In the third chapter of Darwin’s Watch, Ponder discovers the point at which time has split in the Roundworld. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III.
I guess I had never really truly thought of the Science of Discworld books as alternate history novels, even though I discussed the concept briefly towards the end of The Science of Discworld II. But it wasn’t in-depth! I was mostly referring to tropes of time travel, not the genre/archetype itself. Yet that is what these are in one sense! Pratchett, Cohen, and Stewart are analyzing the actual history of the world and positing what would happen if key elements changed. The first book changed more than a single point, and so did the second one, though that was largely due to how the wizards and the elves interfered in human development. (There was a huge part of the prose element of the second book devoted to the ramifications of the attempts to “correct” the first change as well.) Here, however, we’re dealing with just a single point in history: for some reason, the Reverend Charles Darwin’s major work is Theology of Species, and it maintains that intelligent design has always been a part of evolution. So, if we accept this major change, how does this ripple out forward in history?
Well, there isn’t much of an answer initially provided to us, but Ponder’s presentation to the wizards begins to give us the context we need. He shows Queen Victoria, references the creation of the steam engine, and notes that Victoria’s reign “was notable for great developments in science and engineering.” So, we’ve got a pivotal moment in human history, one that’s centered on Britain, and then Ponder provides the twist:
“On this version of the Globe, the Empire of the British did not become as big, and the other developments were all rather muted. The great wave of discovery flattened out. The world settled down to a period of stability and peace.”
I did appreciate the wizards’ reaction: what, exactly, is wrong with this? I’m guessing that the book is going to try to posit that the Empire needed to happen in the way that it did? Which… would be a real tough sell for me, I’m not gonna lie. At the same time, I don’t actually know what the book is attempting to say here. That whole line of what was “notable” during the reign of Victoria might be the key, though, and I don’t know that it’s necessarily wrong. It’s more that I see two potentially difficult things that could happen from that position. One, arguing an empire as brutal and as far-reaching as the British Empire needed to happen for us to progress as a species is a bit of a nightmare. Like, I get that the point is that history has deviated and they’ve got to put it back on track, so maybe that’s what they’re trying to say, rather than arguing that the Empire was necessary for advancement. So, even if that’s the case, we’re still left with a problem I identified before: this feels unnecessarily focused on Britain as the keystone to human civilization. It appears to argue that civilization as a whole would not have advanced to the point of saving themselves from the big freeze that’s coming hundreds of years in the future without Britain advancing, and, again, I’m not sure I buy that. No one else figured things out or contributed in any meaningful way?
Alas, I could get a few chapters in and discover this isn’t the intent of this at all, so I don’t feel it necessary to expand on this because it all prove to be a moot point in a while. I just thought I’d bring it up because I do like discussing the particulars of alternate histories and why they work or don’t work. In the case of this book, I have so much more to experience, and there’s very little information about this altered timeline beyond the two books. Now I understand the point of the epigraphs! They were indeed glimpses of how Roundworld has changed. Because Darwin argued for “the process of evolution as one of permanent involvement by an omnipotent deity,” that means history was changed significantly. (And this does make me think that perhaps I’m wrong about what the book is arguing, as this IS a hugely significant departure that would clearly affect things like British imperialism and the development of many scientific theories to come.) And because of that, it took over a hundred years (give or take) for Dawkins to argue successfully that Darwin was wrong, and by that time? Humanity was too far gone, and they never developed as they needed to, and the Trousers of Time has been discovered! Something happened with that weird cloud forming in Darwin’s room? But how did it convince him to alter what he already knew or what he would come to discover? See, I don’t even know what exact year the divergence happened. And that matters, too! When was Darwin pushed down a different path? And if it wasn’t the elves—I honestly don’t think it was—THEN WHO DID IT???
Also: technomancers. TECHNOMANCERS. Oh, this is already so exciting!!!
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