The Science of Discworld
By Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Published by Random House Audio
Read by Michael Fenton Stevens and Stephen Briggs
This book was not really what I expected. Then again, I’m not sure what I expected exactly. I suppose, from the title I was expecting the authors to explain how Discworld works. That, I thought, would be interesting.
For those who may not have any acquaintance with the Discworld, Pratchett’s creation really is a flat disc perched on the backs of four tremendous elephants (there used to be a fifth elephant, but that is literally a different story) all perched on the shell of an even larger space-going turtle known as the Great A’Tuin. So, finding a pair of scientists to explain how that might work (I’d start with O2 tanks for the elephants and turtle) would be interesting, especially if they could explain how such a system might work.
Well, we do get such an explanation… It’s magic! (Thank you, E.L.O. … or Sammy Cahn). However, that’s not what this book is or is about. This is a lovely combination of Pratchett’s fiction with real-world science in which we are treated to a wizard’s view of our world and universe.
The book alternates actual discussions of cosmology, relativity, quantum and a heck of a lot more with chapters in which the wizards of the Unseen University in Ankh Morpork (a city so nice they named it… Ankh Morpork) accidentally create a new universe that does not seem to adhere to the laws of nature as they know them, but, among a lot else, contains a world they call Roundworld which may be our Earth or something near enough to make no difference. As their creation develops, the authors explain the science behind that (our universe, that is) in an entertaining manner that probably ought to be tossed into the usual middle school curriculum – it would certainly make more students interested in science.
Along the way we are treated to quite a few entertaining discourses on various scientific disciplines and even some of the less popular alternative theories and hypotheses, some of which have been debunked in most circles but still have their adherents and in some ways explain how things are and work better than the more accepted theories. The book does not play favorites when presenting such ideas, it merely mentions them and admits that some experts prefer these. There are even several cases in which the hypotheses presented have been disproven, but which were accepted in the past, and the authors brought them up mostly to e4xplain how scientific theory itself has evolved over the years.
In the end, there is also a serious discussion about preserving our natural resources and showing how Mankind has been causing the extinction of other species for a very long time. In short, it gives a clearly stated and easy to understand refutation to climate change, evolution and other sorts of scientific deniers. Better yet, it does so with an entertaining story that, perhaps, only Terry Pratchett could have written.
Michael Fenton Stevens and Stephen Briggs both read their sections well and after a while I stopped hearing them as different readers. Oh, if I thought about it, I knew which reader read which sections, but the readings meshed perfectly without any audible jarring sensation when one stopped and the other took up the next chapter. It could have been read all by one reader who just modulated his voice between the scientific and the fictional passages, but was not.
All told, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to listening to the next in the series; The Science of Discworld 2: The Globe.