Technology of the Discworld
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The technology depicted in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels takes two forms: magical and mechanical. Nearly all technology early in the series is at least partially magical, but in recent books there has been something of an industrial revolution, with numerous purely mechanical inventions being introduced. In Thud! ancient 'devices' of undisclosed origin and great power were introduced; it is not clear whether these are magical, mechanical, both or neither. The History Monks also have their own technology, the exact nature of which is usually unclear. Most Discworld technologies have real-world equivalents, in function if not form.
- 1 Technological development
- 2 Magical technologies
- 3 Mechanical technologies
- 4 Inventors
- 5 History Monk technology
- 6 Devices
- 7 List of Discworld inventions
- 8 Notes
In early novels, most parts of the Discworld were technologically primitive, having only medieval levels of development. Advanced items such as the iconograph were made in the Agatean Empire and unknown in Ankh-Morpork. Agatean technologies were mostly imp-powered or otherwise magical; the Empire does not seem to have had many mechanical technologies. From about the tenth novel (Moving Pictures), mechanical and to a lesser extent semi-magic technologies began to be developed in Ankh-Morpork. By Interesting Times Ankh-Morpork had surpassed the Agatean Empire technologically; in that novel Rincewind is offered a watch of the kind which astounded him in The Colour of Magic, but declines because the clockwork watches now made in Ankh-Morpork are more reliable. This may be an allusion to the relative speeds of technological development in Europe and China; China (of which the Agatean Empire is clearly a version) was much more advanced than Europe until the Industrial Revolution, when Europe rapidly surpassed it. In Jingo, Klatch is also represented as being technologically advanced; a telescope which had recently been invented in Ankh-Morpork is old technology in Klatch. However, there is no indication that Klatch is advancing (an allusion to the technological advancement of the Second Persian and Ottoman Empires compared to the relative modern advancement of the region).
Since about The Fifth Elephant technological innovation in Ankh-Morpork has further speeded up, with the city now resembling nineteenth century London far more than the medieval city of The Colour of Magic. The use of magic in technology has declined, and with the exception of Dis-Organisers the majority of inventions in Ankh-Morpork are entirely or mostly mechanical.
Most technology in the Discworld universe is powered at least partially by magic, which operates on quasi-scientific principles. Magical items such as wizards' staffs, witches' broomsticks and the Luggage can be considered technology; for example broomsticks are manufactured by dwarves and problems with them can sometimes be solved by replacing the handle or bristles (although not in the case of Granny Weatherwax's broomstick, which has had both replaced several times). Other items are more mechanical seeming, although they are powered at least partially by magic or magical beings.
The earliest technological items depicted in the Discworld novels are owned by Twoflower. These include a watch and the iconograph, which is powered by a tiny imp who sits inside and paints pictures of whatever it sees, on demand. In The Colour of Magic, Rincewind sees the iconograph, which is essentially the discworld equivalent of the camera, and speculates that it works by means of light falling onto specially treated paper (i.e., like a real-life camera), and is distressed when he discovers that the pictures are simply painted by a small magical being. Although imp technology initially seems completely unknown outside the Agatean Empire (Twoflower's home), by the later books iconographs have become widespread, and imps are used in a range of other technology such as razors and the Dis-Organiser. In Moving Pictures the iconograph is developed into imp and salamander-powered equivalents of the movie camera and projector, but this eventually causes a portal to open into the Dungeon Dimensions, and the technology is abandoned. Nanny Ogg's Cookbook depicts an imp-powered egg beater.
There are several different "generations" of Dis-Organiser, which were probably based on the imp-powered watches; the watches themselves fell out of fashion once people decided clockwork was more reliable. All of them have a relentless enthusiasm that distinguishes them from "single function" imps; they want to show off all their abilities, all the time.
The basic Mark I is an imp, in a box, that (theoretically) remembers your diary and memos. It can also recognise handwriting (a reference to the Apple Newton) but can't understand it; it also claims to be able to tell you what the time is in Klatch, but obviously this is not very useful as they are made in Ankh Morpork, and don't know what time it is anywhere else. It can use precognition to find out what your appointments are before you do, but this may lead to it following a different timeline, which can be disturbing ("...beep... Things To Do Today: Die..."). The Mark II is similar, but also has the ability to change colour, knows several different alarm calls, and can memorise an entire conversation (running its memory backwards to recall it). The Mark V, also known as "The Gooseberry" (a play on the BlackBerry) can deliver messages through Bluenose (cf. Bluetooth), which involves running extremely fast down to the nearest clacks tower, as well as play games and whistle songs through iHUM (cf. iTunes). It can also, unlike the Mark I, read, and its most useful function (to Commander Vimes, at least) is an ability to sort through large amounts of paperwork quickly—Vimes eventually lets it out of its box and employs it as his unofficial secretary.
