the original Kirby illustration.
2nd UK hbk printing: Doubleday, 3,700 copies on 1 April 1994 (0-385-40475-1)
500 copies of the first printing had a limitation notice printed on the front end-paper: ‘No. of an exclusive first printing of 500 copies of this edition.’, and were signed by the author. They were sold without publicity at the same price as those without this notice and had no separate ISBN.
USA hbk: St Martin’s Press, 1981 (0-312-76429-4)
2,000 copies produced in UK for St Martin’s Press, being part of the Colin Smythe Ltd print-run. These had a dust jacket on which the back cover was white, with the ISBN in the bottom right hand corner and the price of $10.95 on the front flap.
It was reprinted in the USA (c.2,000 copies), but with page size 20.8 x 13.2 cm., head- and tail-bands, spine blocked gold, and the jacket of which had a solid black back cover, except for a white strip at the foot in which appeared the ISBN, and the printed price was increased to $12.95. The title verso has been modified, adding Library of Congress CIP Data. The line ‘First published in the United States of America in 1981’ has been deleted and the copyright and country of printing lines have been changed. I was later informed that sales had stopped at about 3,800 copies.
USA book club: S.F.Book Club (6493)
Reset to give a 184 page book, page size 20.8 x 13.8 cm., no head- and tail-bands, spine blocked blue on black paper-covered boards.
USA pbk: (with Ken W.Kelly illustration) Signet/New American Library, March 1983 (0-451-12147-3)
With the third printing, Signet started to use a cover illustration by Darrell K.Sweet under their Roc imprint.
The 4th printing 1991?? had a Roc imprint and I think a changed ISBN (0-451-45111-2) ?
Bulgarian: Страта, trs.Svetlana Komogorova, Prozoretz, June 2000 (954-733-069-1)
Czech: Strata, trs. Jan Kantůrek, Magnet, c. March 1997 (80-85847-78-7) Bankrupt in July 1997
Dutch 2-in-1 pbk: Delven [Strata] — De Donkere Kant van der Zon, Meulenhoff, May 1982 (90-290-1328-1) Strata trs. Jaime Martijn.
First separate publication: Strata, Meulenhoff-M, 1994 (90-290-4636-8)
French: Strate-à-gemmes, trs. Dominique Haas, Pocket, 15,515 copies on 1 November 1997 (2-266-07288-9)
New cover design (Kirby’s Dark Side of the Sun): 8 July 2005 (2-266-15606-3)
German 1. pbk: Strata oder die Flachwelt, trs. Heinz Zwack, Goldmann (cover illus. Bob Petillo), 1983 (3-442-23434-4)
2. Strata, trs. Andreas Brandhorst, Heyne, 1992 (3-453-05834-8)
Reissue: Piper, July 2004 (978-3-492-28509-4)
Issued as an ebook: 16 July 2012
Issued as a double volume, with Dark Side of the Sun, Piper, October 2012 (978-3-492-26878-3)
Polish: 1. Warstwy Wszechíwiata, trs. Ewa Siarkiewicz, Oficyna Wydawnicza Alma-Press, 1992 (83-7020-136-9)
2. Dysk, trs. Jarosław Kotarski, Rebis 1999 (83-7120-490-6)
Reissue: Rebis, 2004 (83-7120-807-3)
Russian: Страта, double volume containing Strata, trs. L. Schëkotovoy, and Темная сторона солнца (The Dark Side of the Sun) trs. A. Komarinets, Eksmo and Sekachev, 2004 (5-699-06716-7, 5-88923-087-5)
Strata is, on the surface at least, a simple modern sf adventure story based on a world-sized artifact created to look like the world as maybe visualised by the average man around 1000 AD – there are dragons, sea monsters and demons, the world is flat, and the stars really are screwed into the dome of heaven. To this world come three adventurers from the ‘real’ universe outside, who have to discover the secrets of the discworld before they can escape.
Fundamental to the story is a theme hinted at in my previous sf book The Dark Side of the Sun, that nothing in the universe is ‘natural’ in the strict sense of the term; everything, from planets to stars, is a relic of previous races and civilisations. Life is not an afterthought on the universal scheme of things, but an integral part of it which was in there shaping its develop-ment from the beginning. It might be true, for all I know.
