APF Chapter 3: Discworld Annotations [Prev Page] [Index] [Next Page]

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The Science of Discworld

Annotations | Information | Quotes

- [cover] The cover of the book is a Discworld version of the 1768 painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright, depicting the formation of a vacuum by withdrawing air from a glass bowl containing a white cockatoo.

Note that in Paul Kidby's version the bowl contains the Roundworld, with the Librarian taking the place of the frightened child.

- [p. 19] "'Lots of centaurs and fauns and other curiously shaped magical whatnots are there, [...]'"

Centaurs first appeared in Carpe Jugulum, and are now being mentioned again in the very next book. Apparently they're regarded as some sort of magical mutation, rather than as part of the original Creation. Would that account for more of the denizens of Uberwald?

- [p. 43] "'Well, sir, you could ask what use is a new-born child...'"

This was the alleged reply of Michael Faraday to the question "What use is electricity?", but probably also attributed to other scientists.

- [p. 45] "[...] the ancient principle of WYGIWYGAINGW."

In the Enlightenment, most thinkers had pretty much unbounded faith that science would eventually answer every conceivable question. This led to a parallel philosophical movement based on a variant of predestination -- if the whole universe runs on Rules, then everything must be as it is and it is no good wishing it were otherwise. Most famously parodied by Voltaire in Candide, through the character of Pangloss.

'WYGIWYGAINGW' is of course also a pun on 'WYSIWYG', the technology principle that What You See Is What You Get (originally used in the context of an image on the screen in e.g. a word processor corresponding exactly to a printed version).

- [p. 57] "It was the second day..."

On the second day, God separated Heaven from Earth. The Roundworld chooses this day to develop its first planets.

- [p. 61] "'As Above, So Below",'

This was the theoretical basis of late Medieval/Renaissance magical theory, including traditional alchemy.

- [p. 99] "It was day four."

On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon and stars. Ridcully et al. try to do the same thing.

- [p. 101] "Things fall apart, but centres hold."

Plays on a well-known quote from W. B. Yeats's poem The Second Coming (see also the annotation for p. 268 of Good Omens for another mention of this poem):

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

- [p. 121] "'Days and nights!' said Ponder. 'Seasons, too, if we do it right!'"

Still on the fourth day of Genesis (1:14): "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days, and years:"

- [p. 152] "In April 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped down on to the surface of the Moon, [...]"

I am not sure if this error has been fixed in later printings of the book (I have been told that it is still present in the 2002 paperback edition), but it definitely needs to be: the first Moon landing was in July 1969.

- [p. 207] "'Sniffleheim,' said the Dean, [...]"

In Norse mythology, Niflheim is one name of the underworld, the domain of Hel.

- [p. 207] 'We can get HEX to reverse the thaumic flow in the cthonic matrix...'

"Reversing the polarity" of the something or other as a last desperate measure has become the archetypical example of the kind of meaningless technobabble often used in the various Star Trek television series.

Similarly, Dr Who was also often seen "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow" of something with his sonic screwdriver.

- [p. 271] "[...] the big black rectangle looming over them."

A reference to the black monolith that teaches the apes in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The subsequent "throwing the thighbone up into the air" sequence is another. (See also the annotation for p. 259 of Sourcery ).

- [p. 272] "Rincewind was wandering in the next bay, staring at the cliffs."

Cliffs were one of the textbook inspirational sights that caused Darwin and his contemporaries to think about extinctions and the history of life. This is significant because Rincewind's thoughts here are quite reminiscent of Darwin's thoughts when he tried to reconcile his theory of evolution with the story of creation.

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