The name Dis-Organiser is an obvious pun, and could also be a play on "Dis", the name given to the city in the center of Hell in Dante's Divine Comedy. In The Art of Discworld the Mark I and Mark II are drawn to resemble the Series 1 and Series 3 Psion organisers.
Unlike a normal camera, the iconograph contains a tiny imp who quickly paints the pictures (also called iconographs) of the subject at hand. If it is too dim for the imps to see, salamanders can be used as a flashgun. The iconograph is first seen in The Colour of Magic, where it is used by Twoflower, the Discworld's first tourist, to the bemusement of most other characters. By the time of later books in the series, they have also become very popular in Ankh-Morpork.
In Moving Pictures, similar iconographic technology is used to make films, but this attempt was abandoned by the end of the novel. In Men At Arms, the iconograph imp is referred to as a brownie, a pun referring to the Brownie camera. In The Fifth Elephant, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch traffic division uses iconographs and stopwatches to implement the Discworld version of a Gatso, recording cart drivers who speed over bridges. This book also features an iconograph the size of a cigarette packet, with a tiny nano-imp, used by spies. In The Truth, Otto von Chriek is the iconographer for the newspaper The Ankh-Morpork Times, and invents methods of printing iconographs in colour. In Monstrous Regiment, Chriek can transmit iconographs thousands of miles through the Clacks semaphore system.
Hex is a computer unlike any other the Disc has ever seen (which is not particularly hard since until quite recently all other "computers" on the Disc consist of druidic stone circles, except for Pex, Brazeneck College's attempt on Hex in the book Unseen Academicals, but with chickens). Hex runs and evolves under the watchful eyes of wizard Ponder Stibbons, who becomes the de facto IT manager at UU because he's the only one who understands what he's talking about.
Hex has its origins in a device that briefly appeared in Soul Music, created by Ponder Stibbons and some student Wizards in the High Energy Magic building. In this form it was simply a complex network of glass tubes, containing ants. The wizards could then use punched cards to control which tubes the ants could crawl through, enabling it to perform simple mathematical functions.
By the time of the next novel, Interesting Times, Hex had become a lot more complex, and was constantly reinventing itself. Part of it is now clockwork, which interfaces with the ant-farm via a paternoster the ants can ride on that turns a significant cogwheel. Its main purposes were to analyse spells, to see if there were simpler "meta-spells" underlying them, and to help Stibbons with his study of "invisible writings", by running the spells used to bring the writings into existence (these spells must be cast rapidly, and each one can only be used once before the universe notices they shouldn't work). In other words, data compression and information retrieval.
In Hogfather Hex contained several things that nobody remembered installing, and was asking about electricity. It was at around this time that the wizards become concerned that it may be trying to become something they didn't understand.
By The Science of Discworld Hex was capable of "once and future computing"; increasing its abilities simply by deducing that the required processing power would exist eventually. Presumably this requires a high expenditure of magic, as it has not been mentioned again (at the time, there was a massive excess of magic available due to a near catastrophic overload of the university's experimental thaumic reactor). This virtual memory appeared as translucent silver towers superimposed onto the real Hex. Hex was sufficiently intelligent by this time not to tell the wizards what it was doing, in case it worried them.
Hex appears in the books Interesting Times, Soul Music, Hogfather, The Last Continent, Going Postal, The Science of Discworld I, II and III, Making Money and Unseen Academicals and in the video game Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?
Like the golems of Jewish legend, Discworld golems are 'living statues' who work according to the orders written on tablets or scrolls contained inside their heads. They are capable of independent thought, especially if they own themselves, but are arguably not actually alive, though since they are ushered into the next world by Death on their demise, the argument is dubious. Golems first appear as non-sentient creatures under the control of an operator (in this case, Rincewind) in Interesting Times. The first novel in which they are major sentient characters is Feet of Clay.
In recent books, the Discworld appears to be undergoing something of an industrial revolution, with several new technologies impacting on everyday life, especially in Ankh-Morpork. Unlike many earlier technologies, these are entirely or mostly mechanical, rather than magical. However some have the ability to alter the nature of reality.
The clacks is a system of shutter semaphore towers which occupies roughly the same cultural space as telegraphy in nineteenth century Europe. It first appears in The Fifth Elephant, but its full history is set out in Going Postal. On p. 54 of The Fifth Elephant they are described as having eight large square shutters flipping between black and white, viewed by telescope from the next station 20 miles away, and having been in use for centuries.
