Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld II’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Science of Discworld II, we learn about the concept of phase spaces! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For brief discussion of anxiety

This was a bit more dense than I expected and contains a whole bunch of science and math that I understand on the surface, but I did find some things I wanted to respond to! I know this is something I struggled with occasionally during the first Science book, so I’m thankful that TikoJanus suggested that I alternate these books with a regular Discworld book. These aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy reading about science a lot. Granted, sometimes it’s hard to review that because I am certainly not knowledgeable about science to actually craft a decent response. But part of the fun that I have doing these kind of posts is in finding ways to relate many of these high concept theories or postulations to our lives. I mean, that’s why it’s neat that we alternate between science sections and the prose ones; we get to see how scientific principles have influenced much of Pratchett’s construction of the Disc. 

That’s also why phase spaces are fascinating to me. I didn’t realize how much they appear in our thoughts on a day-to-day basis. We construct stories based on miniature phase spaces all of the time. The example that Stewart and Cohen give is extremely, extremely small and focuses solely on “why” questions. We construct alternative possibilities all the time to help us navigate the world. And if any of you have anxiety like mine, then you also probably have a few thousand phase spaces in your brain. Because good gods, do I ever construct alternate possibilities in my mind of scenarios that absolutely do not or cannot exist. (And then I convince myself that they’re totally real and will happen! THANKS, ANXIETY.) 

Anyway, I also dug the attempt to explain the possible size of L-space, though I came at it from such a different place because of this line:

A typical book is about 100,000 words long, or about 600,000 characters (letters and spaces, we’ll ignore punctuation marks).

I mean, they’re not wrong, but it does tend to matter what you’re writing. In the young adult market, generally books that are genre/speculative are expected and encouraged to be over 100K, which I am learning the hard way. Anger was well over 120,000 words long, and that is EXTREMELY rare for contemporary fiction, which generally tends toward the shorter side in YA. Because that book was so long, I really wanted my second one to be shorter, more immediately thrilling, and just packed with intensity from beginning to end. My first draft was only 81,000 words long, and by the time I turned it in earlier this year, it was only 86,000 words. And now I’m running into the issue where everyone kind of wants it to be longer? Truthfully, the story does need more room, but this is not something I ever really thought about until I was involved with publishing. I just assumed books ended up the length they were because that’s… just what they were? And maybe things were added or excised, but I never really understood why authors had “targets” for their manuscript until I finally had one myself. 

I also think reading a book aloud has made me very conscious of how long 100,000 words is, but that’s another story. So much of this is subjective and arbitrary, too, because a story can be 100K and garbage, or it can be 3k and perfect. So I totally understand why it is that a computer can’t determine what a story is or whether one is good or not. Lots of us have competing, contradictory reasons for loving or hating a work of fiction, and let the nearly eight years of history of this site be one giant cache of evidence for that. What works for some people doesn’t for others; tropes I hate are ones that provide entertainment and joy for others. So how could you possibly code that into a computer program without human bias affecting it?

All right, onwards into the Roundworld! I really want to know what the elves are doing. Well, probably tormenting the wizards, but that feels like a given.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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