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Raising Steam (Discworld) Hardcover – March 18, 2014
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—Sam Thielman, Newsday
“Salted among all the treacle miners and nascent trainspotters are some serious ideas about technology and the irrevocable changes it brings. . . . While exploring questions about the unintended consequences of technology, Pratchett also blasts fundamentalists who resist all progress. But mostly he seems to be having fun with words in the very British strain of absurdist humor that he has made his own. And 40 books in, why not?”
—Sara Sklaroff, The Washington Post
“A delightful fantasy send-up of politics, economics and finance, as the Discworld gets a railway and complications ensue. . . . A lovely homage to the courage at the core of technological advance. . . . Pratchett melds politics, finance and the occasional dark turn with his fantasy and humor, and as ever his footnotes are not to be missed. . . . How many writers are more fun to spend time with?”
—Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times
“A spectacular novel, and a gift from a beloved writer to his millions of fans. . . . A tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world’s most delightful writers.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“What began with a farcical satire of pseudomedieval fantasy has become a Dickensian mirror of contemporary western society. . . . Raising Steam is the latest transformation of a remarkable fictional world that has evolved and grown with its creator—and it shows how, in the way of many things invested with devotion on the Disc itself, the Discworld has taken on a life of its own.”
—Karin L. Kross, Tor.com
“From the first, the novels demonstrated Pratchett's eye for telling detail and the absurdities of the human condition. . . . He remains one of the most consistently funny writers around; a master of the stealth simile, the time-delay pun and the deflationary three-part list. . . . I could tell which of my fellow tube passengers had downloaded it to their e-readers by the bouts of spontaneous laughter.”
—Ben Aaronovitch, The Guardian
"Terry Pratchett’s creation is still going strong after 30 years. . . . Most aficionados, however, will be on the look-out for in-jokes and references from previous novels—of which there is no shortage. Discworld’s success, like that of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories, has never been driven by the plots. . . . It is at the level of the sentence that Pratchett wins his fans.”
—Andrew McKie, The Times (London)
“A brash new invention brings social upheaval, deadly intrigues, and plenty of wry humor to the 40th installment of Pratchett’s best-selling Discworld fantasy series. . . . As always, Pratchett’s unforgettable characters and lively story mirror the best, the worst, and the oddest bits of our own world, entertaining readers while skewering social and political foibles in a melting pot of humanity, dwarfs, trolls, goblins, vampires, and a werewolf or two.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Brimming with Pratchett’s trademark wit, a yarn with a serious point made with style and elegance.”
“Leavened with Pratchett’s usual puns, philosophical quips, and Discworld in-jokes, the story offers an amusing allegory of Earthly technology’s many seductions.”
Praise for Terry Pratchett
“Terry Pratchett may still be pegged as a comic novelist, but . . . he’s a lot more. In his range of invented characters, his adroit storytelling, and his clear-eyed acceptance of humankind’s foibles, he reminds me of no one in English literature as much as Geoffrey Chaucer. No kidding.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
“Given his prolificacy and breezy style, it’s easy to underestimate Pratchett. . . . He’s far more than a talented jokesmith, though. His books are almost always better than they have to be.”
—Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle
“Nonstop wit. . . . Pratchett is a master of juggling multiple plotlines and multiplying punchlines.”
—Ken Barnes, USA Today
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Alas, with Raising Steam, I have to wonder if Terry's onset of Alzheimer's didn't have something to do with this book. It had all the things you would find in a normal Terry Pratchett fantasy, great characters, great bits, absurd humor and that oh-so-present feel of the UK. However, it didn't have that cohesion or flow I'm so used to - it felt like a bunch of Terry Pratchett bits cobbled together. The story itself is interesting (trains come to Discworld!) and features Moist Von Lipwig, who is an entertaining fellow. However, there feels to me like a lot of meandering passage, which of course Terry did often but this felt too much like it didn't actually meander anywhere meaningful. There were a lot of times when I was left wondering where he was going with it, only to be left holding nothing.
That Being said, there is still enough of this book to enjoy it, to enjoy the humor and to enjoy the visual imagery that occurs in this book. Call it 2 and half stars from me. And if this is your FIRST Discworld book, please, please go look for earlier volumes. He was an incredible author in his prime.