The clacks stretch along the Sto Plains, into the Ramtops and across the Unnamed Continent to Genua. It has become the Discworld's first telecommunications network. While the system structure is that of a telegraph, elements of it are often described as similar to the Internet; for example, it threatens to make the Post Office obsolete in Going Postal and is sometimes described as 'c-mail' (a clear reference to e-mail). 'C-commerce' is also carried out on it.
The clacks closely resemble the real-world Murray six-shutter optical telegraphs used in southern England from 1795–1816, when they were replaced by Popham's pole-style semaphores. However, the historical British and Swedish ten-shutter optical telegraphs had shutters that switched from "flat-on" to "edge-on", not "black/white" like the clacks. Other possible influences for the clacks system are the similar semaphore network in the Keith Roberts novel Pavane or the hoodwinker towers in The Blue World by Jack Vance. A similar telegraph system is described in the L. Sprague de Camp novel Lest Darkness Fall. The name itself may have been inspired by 'clackers', the term for operators of mechanical computers in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's steampunk novel The Difference Engine; it is also a play on the word 'fax'.
The history of the clacks network was detailed in Going Postal. It was invented by Robert Dearheart, who then founded the Grand Trunk Company and created a network of towers across the continent. The technology was developed further, with some degree of automation and the ability to send images introduced. Meanwhile, a consortium of financiers led by Reacher Gilt were embezzling money from the company, and used this to buy the network. The new owners were interested in the money but not in technology or maintenance, making the clacks more profitable but less reliable. Attempts to start rival networks were foiled by Gilt killing his competitors, including Dearheart's son John.
In Going Postal, Gilt and his cronies are exposed by Dearheart's daughter Adora, Postmaster and convicted fraudster Moist von Lipwig and a group of renegade clacks operators. The Patrician suggested that the Ankh-Morpork Post Office take over the running of the system (a reversal of the real-life situation in which Britain's General Post Office was split in 1984 into Royal Mail and British Telecom), but Lipwig expressed his intention to return the Grand Trunk Company to the Dearheart family.
Introduced to Ankh-Morpork in The Truth, the Discworld moveable type printing press was probably developed in either the Agatean Empire or Omnia. In both places, 'vast printeries' already existed at the time the printing press was introduced to the city. In The Truth, a group of dwarves start up a press, and—with William de Worde—the city's first newspaper, the Ankh-Morpork Times. The Guild of Engravers take up the technology, expanding into the Guild of Engravers and Printers, and attempt to run the Times out of business by publishing a cheap tabloid newspaper and cutting off its supply of paper. However the staff of the Times, particularly Gunilla Goodmountain and Otto von Chriek, rapidly invent improvements such as printing iconographs and in colour.
Previous to The Truth, the Guild of Engravers along with the Patrician, the Unseen University and the priests, had managed to keep moveable type out of the city. The Guild wanted to maintain its monopoly, while the wizards and the priests were concerned about what might happen if the type for a magical or religious book was used for something else, and the Patrician did not want people to have too much information. Prompted by the development of the Clacks and the Engravers' high rates, the Patrician decides to allow moveable type printing in the city, against the opposition of the priests, despite his initial fear that the new media would spark some kind of occult catastrophe, as happened in Moving Pictures and Soul Music. The University was amongst the printers' first customers, hiring them to print non-magical items, having also become annoyed at the Engravers' rates.
The Discworld moveable type press works in basically the same way as that in the real world.
Bloody Stupid Johnson
Perhaps the Disc's most notable inventor is Bergholt Stuttley "Bloody Stupid" Johnson, an architect whose ability to get things wrong bordered on mythical. Although evidently able in certain fields, Johnson is notorious for his complete inability to produce anything according to specification or common sense, or (sometimes) even the laws of physics. This fact never stopped him from trying, however. He is also known as Bloody Stupid "It Might Look A Bit Messy Now But Just You Come Back In Five Hundred Years' Time" Johnson, and Bloody Stupid "Look, The Plans Were The Right Way Round When I Drew Them" Johnson.
Johnson was not incompetent, far from it; indeed in many ways he was a kind of genius. Pratchett suggests on numerous occasions that he possessed a kind of "inverse genius;" as far from incompetence as genius but in the opposite direction. Certainly no one else could produce an explosive mixture from nothing more than common sand and water, or create a triangle with three right angles. So, while no sane person would believe for a moment that it is possible to create a circle wherein pi is exactly three (as opposed to "three and a bit", as it is oft described), Johnson managed to somehow twist the laws of the universe to accomplish precisely that in his construction of the Automated Mail Sorter for the Post Office of Ankh-Morpork. As with a significant number of his creations, the Sorter did work, but Johnson's blithe disregard for how the universe is actually put together created some side effects, including (but by no means limited to) the Sorter's ability to sort mail that had not actually been written yet or had never been written.
