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The Science of Discworld I-III by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen Floffe Send a noteboard - 05/12/2009 01:50:26 PM
The Science of the Discworld

This is a series of three books where every second chapter is a story about the wizards of the Unseen University of Ankh-Morpork and every other is pop science related to the story.

In The Science of Discworld, the wizards accidentally create a universe where neither magic nor common sense works as it only runs on rules and logic. When they find one ball in the universe develop life, they name it Roundworld and watch it closely over some time. It is a harsh world, a ball of matter out in cold space, with a much larger burning ball of hydrogen a few million miles away. As they watch life on Roundworld survive against all odds (at first blobs in the sea, later a crab civilisation just about to make the Great Leap Sideways when it's killed off by a meteor. Luckily there were other life forms around as well), the science parts provide a brief history of time, as well as a discussion on life and its persistence.

When The Science of Discworld II: The Globe starts, Roundworld has been infected by elves, who set out to make the inhabitants (a bunch of monkeys quite interested in sex) more inventive and hence more able to be scared. At first the wizards try chasing away the elves but then it turns out that this caused the inhabitants to become extremely dull and boring, so they have to go back and figure out another plan. Eventually they decide to make people be even more imaginative, culminating in William Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The science discussion related to this is the one I enjoyed the most, with quite a bit of discussion on why humans are not quite Homo sapiens ("wise man"), but rather Pan narrans ("the story-telling chimpanzee"). This sense for narrative sets us apart from other creatures on this planet, providing a background for all our "civilisation". I also quite enjoyed being called a liar-to-children, which is a noble and respectable profession here on Roundworld.

The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch has Roundworld again going down the wrong leg in the trousers of time, now it's Charles Darwin who wrote Theology of Species rather than The Origin of Species, which has to be once again taken care of to set history back on the proper path. This provides an opportunity to talk about Darwin's life, science and theories, as well as a nice chapter on infinity, among other things.

All in all I must say that the narrative provides plenty of amusement over the dual causalities (Discworld inhabitants creating Roundworld, Roundworld writer creating Discworld), as well as lots of characteristically Pratchettian humour and references to other Discworld books (for example in Darwin's Watch, the God of Evolution from The Last Continent keeps popping up). The science also deals with many topics there is no room to mention in this review, including the scientific method, psychology and plenty of philosophy.

The parallels to our world that Discworld have always provided are put to an excellent use as openers to new scientific subjects. None of the parts are revolutionary on their own but the story and science complement each other very well. The combination feels quite novel, and as a sucker for both Pratchett and pop science, I found it irresistible.

Plus, as we all know from human history, humans really like the idea that the universe was created by a big beard in the sky (even if it was billions of years ago and there was, strictly speaking, no sky and nothing to go under the sky either), which is exactly what happens in these books (which wizard is responsible I'll let you find out on your own).
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I am the Demon of Delightfulness and Sinister Smirkings!

identity named after the Terry Pratchett of 18th century mathematics
This message last edited by Rebekah on 11/01/2010 at 06:33:52 PM
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The Science of Discworld I-III by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen - 05/12/2009 01:50:26 PM 3938 Views
I just realised that I didn't get back to you about this. Sorry. - 05/12/2009 02:40:51 PM 688 Views
Someone else (thanks Camilla!) did - 05/12/2009 11:19:11 PM 729 Views
- 06/12/2009 09:34:31 AM 674 Views
These are all brilliant, especially #2 *NM* - 07/12/2009 01:56:56 PM 382 Views

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