Elli Christie, Books Editor, takes a look at the latest novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. How does it compare to Pratchett’s other novels? Is it worth making the time to read it in a busy term?
The Discworld novels are one of the few series that I am prepared to buy or preorder the latest book for, since as an English Literature student I rarely have time to read for leisure during term time. However, Raising Steam is the most recent publication in what is increasingly becoming a race against time for Terry Pratchett. Despite, understandably, reducing his public appearances since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Pratchett still publishes a book a year and the Discworld remains as dynamic and refreshing in Raising Steam as it was when The Colour of Magic was published in 1983.
Following on from the events in Snuff which saw goblins acknowledged as part of society and previous beliefs challenged, Raising Steam explores what the further implications of this emancipation are on Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld. The goblins have discovered that a job at the clacks (a technology which bizarrely is both similar to telegrams and the internet) is perfect for their ability to concentrate for hours and move their fingers incredibly fast. However, not everyone is happy to allow the goblins to integrate so easily into society. Meanwhile Moist von Lipwig, who has previously managed to improve both the postal service in Going Postal and the bank in Making Money, has now been forced to become a railway genius as the Discworld hits its own version of the Industrial Revolution. Slowly train tracks are laid out across the Disc and with them change and aspiration follow.
Whilst this all sounds fantastical, Raising Steam constantly remains surprisingly relevant to not only our world but current day events. There is a thoughtful and subtle exploration of what might cause terrorism and how it can quickly engulf a community through fear and ignorance when certain dwarfs are able to destroy train stations and kill despite being a minority. Moist von Lipwig is also aware that positive media representation is essential for the railway that is so dependent on the goodwill of its customers and Pratchett demonstrates this with an insight into the commercial thinking that is behind his zany schemes.
Raising Steam brings together many characters who have previously coexisted in Ankh-Morpork but have belonged to different story lines. Sam Vimes and the Watch are treated with caution by Moist although the reader has previously experienced Vimes as a family and intensely moral man. Since there is such interweaving of different story lines there is less explanation of each one, perhaps not making it the best book of the series to start with. However, it is an excellent addition to the series which reminds the reader that even a fantasy world can experience political turmoil and change.
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