The most obvious flaw in Johnson's abilities is his blind spot when it comes to marking units on his plans. But while most of Johnson's designs are simply unusual, some of them seem to tap into strange forces, probably by mistake. It has been suggested that he may have inadvertently achieved the exact opposite of constructing in cosmic harmony with the power of ley lines.
The fact that he continued to receive commissions after the defects in his abilities became apparent is considered to be the ultimate expression of the apparent thinking behind the Victorian follies, i.e. an indication that the person commissioning the work can afford to waste money like this. It became quite fashionable to have your house or garden 'Johnsoned'. This view of Johnson's abilities was not universal, however: it is believed that the town house of the Ramkin family—a rather pleasant old house with well-designed gardens—was never worked on by Johnson because he was shot in the leg by the late Lord Ramkin (Lady Sybil's grandfather) the then-owner, while walking up its drive one day, "before he could do any real damage", as Lady Sybil put it.
Generally assumed to be dead in the time of most of the books, Johnson is never seen, but was certainly alive around the time of the main events of Night Watch: Lord Snapcase took up the Patricianship in the course of the events chronicled at that time, and he could only have commissioned the Ornamental Cruet Set from Johnson after becoming Patrician. This is also approximately when Johnson must have created the ill-fated mail sorter, as dates in Going Postal suggest that this occurred 30 years before the events chronicled there. Given the nature of the sorter, though, timing may not be a problem.
Terry Pratchett also knew the former British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, for a number of years and is believed to have based B.S. Johnson on him. Cf The Post Office Mail Sorter below—it is no coincidence that Alan Johnson used to be a postman. B.S. Johnson's name and abilities are also a parody of Capability Brown and also, perhaps, a reference to the experimental writer B. S. Johnson. B.S. Johnson's name and work with organ building is also a reference to famous organ composer J. S. Bach, who shares Johnson's initials reversed. Johnson's last name may be a reference to William Allen Johnson, organ builder and founder of Johnson Organs; he also bears several similarities with architect Philip Johnson, best known for building a Glass House. On the same expanse of land that the iconic House is built are several artistic pieces described by some as "Johnson follies".
Johnson created a number of organs, the most famous ones residing at Unseen University (and called Our Mighty Organ by Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, much to the displeasure of the staff), at the Ankh-Morpork Opera House, and at Don'tgonearthe Castle (owned by the Magpyr family of vampyres) in Überwald.
Besides functioning as normal organs (actually working as intended being a deviation from the norm), Johnson's instruments include a number of less conventional voices. The UU organ, for example, includes such voices as Vox Dei, Thunderstorm, Whoopee Cushion, Squashed Toad, Humorous Chicken Squawk and Squashed Rabbits, in addition to the "terrae motus", or Earthquake Pipe—although no-one is allowed to use it since the time it caused the University to move several inches on its foundations (and caused acute bowel discomfort in a quarter of the population of the city). This organ's other major feature are the 14 stops marked '?'. The organ at Don'tgonearthe Castle was specially built to accommodate the tastes of a traditionalist vampire, and features the specialist voices of Wolf Howl, Thunderclap, Scream and Creaky Floors. Its chord generators, for example 'Ghastly Face at Window', play various combinations of the voices.
To date only one Johnson bathroom has been discovered (the Patent 'Typhoon' Superior Indoor Ablutorium with Automatic Soap Dish). It was found behind a boarded-up door hidden behind a bookcase in the Archchancellor's rooms at UU, and was promptly opened up by order of Mustrum Ridcully in order to see why it had been boarded up in the first place. The bathroom features a number of unusual water spouts and fountains, such as the 'Old Faithful' facility and the 'Musical Pipes' enhancement, interlocked with the university's organ. Although for some time after its initial discovery the bathroom seemed to be a perfectly normally—even exceptionally—functioning bathroom, it was soon found to have the same kind of unexpected behaviour as Johnson's other devices, being coupled to the UU organ. The bathroom was later sealed up again after an unfortunate incident when the Librarian was playing Bubbla's Catastrophe suite on the UU organ, having engaged the afterburner, while the Archchancellor was having a shower.
Monuments and landscape design
Johnson designed a number of monuments and landmarks, including the inch-high Colossus of Ankh-Morpork, the pocket-sized Hanging Gardens of Ankh and the minuscule Quirm Memorial. He was also commissioned to construct an arch to commemorate the Battle of Crumhorn (the only battle where the other side were convinced to sell their weapons)—this arch is now kept in a cardboard box.
