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The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch
Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen
Ebury Press, 344 pages

Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett lives in Somerset, England, where he spends all his time, and more, writing his rigorously naturalistic, curiously entertaining, shamelessly popular Discworld novels which have earned him extravagant acclaim and puzzled stares from millions of readers around the world.

SF Site Reading List: Terry Pratchett
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SF Site Review: The Art of Discworld
SF Site Review: Terry Pratchett's Discworld Collector's Edition 2005
SF Site Review: Going Postal
SF Site Review: Monstrous Regiment
SF Site Review: The Wee Free Men
SF Site Review: The New Discworld Companion
SF Site Review: Night Watch
SF Site Review: The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
SF Site Review: Thief of Time
SF Site Review: Nanny Ogg's Cookbook
SF Site Review: The Truth
SF Site Review: City Watch Trilogy
SF Site Review: The Fifth Elephant
SF Site Review: The Discworld Assassins' Guild Yearbook and Diary 2000
SF Site Review: The Science of Discworld
SF Site Review: The Last Continent
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SF Site Review: Jingo
SF Site Review: Feet of Clay
SF Site Review: Maskerade

Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen
Ian Stewart is Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry, England. In 1995, he was awarded the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Medal for outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science. He continues to be an active research mathematician, working now on the effects of symmetry on dynamics, with applications to pattern formation and chaos theory.

Currently at the University of Warwick, Dr Jack Cohen is an internationally renowned reproductive biologist, having published nearly 100 research papers. He also acts as a consultant to top science fiction writers, such as Terry Pratchett, designing credible creatures and ecologies.

ISFDB Bibliography: Ian Stewart
ISFDB Bibliography: Jack Cohen
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SF Site Review: Wheelers
SF Site Review: The Science of Discworld

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch At a time when the President of the United States apparently equates teaching Intelligent Design with teaching Evolution, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen's book The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch provides in a nutshell an explanation of why comparing Intelligent Design and Evolution is like comparing sapient pearwood and a nauga*.

Pratchett's wizards are once again exploring the strange, to them, Roundworld, created by HEX in The Science of Discworld. This time, they are focused on a wizard-like man living in the Victorian period, Charles Darwin. Something has gone wrong, and an infinite number of potential Darwins are busy writing The Ology of Species and the Wizards find they must work to make sure at least one of them write The Origin of Species.

Interspersed between Pratchett's chapters are chapters written by Stewart and Cohen which use Pratchett's narrative as a jumping off point for a discussion of a variety of scientific topics, many of which revolve around evolution. Stewart and Cohen make it clear that evolution has itself evolved since Darwin first proposed it back in 1859. At the same time, the authors point out that the version of evolution currently being attacked by fundamentalists is not the current state of the science, but rather a straw man set up based on ignorance of the science.

While the evolution portions of Stewart and Cohen's work is excellent, at times when they stray to discuss other topics, there seems to be little reason in the direction their discussion is going. In some cases, they are able to return to the general theme of the book, but other times, they aren't able to tie their bows as neatly.

One of the strengths of the book is that Cohen and Stewart discuss not just current scientific hypotheses and their strengths (or more often their weaknesses), but that the authors are also attempting to educate their readers into the scientific methodologies, which includes an explanation of why evolution is science (it is testable) and Intelligent Design isn't (it isn't).

Even when Stewart and Cohen are explaining the strengths and weaknesses of recent theories, they appear to be extremely conservative in the way they approach theories. While this may be scientifically sound, to a lay person, it comes across as dismissive, and even when they've provided explanations for why something doesn't work, it eventually comes across as merely dismissive.

Overall, however, The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch works well as both a fictional narrative and an explanation of the science of evolution. The authors explain the process by which Darwin (and Alfred Russel Wallace) came to develop the theory of evolution. They explain the difference between a theory and a tested hypothesis, and the ready comes away with a firmer knowledge of the subjects covered.

* Both can be used for the same purpose, but one is the real McCoy and the other is only masquerading.

Copyright © 2005 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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