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review 2017-12-16 01:01
The Power of Narrativium
The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

Murder by Death and BrokenTune have essentially summed up a lot of the points I'd want to make about The Science of Discworld.  (What a misnomer that title is, incidentally -- and not only because the science part is really concerned with "Roundworld," i.e., our world ... the science part in this book expressly negates what chiefly makes Discworld tick, namely narrativium, which is described here as the narrative imperative, but actually stands for so much more.  But I'll get to that in a minute.)  And there is quite a bit of more discussion in MbD's post here and in the comments sections of BT's posts here and here, so little remains for me to add. 

 

There is one point in particular that is bothering me about the assertions made by the scientist co-authors, though, and that is their constant poo-pooing of any- and everything that isn't scientifically quantifiable or measurable, even though (in one of their many contradictions) they do admit in the book's final chapters that the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being" kit we have inherited and are, ourselves, passing on to future generations (both individually and collectively) includes "extelligence", which constitutes not only collectively shaped knowledge and experience, but also virtually every abstract concept known to mankind today ... as long as -- according to Stewart and Cohen -- a person's response to such a concept can be measured and recorded in some way, shape or form.  That, however, still doesn't stop them from talking down the concept of a soul (human or otherwise), or from insisting that narrativium doesn't exist in our world.  I disagree, and largely in lieu of a review I'm going to throw their co-author Terry Pratchett's own words right in their teeth (and incidentally, Pratchett was, for all I know, an atheist, so religion -- which seems to be a key part of Stewart and Cohen's objection to the notion of a soul -- doesn't even enter into the discussion here):

"I will give you a lift back, said Death, after a while.

'Thank you.  Now ... tell me ...'

What would have happened if you hadn't saved him?' [the Hogfather, Discworld's  version of Santa Claus.]

'Yes! The sun  would have risen just the same, yes?'

No.

'Oh, come on.  You can't expect me to believe that.  It's an astronomical fact.'

The sun would not have risen.

She turned on him.

'It's been a long night, Grandfather!  I'm tired and I need a bath!  I don't need silliness!'

The sun would not have risen.

'Really?  Then what would have happened, pray?'

A mere ball of flaming gas would have illuminated the world.

They walked in silence.

'Ah,' said Susan dully. 'Trickery with words.  I would have thought you'd have been more literal-minded than that.'

I am nothing if not literal-minded.  Trickery with words is where humans live.

'All right,' said Susan.  'I'm not stupid.  You're saying humans need ... fantasies to make life bearable.'

Really?  As if it was some kind of pink pill?  No.  Humans need fantasy to be human.  To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

'Tooth fairies?  Hogfathers? Little --'

Yes.  As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

'So we can believe the big ones?'

Yes.  Justice.  Mercy.  Duty.  That sort of thing.

'They're not the same at all?'

You think so?  Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy, and yet-- Death waved a hand.  And yet you act as if there is some ... some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

'Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point--'

My point exactly.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

There is a place where thwo galaxies have been colliding for a million years, said Death, apropos of nothing.  Don't try to tell me that's right.

'Yes, but people don't think about that,' said Susan.  Somewhere there was a bed ...

Correct.  Stars explode, worlds collide, there's hardly anywhere in the universe where humans can live without being frozen or fried, and yet you believe that a ... a bed is a normal thing.  It is the most amazing talent.

'Talent?'

Oh, yes.  A very speccial kind of stupidity.  You think the whole universe is inside your heads.

'You make us sound mad,' said Susan.  A nice warm bed ...

No.  You need to believe in things that aren't true.  How else can they become?  said Death, helping her up on to Binky."

(Terry Pratchett: Hogfather)

So you see, Messrs. Stewart and Cohen, there is narrativium everywhere where there are humans.  It may not have been part of the universe from the time of its creation (however we attempt to pinpoint or define that time).  And we don't know whether any of the long-extinct creatures who populated our planet millions of years before we came along had it -- if they did, it seems they at any rate didn't have enough of it to create a lasting record beyond their fossilized physical remains.  But humans wouldn't be humans without narrativium.  Because that's how the rising ape becomes something more than a mammal (call it a falling angel or whatever you will).  Because that's why it is the sun we see rising every morning, not merely a ball of flaming gas.  Because that's why the stars are shining in the sky at night, not a collection of galactic nuclear reactors that just happen to be close enough so we can see them with our naked eye.  And because that's what enables us to hope, to dream, and to consequently make things come true that nobody previously even thought possible.

 

It's narrativium that got us where we are today.  Not alone -- science, technology, and a whole lot of parts of the "How-to-Make-a-Human-Being-Kit" helped.  A lot.  But narrativium is the glue that holds them all together.

 

And since as a species we also seem to be endowed with a fair share of bloodimindium, maybe -- just maybe -- that, combined with narrativium and scientific advance all together will even enable us to survive the next big global catastrophe, which in galactic terms would seem to be right around the corner (at least if our Earth's history to date is anything to go by).  If the sharks and a bunch of protozoons could, then one would hope so could we ... space elevator, starship Enterprise, or whatever else it takes, right?