His efforts in landscape design are especially noteworthy, and the Ankh-Morpork palace gardens are considered to be his greatest accomplishment. It is here that we find such creations as the hoho, which is a 50-foot-deep (15 m) ha-ha, the gargantuan beehive currently used as a pigeon coop in the absence of 10-foot-long (3.0 m) bees, a structure referred to only as the "Johnson Exploding Pagoda", iron patio furniture that melted and crazy paving that committed suicide, and the chiming sundial that also tends to explode around noon. In the palace grounds is also a maze so small that people get lost looking for it. Another notable feature is the ornamental trout lake, built 150 yards (140 m) long, but, sadly, only one inch wide. It currently houses one trout that is quite content provided it doesn't want to turn around. "Perfect for the dieting fish". At one point there was also an ornate fountain which, upon being turned on, did nothing but groan ominously for several minutes before firing a small stone cherub a thousand feet into the air.
The Post Office Mail Sorter
Originally intended to be another of Johnson's famous organs, this device was adapted into a mail sorter (through such implements as a hopper and the presence of imps) in his continual striving for functional improvement. Johnson used in the sorter various gears and other rotating components which for tidiness he constructed with the value for pi of exactly three (rather than the customary "three and a bit") as the ratio between their circumference and their diameter.
The Sorter itself came to be known as the New Pie, and eventually caused the downfall of the Ankh-Morpork postal service as the machine started sorting mail that hadn't been written yet. The then-heads of the Ankh-Morpork Post Office tried to use this to their advantage, as they could deliver future mail to people a matter of minutes after (or before) the writer had created it, thus creating a practically instantaneous mail service.
This idea was flawed however, as in some cases, post that was supposed to belong to the other half of a universal bifurcation emerged—such mail was never meant to exist in the normal timeline of the Discworld. The damage caused to space-time in the immediate vicinity of the machine made it a significant health hazard. It was only the physics and dimensions of the letters that enabled them to pass through safely; a chair leg for instance would come out the other side in thousands of tiny splinters.
When this was considered in combination with the ever-increasing volume of not-yet-written mail, the machine was taken out of service and smashed up by a senior postman (despite being told that its destruction could result in the end of the universe). The remains are still installed in the basement of the Post Office; as they are still hazardous, there is no obvious means of removing them. It was a prominent feature of the Post Office in Going Postal; one of Moist von Lipwig's predecessors was accidentally killed by it, and Moist himself used it to kill Mr. Gryle, a feral banshee.
One of Johnson's masterpieces is Empirical Crescent, described in Thud! as being a street in a fashionable area of Morpork just off Park Lane which even the Ankh-Morpork Historical Preservation Society have wanted pulled down. The Crescent is a product of Johnson's unique multi-dimensional approach to architecture (reminiscent of the tesseract house built by architect Quintus Teal in Robert Heinlein's short story, "—And He Built a Crooked House—"). On the outside it is a perfectly normal street, but inside the layout is distorted, for example:
- The front door of No.1 opens into the back bedroom of No.15
- The ground floor window of No.3 shows the view from the second storey of No.9
- Smoke from the dining-room fireplace of No.2 comes out of the chimney of No.19
- Bulbs planted in one garden may start growing in someone else's
- Rubbish thrown out into one garden lands in someone else's
No residents tend to stay in Empirical Crescent for more than a few months and always leave very quickly (usually without taking time to pack the furniture). It enjoys a low crime rate, as thieves generally prefer to break into one apartment at a time.
In addition to his engineering and architecture, Johnson is also known for his occasional attempts at cooking. Dishes designed by Johnson frequently encounter problems similar to those found in his landscape work—a wedding cake made by him, for example, had as its icing a substance harder than cement, and was eventually used as a bandstand. His most remarkable work in this field was the Individual Fruit Pie, a gargantuan pastry which exploded during baking and demolished several city blocks. Amongst the ingredients was a single clove, but so many apples that Johnson had to create an apple peeling device which was abandoned when it stapled one of the workers to a brick wall. Also, a device labeled "Improved Manicure Device" is used in the UU kitchens as a potato peeler, and a cruet set requested from him turned out large enough to convert into residences and a food silo.
Leonard of Quirm
Leonard of Quirm is a man of indeterminate age, he is described as "one of those people who start looking venerable at thirty, and proceed to look that when they got to ninety". Originally from Quirm, he moved to Ankh-Morpork some time ago and is currently a permanent "guest" of the Patrician. Before this he was a member of nearly every craftsman's Guild in the city, most commonly being kicked out for getting impossibly high marks on examinations or correcting the questions.
Like his Roundworld counterpart, he is a great painter, being known for such paintings as Woman Holding Ferret and the Mona Ogg. (Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine and Mona Lisa.) Also like his counterpart, he is left-handed and writes things backwards (e.g. "ENNOGEHT"—"The Gonne"—in Men At Arms).
