Nov 11, 2014

[Books] Raising Steam

I've come to better appreciate the quirky adventures of Moist von Lipwig more and more given the unique stories that have been crafted for him. And while pretty much every Discworld novel involves introducing something new into their part of the universe, I distinctly feel that Moist has been integral to some major innovations given the Post Office, the Royal Bank and now the very first Railway.

Raising Steam is the book that will pretty much open the doors for Discworld literally going steampunk, I suppose. After all, the big focus in the first true railway in Ankh-Morpork, and ultimately the Disc. We've already seen how innovations like the clacks towers have really started to change the way things work around Discworld and this book just pushes things further.

Surprisingly enough, this book also continues to explore some of the complex politics in Uberwald, particularly involving the Low King of the Dwarfs, as most recently brought into focus in Thud! And while at first I wasn't quite sure what Pratchett wanted to accomplish here, in the end the way that the main railway story worked in connection with the Low King's story turned out quite wonderfully.

Synopsis: Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel written by Sir Terry Pratchett. As far as Discworld novels go, it is both a Moist van Lipwig story and to a lesser extent one that involves the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.

We are first introduced to the young Dick Simenl, a young tinker from Sto-Lat who has managed to teach himself to become an engineer. In particular, his field of specialty involves creating the Disc's first true steam-powered locomotive that he has named Iron Girder. He manages to bring his idea to Ankh-Porpork, particularly to Sir Harry King (the "King of the Golden River") in the hope of getting funding. The two eventually come to an agreement and Dick builds a track around Harry King's compound to demonstrate exactly what Iron Girder can do.

The Patrician, Lord Vetinari, dispatches Moist van Lipwig to look into this new technology and to ensure that the interests of the City are ensured. Moist is quick to see the potential of the railway and manages to get himself involved in the complex process of negotiating land rights for the railway's first track to Sto-Lat. But at the same time, there's been a bit of unrest among the Dwarfs, primarily coming from the older Grags who object to the many changes seen in their society. They had been conducting a series of attacks against the clacks towers and now the railway presents a very tempting new target indeed.

At the center of this book is the relationship between Moist, Harry King and our engineer Dick Simnel. To be fair, Dick mostly works in the background as he continues to tinker with Iron Girder to make her better, faster and stronger. But they're little group together with Moist and Harry does make for an interesting little triumvirate. Harry and Moist have always had a fair amount of respect between the two of them given how they were both scoundrels but now largely self-made men in Ankh-Morpork society.

The other joy in this book, as is the way of Discworld novels, is how rapidly the residents of Discworld take on our "modern" behaviors when it comes to piece of technology or some new development. For example, in Going Postal Moist's development of more interesting stamps quickly led to the first stamp collectors. In this book, the development of the railway quickly leads to food service on the trains, sleeper cars and even train watches to name a few. And it's just funny how malleable the Discworld is such that they quickly adapt to any new development and soon enough it feels like they had always been a part of things.

This book also picks up on the continued integration of goblins into Ankh-Morpork society. Here we see that they're already the primary staff manning the various clacks towers and the new locomotives quickly catch their interest. Then there's the exploration of goblins from other counties like Quirm amd how they also seem to take on traits reminiscent of the humans who live above ground. But they're more than just background characters - the participation of the goblins remains an important part of this story and essential to the final resolution to things.

The side angle related to the Dwarfs and the continued struggle between the Low King and the fundamentalist Grags was interesting in general but at times a bit distracting. Sure, the very purpose of the railway managed to align with the needs of the Low King in the end, but that was very roughly attributed to Vertinari's uncanny ability to see the future with the certainty of the author. It felt a little forced, but then for the most part it still worked. Obviously the events covered in Thud! were insufficient to handle things all on their own - social political tensions are liable to remain very much alive well after all the treaties have been signed and such.

Raising Steam is a lot of fun and remains a pretty solid adventure in Ankh-Morpork and Discworld as a whole. One can only wonder what new project Moist might get tasked to work on in the future - regardless I'm sure it'll be full of a lot of crazy business. Thus the book gets 4.5 railway innovations that Moist spontaneously manages to stumble on out of a possible 5.


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