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.
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). 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 (ie, 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.
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 is an ability to sort through large amounts of paperwork quickly.
The name Dis-Organiser is both an obvious pun, and 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 record 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 magic-powered computer which first appeared in Soul Music. Although Hex is powered by magic, in form it is partially mechnical and partially organic, making use of ants and bees. It is at least partially sentient.
Like the golems of Jewish legend, Discworld golems are 'living statues' who work according to the orders written on tablets in their heads. They are capable of independent thought, especially if they own themselves, but are arguably not actually alive. They first appear in Interesting Times, although the first novel in which they are major 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.
One of the earliest purely mechanical new technologies depicted in the Discworld series, the gonne is essentially a gun, the Discworld's first and only firearm. It was invented by Leonard of Quirm, and the only example ends up in the Assassins' Guild museum as an example of what not to use. It is a major plot device in Men at Arms.
Patent 'Typhoon' Superior Indoor Ablutorium with Automatic Soap DishEdit
The only known example of Bloody Stupid Johnson bathroom equipment, the Typhoon is a complicated shower device, which for some reason is connected to the Unseen University pipe organ. The room in which it is kept is usually sealed off, but was briefly unsealed and used in a subplot of Hogfather.
The clacks is a system of 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.
Post Office Mail SorterEdit
The mail sorter was originally designed as an organ by Bloody Stupid Johnson, but was adapted into a mail sorter with the addition of a hopper and imps. Like nearly all of Johnson's inventions, the mail sorter went horribly wrong, but unlike most of his inventions, did so in a way which twisted space and time. This was mostly because for the purpose of the machine, Johnson constructed the value of pi as exactly three, altering the nature of reality. The sorter began sorting mail which hadn't yet been written, might have been written but wasn't, and otherwise appeared to be from an alternate reality. After an attempt to use this to the advantage of the Post Office, it was smashed by a senior postman, but remains in the Post Office basement and occasionally kills the unwary.
The Glooper is a device which uses water to create a model of the economy; it is directly based on the MONIAC Computer. However, unlike the MONIAC, change in the Glooper causes change in the real local economy. It was invented by Hubert Turvy of the Ankh-Morpork Royal Bank, and is first shown in Making Money.
History Monk technologyEdit
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.
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.
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, at a 6.9 second revolution, 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, rotated through ninety degrees.
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 its reasonable to assume the same of the Average Bar.
Most Discworld technologies were invented by dwarfs. However the Discworld has two particularly prolific human inventors, Bloody Stupid Johnson and Leonard of Quirm.
The majority of technologies on the Discworld, both magical and mechanical, have been invented or at least are built by the dwarfs. These include witches' broomsticks and the printing press.
Bloody Stupid JohnsonEdit
Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, better known as Bloody Stupid Johnson, was an inventor of organs, plumbing equipment and other devices, and also dabbled in landscape gardening and cookery. Most of Johnson's inventions worked, but usually not in the way intended. He died before the era depicted in the books, but his inventions appear in many of the novels.
Leonard of QuirmEdit
Leonard of Quirm is a parody of Leonardo da Vinci, and like da Vinci is a polymath who invents a huge range of devices, as well as being an outstanding artist and scientist. Unlike Johnson, most of his technologies work in the way intended, although a large number could also be put to unintended military uses. His inventions include the gonne (a firearm), the Going Underwater Safely Device (a submarine), and all the traps which lead to the cell in which he voluntarily lives. He is first shown in Men at Arms, but is first mentioned in Wyrd Sisters.
List of Discworld inventionsEdit