He is also a brilliant engineer. Like the early Leonardo he has designed a great number of war machines, and like the later Leonardo he holds war to be the worst of human activities. It has been noted, however, that the sketches which he makes of the devices he imagines variously show "... numbered parts and a list of instructions ... " or "... practically include glue and transfers." Still others have noted that the sketches deal with the swift removal of inconveniently placed mountains, or show dying sailors leaping from burning ships into a boiling sea.
Despite this, Leonard views all his martial designs as intellectual exercises, and refuses to believe anyone would be mad enough to make them; as he stated in Jingo, discussing a catapult for hurling balls of molten sulfur, "Raining unquenchable fire down upon fellow humans? Hah! You'd never find an artisan to build it, or a soldier who would pull the lever. ... That's part 3(b) on the plan, just here, look. ..." Vetinari felt that Leonard believed his superweapons "would make war completely impossible, you see? Because no one would dare use it." (The same claim was made by Alfred Nobel about dynamite; it was not fulfilled until the threat of mutual assured destruction by nuclear weapons.)
Leonard's magnum opus in this department is an invention mentioned in Jingo. Vetinari notices a marginal drawing in a manuscript; Leonard explains that the drawing relates to "the strange properties of some otherwise quite useless metals" to explode when squeezed, which he feels may be useful in the mining industry for moving mountains out of the way. It is this naïveté that has led to his de facto imprisonment by the Patrician, lest someone other than him make use of the man's genius. But as long as he has paper to sketch on, and can watch the birds, Leonard barely notices his imprisonment. In fact, he has voluntarily returned to it, believing the world outside to be full of madmen. The hallway leading to his 'cell' is full of deadly, complicated traps, which he himself designed. His genius doesn't quite extend to names (he called the Disc's first submarine, for example, a 'going-under-the-water-safely-device'). He also finds it impossible to focus on anything. Or rather, he's focused on everything, all the time (see Attention Deficit Disorder). Many of his inventions started out as something completely different, before his mind shifted tracks half-way through. (The Patrician often speculates on the fate of mankind should Leonard manage to keep his mind on one subject for any length of time.)
The first and only human-portable firearm on the Discworld. It was designed by Leonard of Quirm, who, according to Men at Arms, apparently thought it would be useful in defending oneself against wild animals.
Lord Vetinari confiscated the weapon and turned it over to the Assassins Guild to destroy, but they instead kept it under lock and key. It was eventually stolen by Edward d'Eath in Men at Arms as a part of his quest to restore the monarchy. However, the gonne is, in some strange way, alive (perhaps in a manner somewhat resembling that of J. R. R. Tolkien's One Ring). It uses, argues with, and even abandons its wielders, and struggles with them in an effort to kill as many people as it can—perhaps a jab at the adage, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people", or possibly a sarcastic defence of it. It succeeds in manipulating its owner by offering them the power to achieve whatever they want, from power like a god's (Dr. Cruces) to a chance to clean up the world (Sam Vimes—though he resists enough to allow Captain Carrot to ultimately put it down).
While the exact nature of its sentience is kept ambiguous, there are sections where the gonne apparently cries out in pain with no one to hear it. It even manages to kill someone on its own—the dwarf artificer who fixed it—out of jealousy, as he was planning to manufacture more gonnes. It is ultimately destroyed by Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, who is immune by virtue of both his dwarf upbringing and upright nature. It is hinted that he places it in Constable Cuddy's coffin as part of a dwarf burial rite. Despite its name, the gonne less-resembled a gonne than a modern semi-automatic rifle. It fired via a tinderbox mechanism from a six-shot magazine with a clockwork slide action. The gonne's stock was hollow to allow for the storage of extra magazines.
Leonard has also designed many less dangerous devices, including a submarine (The-Going-Under-The-Water-Safely-Device), a spacecraft named the Kite, an Espresso machine (The-Very-Fast-Coffee-Machine) and a coding machine (the Engine for the Neutralizing of Information by the Generation of Miasmic Alphabets; see Enigma machine). In Soul Music, the Librarian, while under the influence of Music with Rocks In, builds a motorcycle based on a design possibly drawn by Leonard, as it is seen in the margin of one of his war machine sketches.
Hubert is an economist (referred to by the Patrician as an "alchemist of money"), and the creator of the "Glooper" device in the basement of the Ankh-Morpork Royal Bank, which due to his calibrations becomes capable of changing the economic circumstances of Ankh-Morpork with a mere movement of water into a specific chamber. This is based on a real machine, the MONIAC Computer built at the London School of Economics, which in our world merely simulated economics.
He is the nephew of Mrs Topsy Lavish. He first appears in the Discworld book Making Money. He has an Igor in his employment, and shares his basement residence with Owlswick "Clamp" Jenkins, money designer for the royal bank.
