Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

“Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man with a flat cap and a sliding rule. He has produced a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and it’s soon drawing astonished crowds.

To the consternation of Ankh-Morpork’s formidable Patrician, Lord Vetinari, no one is in charge of this new invention. This needs to be rectified, and who better than the man he has already appointed master of the Post Office, the Mint, and the Royal Bank: Moist von Lipwig. Moist is not a man who enjoys hard work—unless it is dependent on words, which are not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. He does enjoy being alive, however, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse.

Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs, and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all from going off the rails. . .”

I initially had some reservations about this newest Discworld book—which has never happened to me before—because I wasn’t at all impressed with the previous one, Snuff.  I had wondered if the fact that Pratchett is now dictating his books (or was the last that I heard) was affecting how the novels flowed and how their plots came together.  Once I got into Raising Steam, I realized that if Pratchett ever was off of his game, he’s gotten it back in spades.

I was surprised to see how long a period of time was covered in this book.  Most Discworld novels take place within the space of several days or weeks.  This one spanned at least a year, charting the evolution of the steam railroad from concept to common means of transportation.  I think that this kept the story from being too narrowly focused, because every aspect of railroad logistics is addressed, from laying the rails to passenger cars versus cargo cars.

Something that I didn’t expect in a book about more technology in Discworld was how uneasy the whole concept had me feeling.  A predominant theme in the story is that you can’t stop an idea whose time has come, so the best you can do is try to maintain control of where the idea goes.  Introducing steam technology and fast travel to Discworld is a radical departure that will change a lot about this world and how it operates.  Seeing so many changes happening so fast was actually disturbing after so many novels of Discworld remaining essentially the same.

In the middle of all of this change is Pratchett’s best new character, Moist von Lipwig.  He reminds me a lot of Rincewind the wizard, minus all the running away, but retaining that frantic energy that works so well in this setting.  He’s clever, devious, and amazingly he’s almost a match for Lord Vetinari, at least in sheer cunning.  Through his eyes, readers see the vast, breakneck development of the railroad and all of the attendant industries that spring up along with it.  He maintains a tenuous hold on everything going on, sometimes merely riding the tide of change and hoping that he doesn’t land on the rocks.

Mixed into the story is some more subtle stuff concerning change, in this case focusing on the dwarves and their resistance to anything not in line with their traditions.  This plotline provides some of the novel’s more somber moments, as readers are asked to think about the price of change—both the good and the bad.

Pratchett is back and better than ever with Raising Steam, which brings many changes to our beloved Discworld while, as usual, slipping in sly social commentary when you’re not looking.  Make sure you pick this one up and keep abreast of all that’s going on in Ankh-Morpork and beyond.

This review was originally posted on March 18, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

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