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Raising Steam (spoilers)


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I just finished "Raising Steam", the latest Discworld from Terry Pratchett, and now I have to talk about it. It was...different, and a little disappointing. Why do I say that? I'm glad you asked. :P

Stylistically, it was a bit disjointed. It kind of reminded me of "The Long War" in that respect, only not as extreme. It says, "Here is a steam engine! Now let's see what this does to the Disc." So there are a lot of sequences where the railway is being developed, and a lot of little disjointed vignettes showing how the railway is influencing the world. And it's frankly all just a little dull, because it's entirely predictable. It's quite obvious how the railway will influence the world because we've been there before in our world.

That could be forgiven if there were also a strong plot driving the story. There isn't. The stakes are kept relatively low, the obstacles relatively small and easily overcome. There is a point at the end where Moist says (paraphrasing), "That's it? Shouldn't there have been some grand conflict?" and it was like he was speaking my mind.

The kicker is that the seeds are all there, but weren't used. At the beginning, Margolotta expresses concern over the dire consequences that a steam engine might have. This theme is echoed as Iron Girder appears to have supernatural, and sometimes even sinister, properties. And then it is revealed that the monks who keep their eyes on the time stream believe that it is not yet steam engine time, and that an early steam engine may usher in the end of all things.

Okay! Big, high-stakes conflict there! Discworld has been here before. Death gave the universe the middle finger. Tiffany Aching kissed the winter. Susan saved the Hogfather. Those are just the three that come immediately to mind, but there have been many others, and always Pratchett has pulled it off beautifully. This time, though? Nothing ever came of it. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did.

And then there were the unfulfilled promises. The railway to Uberwald was supposedly unfinished...until they arrived there and it turns out it was, barring a single incident with a certain bridge. And what on earth are loggysticks? We are never told.

There was the goblin underground railway. Why was that shown? I honestly kind of hoped that it would turn out to be the salvation of the expedition to Uberwald, but it was never mentioned again.

And what of Iron Girder's supernatural nature? That, at least, was explained: she is another small god, brought into existence by the belief of the masses. Cool! I wish that were used more than a brief explanation at the end.

Oh, sure, there was the trademark social commentary; he still managed to weave a large number of social issues (chief among them feminism and terrorism) into the plot (though even that was more heavy-handed than usual). There was a bit of the trademark humor (though not as much as we usually get). Moist von Lipwig continues to be a great character, though he was not as challenged this time around as he has been in books past, nor does he develop very much. This is not a book with no redeeming qualities. It's just...an average book. Considering the series it's part of, that is really a shame.

Finally, I can't help but wonder if I'm being unfair to Sir Terry. The man has Alzheimer's, after all. Everyone is watching his every word, looking for the cracks that we know must eventually appear. In my opinion, he has managed marvelously...until now.

What do others think? Am I crazy?

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