He is generally considered to be in possession of a laugh any self-respecting mad scientist would kill, or at least seriously injure, for.
The Glooper, first shown in Making Money, is a device which uses water to create a model of the economy; it is directly based on the MONIAC Computer. It was invented by Hubert Turvy of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, with the assistance of the Bank's resident Igor. Hubert's intention was merely to emulate the economic life of the city in order to study it; he did not appreciate that Igor, like all Igors, carries out his master's instructions in a highly specific way: "Ask them to build you a device, and you wouldn't get what you asked for. You'd get what you wanted." Thanks to Igor's efforts, therefore, the Glooper starts out as an emulator of how money in the city might behave, becomes a reporter of what money in the city is actually doing, and ends up able to control what the money is doing; in one case, filling up a flask representing the Bank's vault caused large amounts of gold to materialise in the vault out of thin air.
Jeremy Clockson is the temporal double of Lobsang Ludd, and son of Time and Wen the Eternally Surprised. He appears in Thief of Time. Separated from his double at birth, he was left outside the Clockmakers Guild in Ankh-Morpork and raised there, showing an amazing aptitude for his adoptive craft and given the name "Clockson".
Jeremy is a dedicated craftsman to the point of being very little else; his workshop is utterly spartan, he has no friends and few acquaintances, and a conversation of a few minutes is described as exceptionally long. His obsession with accurate timekeeping leads him to overreact violently to a fellow clockmaker who intentionally sets clocks fast, with implications that he has committed murder or some other extreme violent act and is therefore now watched over carefully by the authorities of the Guild, who insist on keeping him medicated and supervised. He appears, unlike his "twin", to have no natural ability for manipulating and subverting the ordinary flow of time, and instead to have the opposite ability of being incredibly aware of and obsessed with time's ordinary flow, with an intuitive understanding of "what time it is" at any given moment. His desire to count the ticks of time are what led to time's freezing into stasis, just as Lobsang's manipulations of time to attempt to prevent this are what lead to time's being thrown into shattered chaos.
He is hired by Lady Myria LeJean to build the Discworld's second truly accurate clock, although he is not aware that such a clock will stop time as happened when the original truly accurate clock was built in Überwald. The clock he builds is constructed entirely from glass, powered by lightning, and is designed to tick with the "tick of the universe"; however, since the universe is destroyed and recreated every moment, the clock can only count the tick if a part of it is constructed outside reality itself, thus causing it to freeze mid-destruction. This relates to the idea of Planck time, and the philosophical problems this causes when applied to Zeno's paradoxes. In Thief of Time, these ideas are attributed to the Discworld philosopher Xeno of Ephebe.
Injured in the events accompanying the clock's completion, Jeremy's heritage keeps him mobile in a timeless world but he's not properly conscious. Lobsang finds and touches him, and the two merge to form the current personification of Time. He chooses to keep the name Lobsang as he feels that Lobsang had happier memories, and said "I never liked the name Jeremy even when I was Jeremy".
Clockson's name appears to be a pun upon the name of the British broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson, as both are equally fanatic about their interests (clocks and cars respectively) – although Clockson's character bears more of a resemblance to the 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison. Alternatively, it could just be a reference to the fact that he was brought up by the Guild of Clockmakers or that he is the son of Time, or any combination of these.
An Ankh-Morpork tradesman, owner of Sonky's Rubber Goods, and maker of Sonky's Preventatives. His "sonkies" (condoms), as they are generally known, sell for a penny a packet. Sam Vimes considered him a saint as, without Sonky, the housing problems in Ankh-Morpork, as well as its population of idiots and criminals, would be even more pressing.
He was killed in The Fifth Elephant, after having helped produce the replica of the Scone of Stone. He is known to have had a brother in Überwald. He is present briefly in Night Watch. His death—being thrown into one of his own vats—has been said to have made 'a full body Sonky'.
History Monk technology
The History Monks have several devices which act to make time and history flow in the correct way, and to fix things when they don't. They are not strictly magical, but they are more than mechanical. In addition, the monk Qu has invented a range of weapons for the Monks to use on their missions. These are purely mechanical, and a parody of the devices given to James Bond by Q.
Procrastinators are cylinders used to store and move time. They vary in size and while the huge ones are used to wind (and unwind) centuries, "pocket" procrastinators also exist. They evoke the Tipler cylinder, but are both more versatile and considerably more practical.
Devices have so far only appeared in Thud!. Spelt with a capital D, and with enough reverence that it can be heard in speech, 'Device' is the collective term for a variety of artifacts of unknown origin, but with many purposes, all of them of great power and value, such that they are "worth mining through a mountain of granite for".
