In the twenty-seventh chapter of The Science of Discworld II, Rincewind and Ponder detail how they’ve successfully changed the world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I imagine if I read the story straight through, I might feel just slightly different about this chapter. I think that a number of factors have contributed to this feeling a tad rushed, and I recognize that most of them are because of me. Not only is this book being alternated with another one, but the story ITSELF is alternated with the Roundworld chapters, so it’s stretched out anyway. But I felt like there was going to be another story beat before this point. AND I AM FULLY AWARE THAT THERE MIGHT BE EXACTLY WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR IN CHAPTER 29. But, as it stands, is this all resolved just like that? The resolution itself isn’t a problem; this is what this book has been leading to for a while. It’s just that this feels like it all got wrapped up in ten pages, and… oh god, wait. What if that’s intentional? What if I am meant to think everything’s resolved, but it’s all a TRICK???
Okay, maybe not, but let’s talk about this! There are two major things that I wanted to talk about, and they’re related to one another. First, the wizards manage to give humans the compulsion and drive to tell stories. Most of The Science of Discworld II has been devoted to the importance of stories to the development of our species. And with that drive implanted in us again, Rincewind’s Stage Two is implemented: the intersection of belief and action. Now, there’s a point to be made here about progress and humanity, and I don’t really disagree with it. As humans have been able to “see” more of the world, they’ve generally been able to shift their major belief systems. Even for religions that have lasted for a long, long time, there have been significant changes in what constitutes the tenets of said belief systems. But that’s just restricting this conversation to religion. What about rudimentary ideas of science? Philosophy? Psychology? We observe more and more things, we learn, and we adapt. In general, that’s been how we’ve changed in the long run.
Of course, we’re in a weird time. It’s hard talking about this stuff in 2018 because we’re living in an age where observation does not matter, when people are so entrenched in their beliefs and their bigotry that they can literally observe the same thing as everyone else, yet come to a completely different conclusion. There are people proud of their ignorance, who are proud that they peddle fake news, who know that the world is no longer dominated and influenced by what constitutes a fact. Which is not to suggest that this has never happened before; it certainly has. History is cyclical, and we as a people repeat the same mistakes, just with different contexts. Still, sometimes, this current era we’re living in feels so unreal, you know?
So, there’s that, but then there’s the whole gods thing. I’m am atheist, but I feel like the authors all stretch just a little bit further than maybe they should? So much of this book feels like a reaction—and one I understand!—to the dominant organized religions in the world. But once Rincewind and Ponder start talking about how their influence has set humanity on a course to eventually “kill” all their gods, I’m not so sure they’re right? I mean, it’s hard to read that and then look around at the world we’re in now, where it doesn’t seem like we’re ready to do such a thing at all. But there’s a bigger question: should we? I’m biased when it comes to certain monotheistic religions, but there are plenty others that I have no experience with and which don’t seem to be harming others en masse, so do we really need to excise ourselves of those, too? There’s a sort of cultural certainty that comes from believing your own culture can exist without a god, so therefore, all cultures should live without them. I’m not interested in that at all, and for a book that is so specific most of the time, this felt way too general.
And then there’s the ending, which I did actually love A LOT. It all felt like a giant joke aimed at time travel narratives, particularly the notion that all you have to do is just change one single thing, and then a person’s life can be put on the exact path that you want them on. Oh, no, the world (and time) is so much more complicated than that! The constant trips back to correct Shakespeare’s life were HILARIOUS, and it’s so very Pratchett-esque, y’all. He makes fun of a trope we’re familiar with, and he takes it way further than anyone else would.
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