on 19 May 2005
If you've read the previous two Science books then this might be a two edged sword. There is an increase in the science presented to the reader, tackling such topics as potential time travel, the physics of time, evolution, mechanisms of change and biological interaction.
What there is not is a lot of Pratchett, the ammount of linking text has dropped considerably from the previous narratives and almost looks like it was written round the science essays, which may come as a dissapointment for some fans.
There is also a very strong anti "bible belt" vein to the science writting which may affect the US sales. All said however this is an enjoyable format which will introduce yet more "hard" science to the reader.
. . . to the butterfly that was stomped on. Among physicists there is a theory about multiple universes. Each time a decision is made or an action taken, a new universe is created. If a butterfly stomps its left front foot, a new universe with a different sequence of history forms. Stomp the right foot and yet another arises. If, as in Ray Bradbury's famous "The Sound of Thunder", a butterfly is stepped on millions of years ago, how different might our present be? The sequence of events in each scenario may alter only slightly - or be wildly divergent. This idea underlies the theme of the third Discworld science book conceived by Terry Pratchett and his colleagues.
If this is the first "Science of Discworld" you've encountered, some background is essential. Using a surplus of magic, Hex, the Discworld's version of Deep Thought, has created an new universe. Tucked away in that creation is a Roundworld - the one we live on. There is neither magic nor the binding force of the Discworld cosmos, "narrativium" here. Stories cannot be fathomed until they end. There is no logical sequence on which to build events. "Random" is the key word. The result is that Roundworld has evolved many lifeforms, nearly all of which have be killed off by massive ice sheets, poisonous gases or huge stones from space. Only one thing can save Roundworld's humanity from its own extinction event. Charles Darwin must sit down and write "The Origin of Species" to make humans understand how life here works. The knowledge will allow them to escape. This Science of Discworld volume was published in the USA, reflecting the need for just such knowledge to gain ground within that superpower. Relevance to the situation in the UK, however, remains high.
The Discworld's wizards have a portal to Roundworld. They also have a sense of mission. Once, they tried to change Roundworld's destiny - it was a near disaster. This time they don't wish to interfere, but Hex advises them that the odds of Darwin writing the correct book are not only bad, but getting worse. Again, manipulation of events is called for, but selecting which key events to change becomes an insurmountable problem.
In explaining the flow of time and how possible varients of that flow can affect history, the authors take you through the latest thinking on these topics. Discworld fans may be taken a bit aback by the level of theory encountered here. Never fear. There's nothing here anyone won't understand, but this isn't a just a romp with Pratchett's endearing wit. In the first place, the trio know that our society is facing a wave of anti-science sentiments. Religious dogmas, they argue, are no substitute for understanding the world around us. Dogmatic thinking blinds us to the dangers we all face. Pratchett and his co-authors all have children - children they wish to see grow up unthreatened. While their fellow humans may pose some dangers, it is Nature that weilds the ultimate weapon - extinction.
Unlike the previous Science of Discworld books, the integration of the three authors' writing appears seamless. Although the scenes with the wizards, whether on Discworld or Round, are essentially Pratchett, the input from Cohen and Stewart is clear. Likewise, when the tale describes the meaning and validity of the concept of multiple universes and causality, the subtle wit and clarity of language bespeaks the Pratchettean genius of expression. Altogether, they have created a valuable and entertaining learning experience. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
The third in a series of discworld books that are half fiction and half fact. The fiction bits are based around the wizards and their misadventures in roundworld [earth] a world they accidentally created. The chapters of this are interdispersed with non fiction ones about science.
The trouble with this one is that the discworld section just feels over familiar and doesn't really grab. And the science chapters are variable. Some that tell the story of charles darwin and his work are engrossing. Others get into different areas that can be heavy going at times.
So not a bad book all in all, just not the strongest entry in the series
on 4 August 2006
While not as good as the two previous "Science of Discworld" books, it is still as accessible a science book as you will find.
Dealing mostly with evolution (there is some physics), I wonder if this is partly a response of a science minded writer to the attempts of the religeous lobby to popularise pseudoscience like ID. Based on the premise that Charles Darwin never wrote "The Origin of Species" but instead wrote "Theology of Species", we are taken on a journey as to why Darwin wrote what he did and why the theory of evolution has stood the test of time.
As to criticisms that they book is openly hostile to religion, it is not. It feels more like the author has lost patience with those that try to force the facts to fit a preconceived world view rather than let the facts speak for themselves.
on 6 April 2010
If you haven't read the other two books in the series then the first thing you should know is this book consists of alternating chapters of Discworld-based fiction and non-fiction chapters discussing scientific topics touched on by the story. The scientific chapters are significantly longer than the Discworld ones so don't expect a full length story of the kind found in one of the novels.
Pratchett's writing is excellent as usual but the meat of the book is in the science. Cohen and Stewert are both very good at explaining complicated ideas clearly and they touch on time-travel, infinity, evolution and more in the course of the book. There's also a fairly good historical section based around Darwin. The writing manages to strike a balance between staying accessible to those without much background in science while having enough depth to keep the more scientifically literate reader interested: don't be fooled by the fact it's sandwiched into a work of fiction, this is definitely not dumbed down!
There are a few minor flaws, however, which prevent me from giving this book the full five stars. The historical section contains some careless mistakes, the most glaring of which is the authors' incorrect identification of Charles Lyell as the first person to argue for the antiquity of the Earth. This error leads them to claim that his views on Deep Time influenced Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia (p. 247), a book published three years before Lyell was even born! Also, while the writers' have a gift for describing complicated ideas, some of the sections (especially those on physics) would have benefited enormously from a few diagrams. Finally, the lack of a bibliography or suggestions for further reading makes it difficult to follow up on some of the fascinating topics covered.
