by Terry Pratchett



366pp/$26.95/March 2014

Raising Steam

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Having introduced a variety of modern conveniences to the Discworld, from films (in Moving Pictures) to the clacks (in Going Postal), Terry Pratchett continues to alter the landscape and society in his one-time satire on fantasy novels, now reflection of our own world with Raising Steam, in which the iron horse is introduced to the Discworld.

Years after his father was killed in a steam explosion, Dick Simnel has tamed, or at least reached an agreement, with steam power and harnessed its use for the invention of the Discís first railway. As an aspiring young inventor, he knows that he must go to Ankh-Morpork to seek investors, but despite his rural upbringing, he demonstrates a wariness and eventually falls into business with Sir Harry King, one of Ankh-Morporkís greatest entrepreneurs.  Lord Vetinari appoints a reluctant Moist von Lipwig to oversee their enterprise and make sure that everything will benefit his city, which he rules as an enlightened tyrant.

Having recently introduced goblins to the Discworld, Pratchett is now making full use of them, portraying them as natural born mechanics who can help build the railway along with the natural brute strength of trolls and golems, which is a good thing for Pratchettís plot because it means it leaves dwarves available to be the novelís antagonists as a small band of dwarf terrorists attempt to derail the railway (and in fact, the clacks system) in an attempt to undo the Koom Valley Accord hammered out by Samuel Vimes in Thud.  

Although his focus is on the rise of the railways, Pratchett is well aware of the impact the railways had and shows how it leads to the rise of hostels, changes to the food industry, marketing, and decentralization.  While Sir Harry King and Dick Simnel are making the most profit off of Simnelís invention, everyone wants a piece of the pie and comes up with their own angle to extract money (and power) from the railway. In some ways, Raising Steam causes the Discworld to come full circle.  In the premiere novel, The Colour of Magic, Pratchett introduced Twoflower, the Discís first tourist.  In Raising Steam, tourism has taken off and Pratchett introduces Mrs. Georgina Bradshaw, the Discís first travel writer.

About two thirds of the way through Raising Steam, the novel bogs down as Pratchett gets a little too involved with the nuts and bolts (spikes and ties?) of railway construction at the expense of the characters in the story.  Although he introduces Simnel, Simnel mostly appears to drive the mechanical processes, and although we know he is dating Harry Kingís niece, their romance is only discussed, not shown.  Similarly, the constant flitting back and forth between Moist von Lipwig, Sir Harry King, and Lord Vetinari means that none of those characters really takes center stage for more than a few pages at a time, leaving Raising Steam with an aimless feel, as if it had gone off the rails. Even a revolution and the main characters' role in trying to correct the balance of power fails to get the novel back on track.

Raising Steam has almost all of the standard indicators of a Discworld novels.  Rincewind, Commander Vimes, and Lord Vetinari all make appearances of various lengths and much of the action is set in Ankh-Morpork.  The novel deals with issues of race and diversity as well as the march of technological progress and the influence it has on society.  While Pratchett handles his subject matter well, the pacing seems a bit off and, while the novel does have some laugh out loud moments, the humor is not as pronounced as usual.

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