Just a brief note for those who are planning on buying this.
The first three Science Of Discworld books, by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, were pretty good general pop-science books alternating with chapters of a Discworld novel by Pratchett that illustrated or commented on the science in Stewart and Cohen’s chapters.
This one isn’t.
This time, Stewart and Cohen are clearly aiming for the Dawkins market, and their chapters are essentially a run-through of the standard arguments in all those currently-popular Where God Went Wrong type books.There are some interesting bits, like their demolition of anthropic reasoning, and some odd bits (like Stewart’s continuing insistence on missing the point of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics), but rather than being about science, it’s about how scientific and religious thinking are (by Stewart and Cohen’s standards) fundamentally incompatible.
It’s a witty example of the type, but it’s relatively light on the actual science — there are nuggets of interesting science there, whether talking about possible alternative topologies of the universe or origins of life, but it’s in the service of the anti-religion argument. It’s first and foremost a polemical, rather than a scientific, work.
Meanwhile, Pratchett’s chapters are, frankly, astonishingly weak. The Science Of Discworld books have never been his best work, but the Discworld material here is notably thinner than in the other ones. The plot (about priests suing the wizards for custody of Roundworld) is almost nonexistent, and there wasn’t even a moment when I so much as smiled, let alone actually laughed. It’s clearly the weakest thing Pratchett has written, by quite some way.
If you’re a fan of Stewart and Cohen’s work, and want to read their arguments for scientific rationalism and against religion, then you’ll probably get something out of this. I have several of their other books and enjoy their writing, and while I’m far more interested in their explanations of science than in their arguments against religion, the book is at least a less mean-spirited than Dawkins.
If, however, you’re primarily a Pratchett fan, you can skip this one without feeling like you’ve missed anything. It’s neither a science book or, really, a Discworld one.
I was about to post a short review of Lawrence Burton’s excellent Faction Paradox novel and Phil Purser-Hallard’s equally excellent Senor 105 novella (a post which will go up tomorrow or Monday instead), when I went to the Obverse Books website to get links to put in the post, and saw this.
Obverse are putting out, next year, an anthology of Faction Paradox short stories, and it’s to be written entirely by women. From the FAQ:
Are unpublished women writers welcome?
Extremely! I’ll be setting up an (optional) online workshop so that the anthology’s contributors can read and give feedback on each others’ work.
If you have not previously been published, please include the first thousand words of your story with your pitch.
Why an all-woman anthology?
The majority of the writers published by Obverse so far have been men. This anthology is an attempt to circumvent whatever barriers are preventing Obverse from connecting with a larger number of talented women.
I’m a transwoman. Can I pitch?
Absolutely! You too, genderqueer folks.
What do I need to know about Faction Paradox to write for this anthology?
Other than what’s in this document – pretty much nothing! I’ll provide Faction-related content in the form of small stories that fit between each story in the anthology, featuring Tefen and Triphis and their competition. However, if you are familiar with the series, feel free to use its mythology in your pitch.
If you would like to know more, Lawrence Miles’ introduction to his creation is online at:
What genres and styles of short story can I pitch?
Each story needs a strong science fiction or fantasy element. We might see the Earth conquered by extraterrestrials, machines, memes, ghosts, mermaids, intelligent cosmic rays, mutant dogs, gods from a parallel dimension… the more original and weird your invasion force, the better. (Please avoid these heavily used fantasy creatures: vampires, werewolves, fairies, dragons, and zombies.)
However, the stories can present that SF/fantasy element within any genre: romance, horror, comedy, espionage, adventure, police procedural, technothriller, historical intrigue, psychological drama, you name it.
Any setting on Earth is appropriate, and any time, past, present, or future. The well-researched use of non-Western settings, culture, and mythology is encouraged. Characters of colour, characters with disabilities, and characters with alternative sexualities are also welcome. Adult content is fine, but please avoid sexual violence and child sexual abuse.
The stories can be told from the point of view of the subjugated humans – victims, collateral damage, resistance, collaborators, dupes, ordinary people just trying to get on with their lives – or from the POV of the conquerors; but each story will show some of the consequences of colonisation for the human race.
Now, I think this would be a perfect anthology for several of the women I know to submit to. Note especially that *you do not need to know much about Faction Paradox* in order to submit. I also think that this is something that should be supported wholeheartedly — Obverse are a company that put out great work, and it’s always good to see people consciously trying to fix an imbalance.
I’ve not mentioned this before, because the book’s not even finished yet, so there’s every possibility they’ll turn down the finished manuscript and make me look foolish, but the novel I’ve been working on is for Obverse, and I also have a short story in contention for a possible future anthology they’re putting out. I say this just to let people know that I’ve had dealings with two different Obverse editors as a writer, and they are very, very easy people to work with.
What exactly is the point of this? I could, sort of, almost, see the point of the Hitch-Hiker’s sequel written by someone else — while the whole point of those books was Adams’ writing, I can sort-of imagine thinking “well, there just aren’t enough books about those characters I love” because there were only five of them. I won’t ever buy it, but I can comprehend someone who would.
Likewise, I can definitely see the point in, say, new Sherlock Holmes books — there are only eight of them, and the character is pretty much infinitely malleable.
