Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 11

In the eleventh part of Raising Steam, Moist and Harry King make for Quirm to clear out the badlands. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Let’s talk about world building today, shall we?

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death/murder of children

While Pratchett obviously borrows a great deal from our world in building his secondary world fantasy, one thing I’ve greatly enjoyed about the Discworld books is that he still makes this a distinct world. It’s not just Roundworld in opposite, you know? That would have been relatively easy to construct, but what he does instead is give these cultures and societies a life of their own. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first time in the series that we’ve heard about the badlands in Quirm. So, that means that Pratchett has to achieve something difficult very quickly. What does this place look like? Who lives there? What sort of unique culture has grown in a place that’s not just desolate, but threatening? Because this doesn’t sound like a forgiving landscape:

They were now in the depths of the wretched wilderness of the Quirmian maquis, a nightmare of dense blackthorn that could strip the skin from your bone. It was a garden from hell, especially in the darkness. 

So, it’s a terrible place, a veritable wasteland, uninhabited except for the goblins and bandits who apparently live side by side. That inspires another question: Why? Why do these bandits choose to live in a place that’s so awful? Not only that, but if the badlands has such a thorny reputation (I COULDN’T RESIST), doesn’t that mean that most people refuse to travel through it? So how do the bandits even survive in such a hellish landscape?

One way that Pratchett answers this is by having the bandits be both unafraid (initially, that is) and then utterly unprepared to defend themselves. Why are they unafraid of Harry’s request that they leave? Because who the fuck would have the gumption to even make a demand such as that? No one! As far as I could tell, these bandits had an unchallenged life out on the badlands. They had “no sense of strategy” because they never needed one. Well, maybe not never, but it certainly had been a long time since they had required some sense of strategy against literally anyone. 

Which is why the horrifying detail we get later—where we find out the ground is littered with the bones of goblin children—speaks to the life these bandits live. They have gotten away with everything. There’s no sense that they have ever been held accountable for their actions. Thus, there’s no moral quandary about eating the most vulnerable members of the goblin community. They do it because they can. 

For the time being, then, the bandits are gone from the badlands, and it seems like they’ll stay away because of Harry’s men. Does that mean there are no other concerns? Not at all. There’s a really great moment in this split that I still feel is connected to the larger narrative regarding the goblins, especially since these latter books are so much about autonomy and the rights of non-humans species. Y’all: THE GOLEM HORSE. They can speak!!! I had no idea either, and the whole exchange Moist has with the golem horse reminded me of the struggles that Adora Belle has had with the golems in past books. They don’t have any concept of personal pleasure, so Moist has to order the horse to enjoy itself so he can alleviate some of his guilt. But I like that he thinks of this. Would Moist in Going Postal have had the same thought? I’d like to think that this is a sign of his growth as a character! Having empathy and seeing the world from the perspective of another living being is a HUGE thing for someone like Moist. 

I’ve saved the goblins for last because they’re yet another bit of excellent world building from Pratchett. I do think it helps to have read the recent books discussing their plight and their introduction to Ankh-Morpork society at large, since this only adds to that. How were Quirmian goblins treated? Is it any different than what we saw in previous books? Unfortunately, no. Like in Ankh-Morpork, the goblins are seen as vermin, both expendable and disgusting to the other species. There are some differences, namely in how they dress, which I found to be a delightful little detail. But there’s still the same parallel: 

Nevertheless, they looked like a people who had been hammered hard on the anvil of fate and had been laminated with a natural bravado, which did not entirely hide their wounds. 

Then there’s this line, too, which was both poetic and haunting:

As stares went, their eyes were not baleful or angry, they were just… hopeful, in the grudging way of people who had had to learn pessimism as a survival tactic. 

This still floors me. What a succinct way of communicating their reality. Thankfully, Moist was smart enough to bring Of the Twilight the Darkness to act as an intermediary, but Pratchett still has Moist mess up a bit. Like when he shortens Of the Twilight the Darkness’s name, which is seen as a “shame” to goblins. And he’s quick on the uptake and makes sure to address the goblins directly. But I still don’t know what’s going to happen next with them. They’re coming to Ankh-Morpork to look for a better life, but will there be conflict between them and the goblins who are already there? What sort of work are they going to be interested in? Will they work for Harry King or something else? How’s it gonna look when Moist strolls into the city limits with a bunch of goblins behind him?

And what of the dwarf who was spying on Moist? I’m certain Ardent is behind that. Maybe not directly. I also don’t know if the spy is the same dwarf who is manipulated by Ardent in the darkness. (Lord, what a creepy sequence.) But it’s all a hint at what is coming. The dwarfs are trying to to find the right time and place to destroy this industry, and I think it’s very reasonable for me to be nervous about that. 

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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