Raising Steam (Discworld 40)
“If you can’t trust governments, whom can you trust?” – good to see Pratchett has decided to try and answer the unfathomable in his latest Discworld novel. For an author whose powers must be declining due to his unfortunate health issues, every novel that comes from his prolific pen becomes even more of a treasure. There are quite a few negative reviews on this one, but I have to say I liked it. Primarily because it was a subtle novel, with a strong intellectual layer under the usual deft satire. As one gets older, the need to “bestow wisdom”, to opine based on experiential knowledge, gets stronger. Many an author inserts their own cobbled philosophies into their book – trying to teach as well as entertain.
That was the case here.
The story has a theme of “progress”, which is followed through two plots in the novel.
Firstly, in this case the evolution of steam, the advent of industrialization, given life by Iron Girder and Dick Simnel. The pulse of that action is maintained by Moist von Lipwig (aka to the goblins as ‘Mr Slightly Damp’), tyrant Lord Vetinari, and Harry King – wannabe rail baron.
The second plot is the narration of political problems in the Dwarven kingdoms with the struggle of the progressives versus the graggy traditionalists. Rhys Rhysson, Low King of the Dwarves is up against the crags, led by the ironically named Ardent.
As kilometer after kilometer of track is laid to meet the challenge of saving a Kingdom, coupled with endless politicking to satisfy everyone (most of Pratchett’s characters are present in this one) Moist comes to conclude that dancing on a “speeding locomotive. That was living all right!”. The inaugural trip involving golems, train fights that would grace any Hollywood movie, the Clacks, and a blocked coup is a fitting end to the theme of Pratchett’s effort here.
As I mentioned the novel is littered with philosophic utterances. Covering topics from feminism to minorities, from economic theory to political practice – with a modicum of psychology and social mores thrown in – Pratchett has chosen to try and gently point out the flaws that exist in a heaving society, whilst advocating that change is inevitable and that is must be embraced rather than hated. After all, “when you’ve had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don’t know how to spit it out.”
I rather liked this one because, it is more intellectual than the early years of Discworld. No author’s style can remain identical over thirty-plus years, nor should it. The legacy that Pratchett will leave behind is one of diversification and of variety; he has produced a set of novels where everyone will love at least one. This one? It’s for those who love philosophy because there’s plenty of it in here.
Oh, spotted on tiny error on the Kindle – “insurgent dwarfs will get their just deserts” – the sweet analogy would have been more accurate than this barren one.