Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
"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 kilometre after kilometre 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.
I have been reading Terry Pratchett books for almost 15 years now, allowing me the opportunity to plough through a massive backlog of existing material as well as continue to enjoy the thrill of new releases.
Over the past decade, Terry Pratchett has consistently managed to write books easily rated ten out of ten, reaching a plateau of excellence most authors will find near-impossible to reach, let alone set up camp and start selling merchandise. The past decade has seen the creation and growth of some of Pratchett’s most beloved characters; Vimes, Tiffany Aching, Moist von Lipwig.
The world of Discworld is as solid, three dimensional, and weighty as most historical textbooks, and any addition has a lot to live up to, but similarly a lot to rely upon.
And for the first time in 15 years, I am devastated to conclude a new release Terry Pratchett novel and not know in my heart of hearts that it is an incontrovertible perfect book. For the first time since the publication of ‘The Last Continent’ in 1998 (not including Pratchett’s young adult book ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents’), Terry Pratchett’s prose has slipped up.
Many of you will already know that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the end of 2007. As of the updated biography on his website (15th May, 2011), Pratchett now dictates his writing either to his assistant Rob Wilkins or to a voice recognition program. This detachment – however it plays itself out – is, I believe, the root cause of why this book has slipped up in comparison to what has come before it.
Simply put, the imagination is still there, the storytelling is still there, and the biting and intelligent humour is all still there – all that is missing is the polish, and it’s the polish that will make all the difference in a book rating 9 or 10. The polish is what cuts a paragraph because it’s unnecessary, or trims a sentence because it goes on a little long. Polish is what will erase a character for being superfluous to the story, or restrict the message in a paragraph which is already running on a little.
Polish is what made Terry Pratchett’s writing some of the greatest English literature ever to grace the shelves of the English-speaking world. The knowledge that less was better kept his books humming along like the well-oiled machine that takes pride of place in this latest novel, ‘Raising Steam’.
Yep, it took me that long to mention the book in question, but I feel entirely justified in doing so. I am not some hack critic out to make a name for himself by harshly reviewing an author simply for the joy of pulling down a star. Terry Pratchett is a writing idol, for me, and someone I aspire to be like – someone to emulate in my own creative writing. And though I enjoyed Raising Steam, relished the opportunity to return to Ankh Morpork and the lives of Lipwig, Vimes, and Vetinari, I have long endeavoured to provide reviews which were accurate – not sentimental.
Raising Steam continues the slow and steady growth of Ankh Morpork into an industrial-themed fantasy city – alongside all the tropes and quirks Discworld fans have come to love. It is the time of the steam engine, as well as troll hairdressers, goblin engineers, and dwarfish courage.
There is much more I could say in defence of my review, and much more I could say in support of Raising Steam. But in lieu of the fact I have already passed an A4’s worth of writing, I will sum up my thoughts in as succinct a fashion as possible.
Terry Pratchett is simply one of the greatest writers to have ever lived. His prose, humour, insight, and imagination are individually rare in current literature, and absolutely unparalleled when combined. But all things fade, and the horrific disease which is Alzheimer’s is robbing us of one of the brightest stars, slowly, but inexorably.
Joshua S Hill, 9/10
All reviews for: The Discworld Series
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Have you read Raising Steam?
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Raising Steam reader reviews
Tanya from England
Agree totally, found myself having to re-read sections thinking I'd missed something as it just didn't flow as well as the other books. Very sad to think this may be the end of the Discworld as we know it.
9/10 from 2 reviews
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