Also, the body count is weirdly high and the deaths are described in a sort of gruesome detail that's at odds with the tone of most of the Discworld books (there's a difference between body HUMOR and body HORROR). And while Sir Terry may have made a lot of jokes about death, he never treated deaths so carelessly (whoever wrote this book even mocks a mother's grief at the violent deaths of her two sons). Raising Steam centers and lionizes things like industrialization, financial success, and fighting skills, rather than the relationships and personal growth that are centered in most of Discworld. I feel like if this author wrote Jingo, Vimes would have valiantly led a tiny band of Watch to slaughter the entire Klatchian army.
On the deepest level, there's none of the fundamental wisdom that I expect from Terry Pratchett. Whenever I finish a Discworld book, I feel like I have a slightly better understanding of the world - even on re-reads! When I finished Raising Steam, I was like "Finally, that's over."
Ok, now I'm gonna go re-read the whole Discworld series however many times it takes to erase the memory of this thing.
I see this book as Terry Pratchett's way of winding up Ankh-Morpork, largest city on the Discworld. Steam power has finally come to Ankh-Morpork, and this is the story of how this perpetually technology free fantasy world adapts to the coming of the Industrial Age.
The trouble is that it is more an account of what happened, than an actual story. The steam engine is invented, people become interested, tracks are laid, trains begin running. You're taken through every step of the process with no doubt that they will be completed, and no degree of dramatic tension.
There are antagonists, in the form of Dwarven terrorists who oppose the train and all that it symbolizes, and this is one of the strongest parts of the book; however any tension they may generate tends to fall flat. The story isn't boring, it is just told in such a matter of fact way, that there is no doubt that the good-guys will prevail, and no doubt about how they will manage it.
In the end, all the loose ends are tied up, the heroes are given happy endings, roll on the Industrial Age, and a new Ankh-Morpork. It is not the greatest book, but it is still entertaining and eminently readable, and, for me at least, was a warm-hearted farewell to the Discworld we all know and love, and to it's creator as well.
PS: I know that Terry Pratchett wrote another Tiffany Aching book after this, but, as they were aimed at younger readers, have never viewed them as fully part of the Discworld mythology, but as something running parallel to it.
Top international reviews
Wow, was I ever disappointed! Dialogue is stilted and out of character, the narrative is confused, and the main Discworld players go absurdly off point with little (and not so little) asides. There's a glimmer of a good Discworld novel in there somewhere, but only a really die hard fan could enjoy this. It is very much NOT representative of Pratchett's writing style.
Random characters from other series appear to give their two pennies' worth. Lu Tze pops up briefly to have a word with Mustrum Ridcully, on the lines of 'Isn't it a bit early in history for railways', 'No, if railways have happened, then it's time for railways'. Then nothing is heard from them again.
The 'gang' encounter a tribe of gnomes (remember Buggy Squires and the Nac Mac Feegle?), who emerge fearfully from their holes after one of the many 'battle scenes', and randomly offer the information that they make shoes. 'Did you say you make shoes?' asks Moist. 'My railway workers need big boots.' The gnomes agree to make hobnail boots in return for being left alone. Not very gnome-like. And that's it. Totally random.
Vetinari, usually so inscrutable, lays bare his worries, motivations and internal struggles to anyone who will listen. Some tyrant...
Make no mistake, this is very badly planned, written, and edited. All writers rely heavily on their editor, who is a very important part of producing the final product. But in this case there are 3 possibilities.
1) Terry Pratchett wrote this but it was uncharacteristically rubbish, and his editor didn't point it out for some reason.
2) It is the work of a ghost writer, possibly from Pratchett's skeleton notes, and Pratchett's editor thought it was the best a third party could do.
3) Pratchett's editor tried to put something together from Pratchett's notes, was reluctant to leave anything out, and therefore it wasn't properly edited.
Look, it's not terrible. In terms of story, it's the next logical move for Moist von Lipwig. It's an interesting move towards the future for Discworld, the history of which has basically been story of human endeavour from the dark ages up to industrialisation, crammed into about 30 Discworld years or so. If Sir Terry hadn't been so ill it would probably have been very different, and we would all be looking forward to the next 3 books. As it stands, it's not worthy of the man, being badly written and badly edited.
