Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 10

In the tenth part of Raising Steam, Moist goes into overdrive to account for the many problems the railway faces. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of terrorism, xenophobia.

When Moist is in his element, he is really in his element. 

I now understand why Pratchett includes to metaphor of the sizzle in this split. Moist operates best within chaotic conditions, and it’s something we’ve seen over the course of his books. The more impossible the situation, the more his mind is able to discover serpentine paths through the muck and mud. Indeed, his brain works best this way, and what’s more chaotic than two children nearly being run over by the Iron Girder? Again, Moist saw a problem—those two kids with their ears to the tracks—and devised a solution, one that Adora Belle rightly designates as such:

“You couldn’t resist it, could you? It’s like a drug. You’re not happy unless someone is trying to kill you, or you’re in the center of some other kind of drama, out of which, of course, the famous Moist von Lipwig will jump to safety at the very last moment. Is it a disease? Some kind of syndrome?”

Well, it’s also a very succinct way of summarizing Moist as a character, no? But I think it speaks to the innate goodness of Moist, even if he’s also thinking of the financial concerns that the death of those children would have caused. He still saved them at great expense to himself. It’s also a nice cherry on top that he did so while being ridiculously dramatic. So it’s hard to deny that Moist’s creativity and ingenuity works best in these situations when Pratchett follows this up with that scene where William de Worde interviews Moist. We get to see Moist in his prime: He is presented with a problem, and he not only addresses it immediately, he has to one-up himself, too.

“I’m absolutely certain that one day the train will save many, many lives. In fact, I guarantee it.”

When I first read this, I assumed it was merely some very direct foreshadowing. I believed that Moist would fulfill this promise. He’s done so with other promises in Going Postal and Making Money. But this has an entirely different meaning for me after reading both the scene with Harry King and with Ardent. Like Moist, I was shocked by Harry’s emotional response to what Moist did. Honestly, I expected rage and callousness. Instead, Harry recognizes the risk to human life that the train poses, and he then agrees to pursue safety measures for the whole line. Moist’s promise has a different ring to it, doesn’t it? How can he satisfy the demands of the railway while also devising methods to keep everyone safe? Many of those ideas presented here are brilliant, and once again, it’s all evidence that Moist is fucking brilliant under pressure. At the same time, Harry King is given a bit more depth as a character, and I love a narrative that manages to advance the plot AND character development. I admit that I have a soft spot for the archetype of hard-as-hell characters being shown to actually have deep emotional wells. I AM TRASH FOR THIS, I WILL BE UPFRONT ABOUT THIS.

But what about the damn grags? As I said on video, I appreciated that Pratchett called Ardent’s actions out for what they are: manipulation. He knows exactly what he’s doing here. And I bet each of us could point out examples of this sort of fear-mongering from politicians in our own countries. How often have we seen people appeal to the lowest-common denominator? To invoke xenophobia, as Ardent does with the goblins? To twist reality in order to create a narrative that paints a group as victims when they’re often the perpetrators? I’m reminded of the white nationalist terrorists that have been active in recent years here in the US and how many of them believe that they’re being actively persecuted, which they use as justification of their violence. Seriously, one of the dwarfs even points out that the reason why dwarfs aren’t used on the railway is specifically BECAUSE the grags are burning down the clacks towers. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to stop this disastrous line of thinking, and before long, Ardent has creepily convinced the gathered dwarfs that it’s time for them to make a real statement: They’re going to sabotage the railway, and it will most likely involve the loss of life, too. 

Moist’s promise has a different ring to it, doesn’t it?

Now, I could be wrong about this, and I didn’t Google this because of my longstanding policy of not doing so out of fear of spoiling myself. But the whole concept of le patrimony in Quirm is actually based on a real policy in France, right? I remember something similar to it all the way back when I took AP European history back in high school. (I HAVE RETAINED SOME EDUCATION FROM HIGH SCHOOL, OKAY.) But I can’t speak to this with any authority; it’s just something I wanted to bring up because I know Pratchett frequently borrows from actual history when constructing his books. Regardless! I still found this fascinating, and I was very appreciative of getting to delve into Quirmian culture, especially since we haven’t spent all that much time in it. (At least not in a while!) It’s also engaging because initially, Moist doesn’t thrive in the situation. The complication of le patrimony means that Moist is dealing with more people over smaller parcels of land, some that would have been entirely devoted to the railway if Moist got his way. It’s the aristocrat problem from Sto Lat, but a million times more complicated. 

The solution that he comes up with at the last minute, after a discussion with the Marquis des Aix en Pain, though, is ABSURDLY chaotic. So it’s no surprise that both Moist and Harry King are excited about the prospect of visiting the badlands and ridding it of bandits. I don’t actually know what this entails, by the way. Fighting? Scare tactics? Negotiation? What are they actually going to do once they’re in the badlands??? Ask the bandits nicely to go somewhere else? I HAVE NO IDEA, but I’m excited to find out.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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