Devices are apparently indestructible, but apparently it is possible to cause them to deactivate permanently. The types described are Cubes and Axles, though an 'Average bar' is mentioned in passing. Most cubes so far discovered are owned by dwarfs, but all were created long before dwarf civilisation. The description of Devices in Thud! is similar in concept to the "Joker artefacts" described in Pratchett's 1976 novel The Dark Side of the Sun.
Cubes are just that in appearance, six inches across, like ancient bronze, and glow green and blue when active. Cubes store approximately 10 years of constant sound, and when first activated by dwarfs are filled with natural sounds (such as running water and birdsong).
Cubes are activated and deactivated by set sensual stimuli, which is most commonly a spoken word, but can be "a breath, a sound, a temperature, a point in the world, the smell of rain." Many cubes have never been prompted to work.
It was a Cube, perpetually replaying sounds from the Battle of Koom Valley, that drove the painter Methodia Rascal insane during the painting of his life's work: The Battle of Koom Valley. (This Cube was seemingly activated by Rascal saying the Dwarfish word for "say", which is approximately "ack!")
The Cubes mentioned thus far bear a striking resemblance to the Thing in The Bromeliad Trilogy, although the Thing possessed its own intelligence rather than being a recording device.
Axles are two six-inch-edge cubes joined perfectly on one face. They are presumably in activation and physical nature otherwise similar to Cubes, but this is not explained. When activated, Axles become a perpetual motion machine: One side rotates relative to the other, very slowly, taking 6.9 seconds per revolution (this translates to about 8.7 rpm), but have apparently infinite torque. This, combined with their complete autonomy without fuel and the use of a series of gear speed/torque gears allows them to power the mechanics and industries of entire dwarf cities, including tow-powered traffic.
The Axle used by the Ankh-Morpork grags during the events of Thud became the property of the city. Its uses in the city are still being researched by the Artificers' Guildmaster Mr. Pony, but in theory it could revolutionize the heavy industrial and municipal workings of Ankh-Morpork. Lord Vetinari appears, speculatively, to link the use of the Axle with the extensive dwarf tunnels under the city. According to Captain Carrot, only three other Axles are known to exist.
It seems (based on comments of a forthcoming 'Undertaking' in 'Making Money') that Vetinari intends to use the axle and dwarf tunnelling methods to create Discworld's first mass-transit system, seemingly based on the London Underground, a possibility reinforced in 'Thud' by Vetinari closely regarding the Dwarf sign for 'mine', which resembles the London Underground emblem.
Average Bars are mentioned, but not described in Thud! Currently nothing is known but one can assume they are indestructible and rare like all other Devices. In passing it is mentioned that they are "invaluable for food preparation". The fate of the Average Bar in Thud! is unknown but since the Axle from the same mine is now owned by Ankh-Morpork, it's reasonable to assume the same of the Average Bar.
List of Discworld inventions
|Name||Real-world equivalent||Underlying principle||First appearance||Origin|
|Iconograph||Camera||Magic (imp)||The Colour of Magic||Agatean Empire, introduced by Twoflower|
|Gonne||Rifle, Hand Cannon||Mechanics||Men at Arms||Invented by Leonard of Quirm|
|Barking Dog||Carronade, howitzer||Mechanics||Interesting Times||Agatean Empire|
|Hex||Computer||Magic||Soul Music||Created by Ponder Stibbons and others, primarily itself.|
|Dis-Organiser||Personal organiser, personal digital assistant||Magic (imp)||Feet of Clay||Unknown, sold on Unreal Estate nr University|
|Going Under the Water Safely Device||Submarine||Mechanics||Jingo||Invented by Leonard of Quirm|
|Clacks||Telegraph, email, semaphore line||Mechanics||The Fifth Elephant||Invented by Robert Dearheart|
|Printing press||Printing press||Mechanics||The Truth||Agatean Empire or Omnia|
|Procrastinator||Flywheel Energy Storage Device||Probably quantum||Thief of Time||First one made by Wen the Eternally Surprised|
|Axle||Perpetual motion machine, engine||Unknown||Thud!||Unknown, but ancient|
|Cube||Audio recorder||Unknown||Thud!||Unknown, but ancient|
|Glooper||MONIAC Computer||Mechanics, with magical effects||Making Money||Invented by Hubert Turvy|
|Number 1 powder||Gunpowder||Chemistry||Men at Arms||Invented by the Alchemists Guild, possibly Leonard of Quirm|
|Railways||Steam engines||Mechanics||Raising Steam||Invented by Dick Simnel of Sto Lat|
- The Truth, Corgi paperback edition, p.46.
- The Truth, Corgi paperback edition, pp.44-8, 57-8.
- Slate Magazine's Photo Gallery, "If You Live in a Glass House," by Witold Rybczynski