Fans, used to Terry Pratchett's usually crisp style, will struggle but like it in the end. And I'm sure it will spawn a whole load of fan fiction, which will probably be fun.
Basically, as a fan, I'm only a bit miffed at paying the Kindle price. I would consider the paperback price a waste of money.
As a standalone book, I would give this 1 or 2 stars. I gave 3 because it at least is Discworld. Just not as you know it...
Rhetoric aside, this appears to be the work of a ghost writer who has a character guide, a basic story but unfortunately no imagination. The "exciting" action scenes were so dull they were over before I realised they were supposed to be an action scene. One book left to finish my collection and I don't know whether I can bear it...
He was always, until the end, a sharp & witty writer; witty both in the sense of being humorous & of being intelligent, barbedly so at times. As an author, he was an elegant assassin with a dancing pen. Not in Snuff or here. The prose, the plot, the humour are all lumbering, cumbersome, ponderous, never mind that instead of sharp comment, his themes in both books are overt & clumsy moralising, essentially along the lines of "Why can't we ignore each others' differences & just get along?" He went from being an assassin to being a troll, crudely whacking you over the head with a club.
It's moot as to who actually wrote these last two books. The ideas are undoubtedly his, but the style is so radically different; hopelessly, horribly laboured, over-written, over-explained; that you can't help but wonder whether the actual words were his, or those of his 'assistant'. The point is moot because, obviously, he approved them both, but it's difficult to imagine he would have released works like this in his prime. With these two final books, he was, I am sad to say, very much at the nadir, not the peak, of his powers.
Raising Steam is marginally the better of the two, but it remains still a 4/10 book that suffers badly by comparison with the rest of his work. There are idiotic impossibilities & implausibilities, apparent continuity errors e.g. what we're briefly told about Adora Belle's infancy doesn't sit well with what we've previously been told about the history of the clacks in Going Postal. There are constant random insertions (never mind the overuse of footnotes that add nothing to the story & next to nothing to the humour) that have little or nothing to do with the plot & everything to do with the moralising (a human & a dwarf getting married, a troll & dwarf meet, apparently decide to leave their spouses & go off together, etc; and there's the utterly, utterly dreadful "Railway Children" interlude - if you know the film or the book, you'll recognise it immediately & it's impossible to understand why Sir Terry allowed such an appallingly poor piece of prose to be published). It's clumsy & disjointed.
The humour, as with Snuff, relies far too much on lame wordplay & weak puns. The worst example is "loggysticks". We're told that Dick Simnel has invented the concept of logistics. It's a feeble pun anyway, but once the realisation strikes you that everyone who uses it will have heard "logistics" spoken & likely will never have seen it written down, it fails utterly to be funny, especially since it is repeated several times. Poor use of language, I am afraid, is a constant theme. One of the most marked departures from previous work is the dreadful verbosity of characters, particularly familiar ones such as Vetinari. Everyone had their individuality, and part of that individuality was how they spoke. Now, there's a 'well', a sir, a my lad, a my friend, a repetition of this ilk in pretty much every single damn bit of dialogue, and everyone over-explains & lectures in everything. Take the name away & every character sounds the same.
But then characters are another issue - they're such dreadfully one-dimensional caricatures. Take the major new introduction. Dick Simnel. Dick is the son of Ned Simnel who featured briefly in Reaper Man. Who spoke perfectly normally, as did everyone in his part of the world. But Dick is a caricature. Dick is a railway engineer ''Oo invented t'railway" & therefore is a bluff, blunt, "Ee bah gum" Yaaarkshuure man (& although he never uses the whole phrase, he does "Ee" & "by gum" separately several times). And that, really, tells you all you need to know about him, which says a great deal about the book.
Inevitably, if you are Discworld fan (& if you are not, then why you are reading this!), you will have to read this. There's still enough of the old Terry in this that it isn't a waste of time. But don't expect too much of it.
