THE SCIENCE OF DISCWORLD II: THE GLOBE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen have returned to the Discworld for a second attempt to explain the Roundworld on which we live. While the first installment, The Science of Discworld, explored the physical world, The Science off Discworld II: The Globe is more concerned with the biological, psychological and sociological aspects of the world. As with the previous book, The Globe alternates chapters between a story of Pratchett's wizards and Stewart and Cohen's scientific meanderings.
During a team building exercise, the wizards of Unseen University find themselves mysteriously transported to Roundworld to explore the evolution of humans and defeat an Elven menace to the world. Perhaps because the story is set in our own world, or at least an approximation of it, Pratchett's satire does not seem as focused or biting as a traditional Discworld novel. The story also seems even more closely dictated by the non-fiction elements than in the first volume, with an overall weakening of the story.
Stewart and Cohen have focused their attention on the less physical sciences in this book, providing a basic education into many of the adaptations, both sociological and biological, which separate Homo sapiens (or Pan narrans as they call us) from chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus). Their approach in The Science off Discworld II: The Globe seems less cohesive than in The Science of Discworld. Instead of building on principles introduced in earlier chapters, they jump from topic to topic.
In The Science of Discworld, their basic premise was that science, and many other things, are comprised of "lies to children." In The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, this is replaced by the concept of narrative, in which they show how humans use stories to explain the world around them and learn from these stories. In fact, much of the book is a look at the way the scientific process works. This is shown not only in Cohen and Stewart's contributions, but also in Pratchett's, as he follows the wizards as they meet Archimedes and examine Isaac Newton's workshop.
In many instances, Stewart and Cohen's own narrative betrays their own beliefs about scientific and sociological theory. While they acknowledge the importance to some people of spirituality and religion, they approach the topic with the apparent attitude of skeptics (which they also approach many, but not all scientific topics with) and don't quite seem to understand why those people feel the need for belief. Neither are they afraid to take sides in current scientific and academic debate, although they don't always indicate opinion as opposed to fact. This weakens their portion of the book, especially since The Science of Discworld II: The Globe deals with the soft sciences which are more open to interpretation than the physics and chemistry of The Science of Discworld.
As befits a book which so closely deals with narrativium, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe is filled with stories to make the authors' points. These add to the book's readability and present some of its concepts in more readily digested form.
The Science of Discworld series introduces readers to a wide variety of scientific topics and processes to varying degrees of depth by employing the highly popular narrative structure of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. While not entirely successful, the book provides a basic understanding of the world in which we live and may very well influence the scientific interest and achievement of those who read it.