|Terry Pratchett (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/sep/28/terry-pratchett-assisted-suicide-guidelines (Murdo Macleod))
"In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded."
Let me introduce you to a gentleman named Terry Pratchett, writer, humanist, knight, amateur astronomer, and hero.
That's a lot of titles, eh? Here's how he earned them.
Terence David John Pratchett, born in Beaconsfield, England, 1948, was an avid reader of science-fiction books as a boy, and attributes the greater part of his education to the Beaconsfield Public Library. He showed an interest in astronomy and computers, but never seriously pursued any career involving them. He had his first short story featured in his school newspaper when he was only 13 years old, titled "The Hades Business". It was published two years later, and funded his first typewriter. He got a job as a journalist in 1965 and at one point interviewed Peter Bander van Duren, an owner of a publishing company. In the interview, Terry happened to mention that he had written a manuscript called "The Carpet People". His interviewee saw promise in the story, and published it as Terry's first book. This would mark the start of his illustrious career as an author, during which he would win the Carnegie medal, and be knighted for "service to literature" in 2009.
As you can see, Terry Pratchett is first and foremost a writer of books, mostly fantasy, but I just like to call the genre "Terry Pratchett", as they're a bit (actually a lot) more than the usual heroes and monsters. If you want a quick snapshot of what his books are like, the above quote is a quick summary of most of them. Want some more detail? Well, the only way to really understand his writing is to read one of his books, but if I were to try to describe some of his best known books, the "Diskworld" series, the first adjective that comes to mind would be "witty", the second would be "funny", but the third would be "complex". While the books first come across as semi-spoofed fantasy novels, under close examination, they contain some powerful themes: gender equality, freedom, and religion being a few examples. Along the course of a book, he raises questions and pokes fun at anything and everything, including himself. What really makes his writing incredible, though, is his ability to dissect human nature and put it back together again into a story. I believe that the "Discworld" books, at their core, are about humans- not only their dark and light sides, but the innumerable shades in-between. His books combine science, fantasy, philosophy, and humor into little, paradigm-shattering packages of joy that leave you alternately laughing and pondering existence.
He's certainly my favorite author, but what makes him a hero?
Well, being a bibliophile, a fantasy fan, and a lover of witty humor and philosophy, I would say that simply writing such mind-expanding and beautiful books is almost an act of heroism in itself, but for those of you with stricter expectations, there's more.
In 2007, after writing dozens of novels, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Looking into treatment options, he was shocked that funding for Alzheimer's disease research was less than 3% of that of cancer research, and felt that something needed to change. In 2008, he donated exactly $1,000,000 to Alzheimer's disease research. The donation inspired an online fundraiser that contributed further money to the cause. Terry has since then fought for better government funding of Alzheimer's research, and has helped raise awareness in the general public. The disease itself, while currently in its early stages, impairs his ability to read and write. He can still write his books, though, with speech recognition software.
In addition to his donations to aid Alzheimer's research, he is a trustee for the Orangutan Foundation UK and and is a Distinguished Supporter of the National Humanist Foundation.
Pratchett is an excellent author, and willing to give his money to causes he believes in, but what really makes him stand out to me is that even in the face of a terrible illness, when many would give up, he instead used his own misfortune to help other people, and strike back at his illness. Imagine squeezing good out of Alzheimer's disease...
For inspiring others, for not giving up, and for making the world a better (and funnier) place, Terry Pratchett is my hero.