Some people are blind to the faults of their heros. They throw five stars around without a second thought. Read it first, then you'll see its probably only worth three stars. This isn't to belittle the author in any way, as we all know the story of his gradual mental deterioration, and this one came out almost at the end. Just that most of his latter works were simply "more of the same" rather than "more and a little different". Die hards of course will appreciate Pratchett's love for all things steam and he always writes from a vast knowledge base, and weaves in familiar elements of the modern world just to emphasise how ridiculous his stories are. But by number 40 in ther series, he's just becoming a little...rusty.
It certainly isn't my favourite of the Discworld novels, but then again, when someone has written forty Discworld books, plus numerous others, are you ever going to love them all equally? Even if you are a die hard fan, and I've been reading them as long as he's been writing them. There were times when I stepped away from Pratchett, sometimes for a couple of years, when I've read a book I didn't enjoy (Moving Pictures, The Lost Continent), but I've always come back. Not every book can be perfect, but there is always something about Pratchett that's worth reading, regardless.
I like Moist as a character, and I like the way Pratchett uses Moist to explore major innovations like the postal system, the banks, and here, the steam train. I enjoyed very much his musings on how we fear newness, but how quickly the new becomes every day. I love his thoughts on equality, and the goblins are proving an interesting new addition to the creatures of the Discworld. I thought parts of this book were a bit laboured. I thought other parts were a bit rushed, but on the whole I enjoyed it enormously and I hope it won't be his last offering.
Maybe OK at second hand price, but that's not been offered so I will have all the hassle of sending it back.
This latest in the series sees railways coming to the Discworld thanks to an earnest young engineer called Simnel who with Harry King and Moist Ludwig develop the railway from Ankh-Morpok. Like all of the discworld books this is a blend of intrigue, social commentary and humour. The goblins in particular are a fun addition to the series and add some interesting conundrums to the social issues of the world.
Delving deeper into the world of the dwarves was also interesting as was seeing the very slick Ludwig in action. The book does have a few issues though, the first is that while Pratchett creates interesting characters in this book there seemed to be a few cameos almost just for the sake of them, most of the characters from his recent books make an appearance and it generates a bit of a confused feel to the story. The other issue was the balance of the story, again like the recent books it weighs more heavily with the social commentary at the expense of the humour, it's still fun to read but far from his best.
That being said it is an entertaining read and he does capture the excitement of a technological marvel as well as the characterisation of the people involved and who evolve from the development of such game changing developments. It's an interesting read as well as an entertaining one.
That was the case here.
The story has a theme of "progress", which is followed through two plots in the novel.
Firstly, in this case the evolution of steam, the advent of industrialization, given life by Iron Girder and Dick Simnel. The pulse of that action is maintained by Moist von Lipwig (aka to the goblins as 'Mr Slightly Damp'), tyrant Lord Vetinari, and Harry King - wannabe rail baron.
The second plot is the narration of political problems in the Dwarven kingdoms with the struggle of the progressives versus the graggy traditionalists. Rhys Rhysson, Low King of the Dwarves is up against the crags, led by the ironically named Ardent.
As kilometer after kilometer of track is laid to meet the challenge of saving a Kingdom, coupled with endless politicking to satisfy everyone (most of Pratchett's characters are present in this one) Moist comes to conclude that dancing on a "speeding locomotive. That was living all right!". The inaugural trip involving golems, train fights that would grace any Hollywood movie, the Clacks, and a blocked coup is a fitting end to the theme of Pratchett's effort here.
As I mentioned the novel is littered with philosophic utterances. Covering topics from feminism to minorities, from economic theory to political practice - with a modicum of psychology and social mores thrown in - Pratchett has chosen to try and gently point out the flaws that exist in a heaving society, whilst advocating that change is inevitable and that is must be embraced rather than hated. After all, "when you've had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don't know how to spit it out."
I rather liked this one because, it is more intellectual than the early years of Discworld. No author's style can remain identical over thirty-plus years, nor should it. The legacy that Pratchett will leave behind is one of diversification and of variety; he has produced a set of novels where everyone will love at least one. This one? It's for those who love philosophy because there's plenty of it in here.
Oh, spotted on tiny error on the Kindle - "insurgent dwarfs will get their just deserts" - the sweet analogy would have been more accurate than this barren one.
Still, de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. I have had a huge amount of pleasure from Terry Pratchett's work - just not this one