Thursday, 23 April 2015

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: Back in summer 2013, Terry Pratchett came to Beaconsfield Library. He and Rob Wikins, his close friend and assistant, had just sent off the first draft of Raising Steam to their editor. Rob read a passage from near the beginning, when the Discworld gets its first glimpse of a steam train.

“The bystanders, most of whom were by now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except of course for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes, indeed!”

It’s clear on every page of this book that Terry and Rob are still at heart small boys goggling at a locomotive. The love of steam is woven into every passage.

Raising Steam sees the return of Moist von Lipwig, former conman and thief, whose gift of getting along with people of all species have led him to run, in turn, Ankh-Morpork’s Post Office, Clacks, Bank, Mint – and now the Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygenic Railway. Under the (largely) benign direction of Vetenari, he finds himself in partnership with engineering genius, Dick Simnel, and serial entrepreneur Sir Harry King, the King of the Golden River (formerly Piss Harry).

What begins as an idea to build a line from Ankh-Morpork to Sto Lat, to enable fresh produce to be brought to the city before it spoils, becomes a race against time to build a line all the way to Uberwald when the Low King of the Dwarfs is overthrown by extremists.

But like all Discworld books, this is so much more than a story about the building of a railway. With his sights as firmly as ever on our world, in this, his last adult Discworld novel, Pratchett tackles terrorism and religious fundamentalism. It’s perhaps not his most subtle dig ever, but when the grags – the deep dwarfs that want to bring down the modern world - destroy one of clacks towers on which Ankh-Morpork’s communications depend, Vetanari’s response is “This isn’t war. This is a crime.”

One theme that has run through all the Discworld novels is the redemption of species once regarded with fear and suspicion. Trolls, werewolves, vampires - they've all been given a chance to show that they, too, are just as human as the rest of us. And now it is the turn of the goblins, first introduced in Unseen Academicals and enlarged upon in Snuff, to complete their road to hero status. For it turns out the goblins are very good mechanics indeed, as well as determined fighters.

In fact the only species I can think of who have never been redeemed by Pratchett are the Elves, who in Lords and Ladies turned out to be very unpleasant indeed. Perhaps in the Discworld’s very last outing, Shepherd’s Crown, (the fourth and last Tiffany Aching book, to be published in September) they too may get their chance.

I can’t wait.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Any of Terry Pratchett's books, especially the Moist von Lipwig stories (Going Postal, Making Money); The Titfield Thunderbolt (film)

Avoid if you don’t like: Satire based on a fantasy world.

Ideal accompaniments: A cup of tea and a bacon sandwich, cooked on the stoker's shovel.

Genre: Humour, Satire

Available from Amazon

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