The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart


I usually try to start my reviews with a pertinent quote from the relevant book, but I was somewhat eager to return my copy to the library and I forgot to copy out a quotation for my review. However, it is somewhat appropriate to start the summary of my thoughts about The Science of Discworld with a quote from one of my favourite characters from the book – The Librarian.

Never said one word so much.

The Science of Discworld is an attempt to fuse the storyverse created by Terry Pratchett with non-fiction science. Through alternating chapters, we get to see how the Wizards of Discworld, with some help from Hex, create a roundworld very akin to Earth. And, yes, I smirked at the idea that book that spends a lot of time refuting creationism, is based on a story that features … creationism.

(I should add that I am not a fan of or even giving credence to the theory/ies of creationism, but, equally, I am not a fan of arguments that are full of contradictions.)

This is not the only aspect in which the book failed for me.

As much as I loved the Wizards – especially the Librarian – and Pratchett’s Discworld, the science parts in this book just really did not work for me.

The book started out with a random discussion of quantum physics. I am not a scientist. My working knowledge of physics is basic. The opening chapters took a lot of effort because I actually found myself researching different things that the authors referred to on the internet. I don’t mind do the research on topics I want to learn about if I feel that it will help me understand the rest of the book.

But not so here, the science parts seemed to jump from one topic to another without referring back to the previous ones. It was so confusing. And the difficulty level of the science parts differed throughout the book, too. It made me wonder what kind of a readership the authors were aiming for. Were they talking to people with pre-existing knowledge of quantum physics but not biology? Or maybe the authors just found it difficult to explain the topics they are experts in but didn’t bother to go into the same depths about topics they may not be as familiar with?

I have no idea.

What is clear to me is that the authors of the science parts are not great at communicating. Apart from talking down to readers, or constantly contradicting themselves – for example, when they criticise the act of simplifying a concept to explain it to someone, which the authors decry as “lies to children”, only to then use the same simplification to explain concepts to readers -, the authors of the science parts actually managed to … and this is the dealbreaker … they managed to make science boring.

And with that they made the book fail. Well, they managed to make half the book fail. The Wizard parts were delightful.


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