I am also working on another ‘discworld’ theme, since I don’t think I’ve exhausted all the possibilities in one book! Terry Pratchett (in 1981)
Nothing in Strata is quite what it seems. It begins with the cheerfully preposterous allegation that there is a room in the basement of the Natural History Museum that they keep locked: it contains, among other things, a fossilised dinosaur with a wristwatch and a Neanderthal with three gold fillings. Cut to Kin Arad – she works for the Company, supervising planet building (fake fossils and all) and she is more than a little surprised when a man called Jago Jalo, who should have died over a thousand years ago, turns up with a cloak of invisibility and a bottomless purse and asks her to accompany him to a Flat Earth, where they find themselves in a world of Vikings, witch-hunters, demons, robots, dragons and flying carpets. Crash-landed, without supplies, they trek off to find who’s running it all. But why does the flat earth seem to bear more resemblance to our own than the one that Kin hails from? Why build a flat Earth in the first place? Terry Pratchett manages a relentlessly inventive story, in the space of a fairly short novel, enough ideas to keep most SF writers happy for a trilogy of trilogies. Twist upon twist, revelation on revelation, Strata keeps moving with pace and humour; I enjoyed it. Neil Gaiman in British Fantasy Newsletter, 11.6, Winter 1984/5,
Strata by Terry Pratchett concerns the discovery of a flat earth. Worse, things there seem to happen by magic, and an expedition is mounted to get to the bottom of it all – if it has one. Enchanting. Yorkshire Evening Post
fine, light entertainment, full of wit and surprises… comparable to Clark’s Rendezvous with Rama, Varley’s Titan and Niven’s Ringworld, but very much its own book. Publisher’s Weekly
With everything from dragons to robots… things are never quite what they seem… A well-handled, inventive, gleefully madcap flat-Earth jaunt… bright, bubbly fun. Kirkus Reviews
An intriguing imaginary world … a satisfying blend of wonderment and adventure. Library Journal
A success d’estime et de scandale. Ken Lake in Vector
The unique Pratchett blend of humour and philosophy is well-displayed, and the book’s conclusion is both screamingly funny and a serious intellectual challenge. Highly recommended. Vector June/July 1994
SFX BOOK CLUB: MUST-READ CLASSICS OF SF LITERATURE #39
Tom Holt enjoys a trial run for Discworld
‘Discworld is taking something you know is ridiculous and treating it as though it was something serious and seeing what happens.’ – Terry Pratchett
Imagine there’s no Darwin (it’s easy if you try). Imagine that mankind inhabits hundreds of carefully terraformed planets, all – apart from the original Earth – manufactured by a Galaxy-ruling corporation. Imagine the temptation for a Company terraformer of signing his work with a single tell-tale anomaly: a pair of boots embedded in a coal seam, or an ammonite squashed in the fossilised footprint of a sandal. Imagine the reaction of a senior company executive who learns of the existence of an artificial planet John Company didn’t build; a flat Earth, with an artificial Sun orbiting it inside a vast Perspex dome, where demons, dragons and invisibility cloaks are commonplace and explorers searching for the New World fall off the edge into the infinite void.
Strata was conceived as a gentle parody of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Seventeen [sic – actually twenty-eight] years later, it’s a book with a huge blue plaque on it: in these pages, Discworld was born. But not as we know it, Jim.
Discworld is a huge coral reef of an idea. A one-line gag or a walk-on character becomes the focus of another. It’s a great big distorting mirror for the (spherical) Earth next door, where Pratchett can take something real and ordinary (movies, rock music, the post office) and twist it through 90 degrees into comedy. The scope is unlimited and the possibilities endless. Given the explosive success of the Discworld books, it’s easy to regard Strata as a trial run, an early experiment whose main interest lies in what it led to.
Once you start to read, though, it’s hard to remember that it was Pratchett’s third novel. It’s written with a degree of assurance and polish that you’d normally associate with the crescendo of a career rather than the beginning. It’s a marvellously funny book, but the gags are few and far between. Instead, the comedy wells up like oil in Texas out of well-crafted characters and meticulously planned and carefully thought-out situations, combined with a level of imagination and a mastery of language that Pratchett (and most other writers of our time) has rarely equalled and never surpassed.
Strata is definitely a serious book – a hilariously funny serious book – taking as its jumping-off point a sky-high-concept idea (evolution is a con trick played on us all by planet-builders; the World really was built in seven or so days, by a transgalactic equivalent of Barrett Homes). The narrator doesn’t make jokes; the comedy bursts out in dialogue, or lies under the surface in situation. It’s far closer in tone and method to New Pratchett – say, The Truth onwards – but constrained by the fact that it has to construct its mechanisms and references from scratch, rather than relying on a 30-title backlist.
It succeeds marvellously well. The setup – the Company, the two principal alien races, the mechanics of the artificial flat planet itself – are introduced so smoothly and skilfully that we feel as thought we’ve been familiar with this universe for a long time. The characters are exactly right for the functions they’re called upon to perform – moving the story along, investigating the mystery, providing the laughs. They lodge in the memory long after you’ve closed the book: the murderous, aggressive naturalised-human Marco; the high civilised Silver, who’s only ever two square meals away from degenerating into a ravening monster. As for the Disc, it’s an astonishing feat of verbal engineering, a wonderfully perverse artefact into which endless ingenuity has been poured to create a monumentally arrogant, fundamentally silly masterpiece.
Since the turn of the millennium, Pratchett’s command and assurance seem to grow exponentially with each new book. It’s a very long way from The Light Fantastic, say, to Monstrous Regiment. The early exuberance has settled down into rock-solid craftsmanship, and these days Pratchett writes books that are about themes and issues, instead of books that are about 300 pages long. It’s evolution in action, the gradual and inevitable course of organic growth over time. But Strata is the boot in the coal-seam that disproves the natural-selection hypothesis. There’s an old advertising slogan: you might as well start off with what you’ll end up with. Strata shows that Terry Pratchett did just that. Tom Holt in SFX, September 2009
Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti