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

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There's a positive franchise of books called "the science of this" and "the physics of that" - some of them very good. On the whole they take some work of fiction and explore the borders between the fictional science and reality. (Actually, and surprisingly they're not a franchise, but totally disparate - it's surprising no one spotted this early and got in on the act.)

In choosing to take this approach for the humorous fantasies of Discworld it might seem initially that Discworld creator Pratchett, mathematician Stewart and biologist Cohen had gone mad. Discworld doesn't operate on science, but magic. The cunning plan, though, was not to use Discworld as the source of the science, but rather as a vehicle for exploring the science of our world.

The book alternates chapters between the fictional Unseen University on Discworld and our own world, which it seems has been made in an experiment in the labs.

It's actually a very clever idea, that works fairly well. (In fact with practice, they have got better at it - S of D III is significantly better.) In the science bits we see how the components of our universe, the the Earth, then life was formed. The interleaved fiction is quite entertaining, though never as effective as a real Discworld novel. The science chapters are good, and the authors strive to put across information that isn't widely known. Even so, the topic is not very cohesive, and the result is not the most exciting popular science ever. It's good stuff, but it occasionally veers into the worthy or the smug. Even so it was an original and clever idea which improved with practice.

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Reviewed by Brian Clegg


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Last update 05 June 2007