Please don't get the wrong ideas from these criticisms though: this book is great and would heartily recommend it any Discworld fan with the slightest interest in science.
on 1 February 2007
Even after reading 2½ of these `Science of Discworld' publications I remain ambivalent about them. In some ways I find the alternating chapters reminiscent of current TV styles in which they continually cut from one thread to another, just as you get interested in the current one! Continuity is sacrificed. It is almost tempting to read the alternate chapters as, in effect, separate books: read the odd chapters first, and then go back to the start and read the even!
The educational content is (mostly) approachable and, in itself, entertainingly written by the Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen pairing; and, I suppose, brings some valid knowledge to the younger audience via a vehicle they are likely to accept. That said, I had to read several sections at least twice to get some understanding (and still don't feel sure I've grasped it all - there are some sophisticated ideas covered!)
However, without doing much in the way of research, I question just how much input the various members of the writing trio have into the two aspects of the book. I also wonder how far the concept places limits on Mr. P's creativity and originality of thought. It seems to me that some of the reviewers have tended to forget that there are three authors collaborating here. I think it is a rare thing for such to result in little or no dilution of any one contributor's style.
As a result, I feel that Terry Pratchett's narrative lacks the punch found in his solo efforts. At any rate the snigger quotient has, thus far, been rather low in comparison with other novels from the author. Is it me just getting older and more jaded? I long for the rich cast of characters and the strange lands beyond the Unseen University. The story of the wizards' (mis)adventures in Roundworld lacks the usual flair and freshness - seemingly constrained by the `Science' theme, particularly as it is demonstrably not that of Discworld.
Yet, I keep reading them, finding something worthwhile in each, and wondering just how it will work out in the end; and what quirky path it will trace and which strange cast we will meet along the way.
As to whether the scientists are religion-bashing or not, well that is a debate that is probably best saved for a forum rather than a book review. Suffice it to say that the material covered is well-known as being contentious, with strong views held on both sides. The authors, in my view, try to tread a reasonable path, but are bound to step on a few sensitive toes in doing so!
So, on balance, not a great read. No snorts, sniggers or guffaws on every page. An intriguing publication to continue the series, but almost like writing by numbers (or formula) - somehow lacking in the atmosphere and unfettered fun of the main Discworld novels.
A 3 for effort, but could do better, boys.
The Science of the Discworld III is another highly readable book from Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen that uses the interaction between the Discworld and the Wizards accidental `roundworld' universe to teach some interesting ideas about evolution.
The story is set on the Discworld. The Wizards of Unseen University have accidentally created a universe. But this is a universe without magic, where worlds are spherical rather than discs. They set about observing this universe from its creation through to the formation of life. This time around the Wizards are interested in evolution, and the ideas of a certain C. Darwin.
Each chapter of the entertaining and usually hilarious Discworld story from Pratchett alternates with a chapter of real science from Stewart and Cohen (both great communicators with wry senses of humour) which explains in our terms what just happened in the Discworld story.
It's well written, easy to follow, introduced me to many scientific concepts that I did not know about previously, and is probably the most educational book I have ever read. So many of the ideas and explanations were firmly lodged in my mind after reading this, many more than remain from my student days, when I was supposed to be studying this kind of thing! (But which I didn't really study too hard because I spent most of my time reading Terry Pratchett books...)
The one niggle here is that it doesn't flow quite as well as the previous two book. This feels like a set of essays strung together rather than a uniform piece, and Pratchett's Discworld short story never quite seems to catch fire. But it's a minor point, it is only compared to previous books that this feels a little weak, it is still a strong and educational read in it's own right.
It's an excellent book, one that I recommend. 4 stars.
on 29 October 2008
Agree with several other reviewers. It is a good book, but the science section spends too much time on speculative modern physics, most of which is obviously bad science. Even when it covered special relatively, trying to describe Minkowski diagrams without drawing them, is more confusing than useful.
Still I learnt a lot about Darwin, and his life. But the authors set a high standard with I and II, and this definitely slipped somewhat.
on 23 January 2009
This was an unequal balance between Pratchett's madcap and inventive story chapters sandwiched between long science essays. The Discworld glimpses are too short, the essays too long for a pleasurable read. I often found myself skipping whole pages trying to find the point of an essay and wishing the wizards would take over!
Some of the science bits are fascinating, and they all seem well researched and generally well argued. Hearing the string of events and coincidences that led to Darwin developing and finally publishing his theory was amazing, but most chapters are just overlong and with a strong bias against bible loving Americans. One chapter really struck me as odd, where three paragraphs explained how time machines worked, and the next 16 pages were spent proving how they couldn't. The conclusion took two chapters to get through. Interesting concepts, but too much indulgence by the authors.
on 7 November 2011
Of course this is another Discworld story, and it's a good one, but this time it's wrapped up in some extremely interesting and accessible explanations about how the Universe works. I learned a great deal. I would suggest, though, that it be read at least twice, because some of the more complicated areas of theoretical physics, intelligence and extelligence theory, and Darwin's theory of evolution etc will be hard to assimilate in just one read-through. I would also say that the book rather changed my personal views on evolution: I'd always rather tended towards the creationist theory, but now, finally, evolution has been explained to be in such a way that I'm prepared to change my mind. Enjoy!