 

P.S.  Like MbD's and BT's, my love of the Discworld wizards is unbroken.  And clearly there is no higher life form than a librarian.  (Ook.)

 

P.P.S.  I said elsewhere that I'd be replacing Val McDermid's Forensics with this book as my "16 Festive Tasks" Newtonmas read.  I'm still doing this: at least it does actually have a reasonable degree of actual scientific contents; even if highly contradictory in both approach and substance and even if I didn't much care for the two science writers' tone.

 

 

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review 2017-12-10 17:52
Black Butler (manga, vol. 22) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura
Black Butler, Vol. 22 - Yana Toboso

This is the end of the Emerald Witch arc. Wolfram (Sullivan's butler and bodyguard), who was raised as a soldier since birth and given a name only after he was assigned to Sullivan, is miraculously saved. Ciel and Sebastian transport Sullivan and Wolfram to England. Ciel gives Sebastian one week to turn Sullivan into a young lady fit to meet the queen. Hilarity ensues.

Wolfram is only permitted to complain about Sebastian's treatment of Sullivan if he can do so in English. Lizzie arrives and briefly thinks Ciel is cheating on her with Sullivan, but that gets cleared up pretty quickly. Ciel instructs Sullivan to give the queen the formula for mustard gas but to carry the formula for SuLIN to her grave - it's a way for her to secure funding for future research while limiting the horror she looses upon the world. Sebastian deposits the SuLIN samples deep underwater (that doesn't seem like a very good idea unless they're all sure that it won't affect the water, but whatever).

(spoiler show)

The inside cover bonus this time around is "Black Diver."

As usual, Toboso ends the arc with a bit of comedy. I was glad that Wolfram survived, and watching Ciel torture Sebastian by forcing him to do the impossible, turning Sullivan into a lady and teaching Wolfram English in only a week, was fun. And then Lizzie arrived and forced Ciel to undergo some of the training too. Ha!

This volume included a wacky multi-page bonus comic based on the Japanese character popularity rankings. A character's ranking affected their page-time in the comic, so higher ranked characters got to appear more often. This led to them scheming to steal each others' rankings, which only ended after

Sebastian took multiple character rankings to defeat Snake's ranking-superpowered snakes.

(spoiler show)

Like I said, wacky. It ended on a surprisingly melancholy note, as the Undertaker tried to bring Ciel's father, Vincent, back to life by gifting him with a higher ranking. Which made me wonder about Vincent and the Undertaker's relationship, and whether that would get touched on in the next arc.

Another intriguing bit: the end of this volume indicated that

Vincent might still be alive.

(spoiler show)

I somehow doubt it - the wording was ambiguous - but I look forward to seeing what Toboso has in store for readers.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-12-07 15:01
Cover Reveal - Man Card

 

 

 

 
 
SUMMARY:
 
Nothing ventured, nothing banged...
 
Ash
 
I still don't know how it happened. One minute I was arguing with my arrogant competitor--our usual trash-talk over who deserves the larger commission. But somehow I went from throwing down to kneeling down... 
 
It can never happen again. I don't even like Braht. He's too slick. He's a manipulating mansplaining party boy in preppy clothes.
 
So why can't I get him out of my head? 
 
Braht
 
There are two things I know without question.
 
One: Ash and I are destined for each other.
 
Two: never trust a man with a unibrow.
 
Ash is my missing my piece. She's the sweet cream to my gourmet espresso. And nothing gets me going faster than her contempt for me. They don't call her the Ashkicker for nothing. 
 
Eventually I'll win her over...if my past doesn't ruin everything first.
 
 
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text 2017-12-04 12:28
Reading progress update: I've read 135 out of 385 pages.
The Science of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

Well, so far the science writing is pretty neat for what it set out to do, and this one will definitely replace my Newtonmas read for the 16 Festive Tasks.

 

Still, can I just say that I nevertheless prefer the Discworld chapters?

 

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review 2017-12-03 05:33
My Neighbor Seki (manga, vol. 6) by Takuma Morishige, translated by Mari Morimoto
My Neighbor Seki, 6 - Takuma Morishige

Seki continues to goof off, and Yokoi continues to watch him and occasionally try to thwart him. In this volume, Yokoi has to borrow Seki's Social Studies textbook and learns that

he edited it to tell the story of a master thief. Also, Seki mends stuffed animals (by cannibalizing a less-cute one), creates a foosball table out of his desk, sets up an ant farm in his bag, creates an airstrip for paper airplanes in the corner of the classroom, practises good table manners, and brings his sister to class. Oh, and there's a fake bomb and an Earth made out of eraser shavings.

(spoiler show)


There are zero new developments as far as characters and character relationships go. Goto still thinks Yokoi is under Seki's thrall, and Seki's sister still desperately wants to play with him while he resists and ignores her.

My favorite thing in this volume was the edited textbook. It was really cleverly done and something that I could imagine a bored kid doing in real life.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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