Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld II’: Chapter 9 / Chapter 10, Part I

In the ninth and tenth chapters of The Science of Discworld II, the wizards expel the elves, but with an unseen cost. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Well, they tried, right?


I did not expect an all-out, iron-heavy brawl between the wizards and the elves, but damn if it wasn’t immensely satisfying, you know? I guess I’m used to the wizards in this series being mostly ineffective and ridiculous, but they found the elves, and they went in HARD. Seriously, look at this!

The Dean hit first, striking an elf a blow with his staff. A horseshoe had been wired to the end. The elf screamed and twisted back, clutching at its shoulder.

HE CAME PREPARED, Y’ALL. And all of them did! Which makes the paint-flinging scene at the opening of the book make so much more sense. When it’s needed, the wizards know how to throw down. Even Rincewind sets up the elf queen to get taken out by the Luggage, and he very nearly does it!

But even if you try to do what’s best, sometimes, your actions can have unseen ramifications. Somehow—and I assume it’ll be explained later—the future version of Rincewind will visit himself at the moment of the wizards’ victory, and he’ll warn him to hold his breath upon returning to Dee’s time. It’s actually a really kind gesture because…. well, Rincewind could have actually told himself what the hell is going on, but instead, he opted to make sure he could breathe when he dropped into a river. A river, mind you, that is not really a river at all: 

And the river was in any case rather like a slowly moving swamp. Floating logs and mud banks choked it. Here and there, mud banks had become sufficiently established to sprout a crop of trees.

Now, perhaps I just don’t know the topography or geography of England all that well, but this… doesn’t sound like England? I don’t recall there being many swampy bits to it, so my guess is that the land has changed, too. I say that because CLEARLY HUMANS HAVE AS WELL. The version of humans that the wizards meet at the end are, as Cohen and Stewart put it, really, really bland. So: whatever the wizards did erased the initial creative spark that led to humans developing culture and intelligence. Roundworld is now definitely worse than what it was before. So… how the hell do they fix that? The elves are gone, but they have a whole new problem now. GREAT.


Ah, so now we’re getting to the part of evolutionary theory (and the evidence left behind that supports much of it) that has always been the thorniest part for a lot of people. Indeed, growing up in a very religious community meant that I had to hear rebuttals of evolution that focused on two elements referenced in this chapter: that there is no way we are ancestors to monkeys (which was just the catch-all term for all the various species), and all those fossilized Homo relatives are fake. 

Yes, you read that right. Our hominid ancestors are fake. Why? Well, I heard various theories over the years. The biggest one was that scientists created them so that prayer could be taken out of schools. Yes, that sentence is just as ridiculous as it seems, and it pained me to type it. But that was a real thing that many people I knew believed with their whole being. It made perfect sense to them: there was a grand conspiracy to get God out of the public consciousness, so scientists faked corpses, lied about their age, and then tricked generations of people into believing it. I was told to resist that programming, and I promptly did no such thing. You know that thing you experience, inevitably as a kid, where you realize your parents can and do lie to you? Mine came very early, and it made my upbringing challenging, particularly since I started defending things once I got into my teenage years.

So, I know I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but: Do you know how cool it would have been for me to have a book like this as a teenager? I know a lot of us say this kind of shit when it comes to representation, but I needed more than that as a kid. I needed information. I needed something that easily broke down things like gracile and robust forms of a species, something I don’t think I’ve heard since Marine Biology in college. (Which holds lots of bitter memories for me, by the way, since it is the only class I have ever failed in my life, and I failed it TWICE. Twice!!! It wasn’t even that hard!) Look, I didn’t know that there was technically a third kind of elephant until TODAY. THIS VERY DAY. This book taught me a huge piece of knowledge IN 2018. But I wonder how much of this isn’t just because of my upbringing, but because of the sort of anti-intellectual, anti-science bias that permeates American society. It’s something I spoke of at the UK Discworld Convention when someone asked if the US could ever produce their version of Sir Terry, and I said that our society has a lot of reckoning to do before we’d ever be able to do something like that. And it’s not just a rural or suburban problem, and it’s not a liberal vs progressive problem, either. It’s so, so much bigger than that! Obviously, there are specific instances in which you can delineate this sort of cultural problem across boundaries like that. Our textbooks are a mess because of government interference, particularly on a state level in the state where many of them are produced. It’s why American history education, without the right kind of teacher, is often just a regurgitation of propaganda and mistruths. The sciences are not always seen as a valid pursuit in life, but when they are, it’s for men, not anyone else. So we’ve got all these huge barriers, many of which intersect and combine with one another to create bigger disasters.

The point being: I appreciate that this book exists and that it might introduce a whole group of fiction readers to ideas and theories and knowledge that they might otherwise not have come across.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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