Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 16

In the sixteenth part of Raising Steam, Ardent makes a move, and Moist is pressured to work faster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Huh. Just as I finished typing that introduction, I had a thought:

Vetinari knows this dwarf-on-dwarf war is about to break out into something disastrous, doesn’t he? And how much of that is the reason why he wants the Uberwald line constructed faster than Moist ever thought possible?

Obviously, I’m missing some pieces to connect those beyond a theory, but Vetinari always knows. Few things have probably ever surprised Vetinari, so it feels like a safe assumption to make that he knows a whole lot about the fight between Ardent and Rhys. That being said… why is the railway to Uberwald so important? It can’t just be for personal reasons, right? Like, yes, he wants to visit Lady Margolotta in comfort and style, but Vetinari is the king of schemes and machinations, so there’s got to be something else going on here. Why else would he say that he thinks that “extremists are like perennial weeds”? He knows, something, right?

Ugh, now I feel a little less certain about this theory now that I’ve written it down.

OH WELL. The railway continues, y’all. There’s a beauty to that momentum as the industry grows, expands, and seems to have a life of its own. But Moist is still the center of it all, which generally how he likes it. Except… lord, some of this made me exhausted for him. I love how Pratchett portrays this so that we get a sense of how much the days are blurring together for Moist, that he sometimes just sleeps on a mattress under a tarpaulin, that he often just eats what everyone else does. As far as I understand it, Moist is rich now, right? So I’m sure he could afford to stay nicer places and have food cooked and brought to him. So, I found it comforting that Moist doesn’t treat himself special in these circumstances. He operates just like he’s another one of the workers, and that also includes how he dresses:

No longer did Moist wear the snazzy suits and handmade shoes that, along with his collection of official-looking hats, were his calling card back int he city. They didn’t stand up well to the regime of the railway worker and so now he wore the greasy shirt and waistcoat with rough trousers tied at the knee. 

In this, I’m reminded of Sybil, who is even richer than Moist, but who never flaunts it. I see Moist in a similar class most of the time: he has money now, but he doesn’t need to prove that to the people he’s working with every day. It’s yet another character trait that Pratchett has developed in Moist to demonstrate how much he’s changed since we first met him in Going Postal. Moist was a character of exceptionalism: he thought of himself as the smartest person everywhere, better than the common human (or dwarf, troll, goblin, etc), and that those he hurt or exploited deserved it for being lesser than him.

Is that the same Moist von Lipwig we see now? Would Moist of old have given his golem horse a name? (Flash!!! What a great name!!!) 

So, what is Moist’s plan for dealing with the bridges? He only needs the beds of them to work? What does that mean??? You have to have a properly working bridge for it to work, so how can only part of a bridge be completed? Not just that, but apparently, Vetinari won’t even be able to tell that Moist had come up with some strange means to “complete” the journey to Uberwald? Look, I’m sure this is going to be ridiculous, because that’s the sort of shit Moist thinks of under pressure. 

There’s another example of an unintended consequence in this split, too. I still think that there’s going to be either an actual huge disaster or the threat of one by the end of the book. (And my money is on Ardent being the cause of it.) But I’d forgotten that there were other railway companies attempting to compete with the Hygienic Railway! (Bless that name.) The flaw pointed out here is one of regulation and consistency. Simnel set up a relatively simple means of the private owners of that railway to use two trains on a single line. Someone broke that system in order to “save” time, and one of the train drivers died in the ensuing collision. So I get Moist’s reaction to it all: this is not an inherent danger of the railway as a whole. Simnel did what he was supposed to do, and he devised a system with that token so that it would be impossible for there to be two trains heading toward one another… except when someone decided to go around the system. It’s human error, not a design flaw. Still, I’m nervous. What unforeseen situation will create further difficulties for the railway?

At the same time, Pratchett follows up this tragedy with something incredible: an emotional connection that most likely would not have happened without the trains. I love the way that Crackle and Dopey met, and I also understand in hindsight why I went into this thinking something horrible was about to happen. I WAS NERVOUS, OKAY. But these two librarians—one a troll, the other a dwarf—meet in the Sto Lat station, and their lives change. And the extra bit of glue to keep this situation together: Marjorie Painsworth. How many moments like this has she seen in her coffee shop? How many more will she see? I LOVE THIS. Because transportation as an industry helps make human connections in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Like Crackle being able to work at Brazeneck and still live where she does? That’s now entirely within reason.

And this is what Ardent wants to stop. Well, at least in part, anyway. He talks a big game about the preservation of dwarf society and culture, but there’s a reason he and his followers have targeted things like the railway and the clacks. The more people learn about the world and those who live in it, the less likely they are to remain underground and “pure.” It’s entirely possible that Ardent and his followers genuinely and sincerely believe that dwarfs are being poisoned by the rest of the world. At the same time, he targets anything that spreads information. That is a source of an alternative view. That might “tempt” dwarfs away from what he and his followers believe. That’s not accidental! Deep down, then, I gotta wonder: does he know that his views don’t stand up? That they are easily challenged? That they’re just less attractive to most dwarfs?

Look, he staged his coup of Schmaltzburg when Rhys left. He’s well aware of who the real threat is and who has actual power. So what’s gonna happen when Rhys gets home? How will Ardent hold power?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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