But there are twelve Jeeves books (depending on how you count short stories and reworked versions) and they all have, to a first approximation, *exactly the same plot*:
Bertie has a new piece of clothing that Jeeves disapproves of. Bertie refuses to get rid of it, and Jeeves goes into a sulk. A friend or relative of Bertie’s gets into trouble, usually to do with romance, and wants Jeeves’ help, but Bertie says “no, I am just as good as Jeeves, and anyway, he’s in a sulk” and comes up with a solution by himself. The solution makes the situation worse, and what was one problem involving two people is now three separate problems involving five or six people, and the one with the biggest problem is Bertie. Bertie then says “Oh, OK then, we’ll ask Jeeves”, and Jeeves comes up with a solution which places Bertie in a hideously embarrassing situation, but which eventually sorts everything out to the point where everyone is happy. Bertie tells Jeeves to get rid of the piece of clothing of which Jeeves disapproves, and Jeeves says he’s already done so.
You can’t vary that much, or really at all, and have it remain a Jeeves story. The pleasure in those books is *entirely* in the language. And while most competent writers can do a decent-ish pastiche of Wodehouse’s style (I’ve done one myself, in fact) no-one in the whole history of English literature has had such a mastery of the language.
Just to take a sample scene from a random Jeeves book opened at random:
The first of the telegrams arrived shortly after noon, and Jeeves brought it in with the before-luncheon snifter. It was from my Aunt Dahlia, operating from Market Snodsbury, a small town of sorts a mile or two along the main road as you leave her country seat.
It ran as follows:
Come at once. Travers.
And when I say it puzzled me like the dickens, I am understating it; if anything. As mysterious a communication, I considered, as was ever flashed over the wires. I studied it in a profound reverie for the best part of two dry Martinis and a dividend. I read it backwards. I read it forwards. As a matter of fact, I have a sort of recollection of even smelling it. But it still baffled me.
Consider the facts, I mean. It was only a few hours since this aunt and I had parted, after being in constant association for nearly two months. And yet here she was—with my farewell kiss still lingering on her cheek, so to speak—pleading for another reunion. Bertram Wooster is not accustomed to this gluttonous appetite for his society. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that after two months of my company, what the normal person feels is that that will about do for the present. Indeed, I have known people who couldn’t stick it out for more than a few days.
Before sitting down to the well-cooked, therefore, I sent this reply:
Perplexed. Explain. Bertie.
To this I received an answer during the after-luncheon sleep:
What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass? Come at once. Travers.
Three cigarettes and a couple of turns about the room, and I had my response ready:
How do you mean come at once? Regards. Bertie.
I append the comeback:
I mean come at once, you maddening half-wit. What did you think I meant? Come at once or expect an aunt’s curse first post tomorrow. Love. Travers.
I then dispatched the following message, wishing to get everything quite clear:
When you say “Come” do you mean “Come to Brinkley Court”? And when you say “At once” do you mean “At once”? Fogged. At a loss. All the best. Bertie.
I sent this one off on my way to the Drones, where I spent a restful afternoon throwing cards into a top-hat with some of the better element. Returning in the evening hush, I found the answer waiting for me:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It doesn’t matter whether you understand or not. You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven’s sake stop this back-chat. Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes. Stop being a fathead and come immediately. Love. Travers.
It was at this point that I felt the need of getting a second opinion. I pressed the bell.
“Jeeves,” I said, “a V-shaped rumminess has manifested itself from the direction of Worcestershire. Read these,” I said, handing him the papers in the case.
He scanned them.
“What do you make of it, Jeeves?”
“I think Mrs. Travers wishes you to come at once, sir.”
“You gather that too, do you?”
“I put the same construction on the thing. But why, Jeeves? Dash it all, she’s just had nearly two months of me.”
“And many people consider the medium dose for an adult two days.”
“Yes, sir. I appreciate the point you raise. Nevertheless, Mrs. Travers appears very insistent. I think it would be well to acquiesce in her wishes.”
“Pop down, you mean?”
Now, if Sebastian Faulks is capable of writing something that good, why hasn’t he already done so, and why does he need to use Wodehouse’s characters? And if he’s not, why on earth does he think he can step into the shoes of the greatest writer of English prose who ever lived?
It’s as bad as Kenny G and Louis Armstrong.
Proper update soon.
Just a quick note here to mention, once again, the absolutely exemplary customer service provided by Lars Pearson of Mad Norwegian.
I’ve already pointed this out before, when because it took him a whole week or so to get a book I ordered shipped, he threw in a free copy of another book as well (I hadn’t even noticed the slight delay), but this time he’s gone one better.
I had a fit of generosity while Plok was over here — he liked The Book Of The War so much, and I was so flush with cash that week, that I thought “I’ll buy him the whole set of Faction Paradox books as a Christmas present”, so I ordered them while he was here.
Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and the books (which I already had) were sent to my house (the billing address) rather than to Plok’s. Which is a bit of a problem on all sides, really — they were shipped from the US, and Plok is in Canada. As we only paid Canadian shipping, that meant Pearson would have lost out, and it also meant we had to try to find some way to get the books to Plok.
I emailed Pearson about this to let him know, just in case there was something in his processes he needed to change, and started making arrangements to post the books to Plok from the US when we’re over there.
Pearson didn’t reply to my email — but he sent replacement copies of all seven books to Plok, who got them today.
Mad Norwegian is an extremely small press, and must have lost a fair bit of money on the deal, and I think would have been entirely within their rights just to say “Sorry, can you post those copies on?”
Instead, they did the right thing, again. So I’m going to ask any of you who are looking to buy a Christmas present for the TV-SF fan in your life, to visit MadNorwegian.com and pick up one of their TV episode guides, or the Faction Paradox novels. Their books are generally of exceptional quality — of the ten or eleven books they’ve published that I’ve read, the only one I didn’t like was Chicks Dig Time Lords, and that one won a Hugo so plenty of other people thought it was very good.
Customer service that good deserves rewarding.
(ETA for some reason when I said “ten or eleven” there I was counting About Time as one book rather than six, because I’m a fool. So “fifteen or sixteen” is closer)