The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen (book review)

December 27, 2016 | By | Reply More

‘The Science Of Discworld IV’ follows along the tradition established by previous Discworld ‘Science Of…’ books by contrasting our magically-created world, known as Roundworld, with the real world, which is, of course, the Discworld. But it’s also an in-universe piece of fiction, chronicling the debates held by the wizards and scholars of the Discworld at the Unseen University as they try to understand our world in more detail.

As is often the case with ‘Discworld’ fiction, there’s more to this than simple humour. There’s a philosophical point posed right at the very beginning, which is that the Roundworld, though created by the wizards, is bereft of magic, so can only operate according to its own self-imposed rules. Without any guiding hand behind these rules or any thought given to what such rules might lead to, what are these rules and how do they work?

This is, of course, the fundamental question that science has been asking itself ever since Darwin deduced that the great game of evolution has rules and all species must abide by them. As in biology so, too, in chemistry, physics, geology and maths, each of the sciences became more and more aware of the fundamental rules governing their fields but why these particular rules and how they relate to each other remains a central question within modern science.

Religions have their own explanations for why the rules exist, and the ‘judgement’ part of the book’s title refers to this. The debate is between the wizards and priests of Discworld before Lord Vetinari, the two sides each saying that they and they alone have ownership of the Roundworld. Their arguments are, of course, essentially critiques of the two world-views that exist in our modern world. On the one hand is religion arguing that their God or gods created the world and that their priests understand the rules and can explain them and, if followed, all mankind will benefit. On the other hand is science, arguing that the rules existed long before man evolved and it’s the job of science to elucidate the rules so that we can better understand our universe.

Within that framework and allowing for a good deal of cynicism and humour, what ‘The Science Of Discworld IV’ provides is a very broad, quite readable account of where modern science is going, at least from the perspective of a couple of retired academics and a fantasy fiction author. The balance between the fictional parts of the book and the scientific parts isn’t quite perfect but, if you accept the fictional debate is little more than a framing device, the book works rather well.

All in all, while the sciencey bits are superficial and the religious arguments crafted a bit too obviously as criticisms of Christian fundamentalism, the book does manage to summarise something of the tension between the two world-views as it stands today. Enjoyable, but certainly not authoritative.

Neale Monks

December 2016

(pub: Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2013. 342 page indexed hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-091-94979-2

pub: Ebury Publishing/Random House, 2014. 342 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-091-94980-8)

check out website: www.eburypublishing.co.uk

Category: Books, Fantasy, Science

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