Terry Pratchett left us in early 2015. I’ve been saving the last two Discworld novels for a while, savouring the melancholy knowledge that there would never be any new ones. I was delighted to realize recently that I’ve somehow missed one. Saving that one for another day, I finally allowed myself to read the last Moist von Lipwig novel, in which a number of other favourite characters made brief appearances as well. It does take place partially in Anhk-Morpork, after all.
Let me state outright that I very much enjoyed the book. Most of that is to do with the book itself, with a little nostalgia mixed in along with the realization that I’ve never met a Discworld book I didn’t like. So if I offer up a couple of criticisms, which I’m about to, that should be remembered.
First, recognizing that it was necessary to the story, the development of the railroad was a little quick for me, going from the first experimental engine to a track running all the way to Uberwald in a year or so. Or was it less? With all of the other events in the novel, some of which went by very quickly, the building of the railroad itself is almost lost.
There’s an assumption of familiarity with the major characters that isn’t usually present. You don’t usually need a lot of time to establish personalities and objectives for the majors, but you mostly don’t get that time in Raising Steam and we plunge straight in after the establishing shot of “now it’s time for the age of steam”.
And not all of the important characters are as crisp and clean as I’m used to in the Discworld. In particular, Moist and the Patrician. Moist von Lipwig is almost too rushed, too frantic, and it shows even in his internal dialogue, flying though one thing too quickly to get to the next for much of the book. And Lord Vetinari is, well, a bit fuzzy. His wit and personality don’t quite have the edge I’m used to.
At the same time, the plot is a little on the light side, sometimes seeming like a group of barely-connected scenes held together by force of will as Sir Terry tried to get everything he wanted to say in this last mature-audiences Discworld book to be published. And there’s a lot here: technology, change, religion, terrorism, and maturing societies.
All of those are strong through the book. Mr. Pratchett lampoons terrorists throughout as misguided idiots at best and criminally self-serving at worst. In part, they’re the representation of the resistance of change, of all of the people in the modern world digging their heels in over technology, religion, social attitudes, or anything else that might make it better for someone else even if it has no effect on the luddite in question at all. In many ways, the conservative elements in Dwarfish society stand in very well for similar elements in current western societies, just with the added bonus of having a terrorist wing.
Raising Steam also spends quite a bit of time building on Sir Terry’s long running themes of equality and inclusion, which I very much appreciate. Over the course of the series, more and more different species have been integrated into the great melting pot of Ankh-Morpork with ripples spreading out from there. The latest inclusion is the goblins, perhaps the most downtrodden of the Discworld’s sentients. But there are strong emphases on gender equality as well, with a major revelation and shift in Dwarfish society, up to its highest levels. In a similar theme, the interactions between Moist and his wife Adora were some of the most entertaining bits of the book, and I wish we’d seen more of her in the narrative.
Overall rating: 4 stars, and that’s a touch of round up. Aside from the previously mentioned issues, one of the major crises in the plot was solved with a little handwavium and something that there wasn’t actually any ground work laid for. But this is Discworld, and it’s Discworld pushing its way into the modern age, showing us fun and humour and ourselves along the way.
And if the other major characters in the City Watch were present and accounted for, where was Captain Carrot?by