RAISING STEAM by Terry Pratchett

Book Quote:

“… the man to whom you refer is a master of every martial art ever conceived. In fact he conceived of most of them himself and is the only known master of the de’ja’ fu*. He can throw a punch into the air and it will follow you home and smack you in the face when you open your own front door. He is known as Lu-Tze, a name that strikes fear in those who don’t know how to pronounce it, let alone spell it.

* A discipline where the hands move in time as well as in space, the exponent twisting space behind his own back whilst doing so.”

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  (APR 5, 2014)

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett is a book in his marvellous Discworld series. As in all the books of this series, Sir Pratchett spins an immensely readable yarn centered on the impact of an idea, an invention or the like into Discworld society. The ideas he’s tackled include the introduction of paper money; the post office; telegraph; deity, religion, and the corruptible priesthood; warfare rooted in ages-old history; terrorism; and in Raising Steam, the introduction of the steam locomotive. His characters are satirical and humorous, often takes on historical and literary icons, from Machiavelli’s Prince to LoTze to Don Giovanni. Discworld is unlike our own on the surface, but seen through Pratchett’s satirical lens, the reader finds hilarious commentary on our own world and its foibles. His impressive social intelligence and wicked sense of humor make for an engaging read.

Raising Steam is about the invention of the steam engine and the attendant implications in Discworld society. The inventor is Dick Simnel, a young man, clearly modelled on a Scots engineer, impenetrable accent and all, who employs a rational and disciplined process to create Discworld’s first steam powered locomotive. Dick goes to the capital to seek funding from Harry King (king of night soil and other smelly endeavors), a wealthy entrepreneur with a history of getting things done, legality be damned. The whole prospect of change engages the interest of Lord Vetiari, a professional assassin and machiavellian lord of the country. Vetinari is a tyrant, but he requires that all the different species (dwarves, trolls, goblins and so forth) of his country be treated alike as sapient creatures. Lord Vetanari engages Moist von Lipwig, his manager of the Post Office, the Mint, and the State Bank to manage the new enterprise. Moist von Lipwig was chosen by Vetanari because his gift for larceny makes him uniquely capable of managing it in others. Lipwig is managed by Vetanari by threat of torture and because he really enjoys living on the larcenous edge under impossible demands. Moist is the central character to this story.

The train becomes a successful enterprise. A cabal of dwarf rebels is trying to bar the entry of dwarves into the larger society. They want to literally derail the train as it makes its first trip to the land that is home to the vampires, one of whom is Vetinari’s lady love. The dwarf cabal sound suspiciously like fundamentalist religious terrorists in our world. Dick is continually improving on his beloved steam engine, Iron Girder. Moist resolves one impossible demand from Vertinari after another with wit, subterfuge and beguiling dishonesty.

There are goblins (a smell that is unbelieveable, but you stop noticing after a while, and they are marvellously good at coding and decoding as well a very handy with all sorts of metalwork) , dwarves (only a dwarf can tell the difference between a male and a female and they both have long beards) , trolls (one of whom is a lawyer, and others are on the police force), werewolves (one of whom is on the police force as a gesture to diversity), vampires, golems and more. All these creatures of fantasy are intensely human, filled with human flaws and foibles with surprising depths of warmth, loyalty and sometimes cruelty and evil.

As with all the Discworld series, the premise entails taking an idea to its logical and absurd conclusions in the setting of a fantasy world that reflects on our own. Raising Steam takes on the Industrial Revolution and does an admirable job of it. Pratchett is a true master. He writes with elan and great skill. His ideas are gut-busting funny and trenchant satire on our world. He is an antidote to prissy and snobbish “art” writing. The work is intelligent, and totally readable. One small quibble; I wish the author had focused on a more limited cast of characters in this novel, rather than bring in so many from the richly imagined Discworld. Regardless of this, I strongly urge you to read him and then go out and read some more.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 191 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday (March 18, 2014)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Terry Pratchett
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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April 5, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Humorous, Speculative (Beyond Reality)

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