Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 8

In the eighth part of Raising Steam, the railway opens. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

I do find it intriguing that the passage of time in this book feels unusual relative to the rest of the series. At most, a few days might pass in the main narrative, but since the beginning of Raising Steam, it’s already been months. In that time, so much has happened, which leads me to believe that there’s something else laying in wait. Things really ARE moving “as quickly as possible,” and I still maintain that it is giving this novel an energy that’s so damn exciting. 

But it’s also fun because we get so many scenes of Vetinari and Moist working closely together. Y’all, they are so much more comfortable than they used to be. The fact that they can crack jokes TO EACH OTHER’S FACE without any actual repercussion aside from the occasional death threat is astounding to me. But I think it speaks to the tow of them understanding one another. Vetinari knows that Moist is going to toe the line. It’s his whole thing! He even admits it to Vetinari himself. And Moist knows that Vetinari has specific tastes; he knows that Vetinari is also a political genius. And upon trusting the other to be who they truly are, I see them letting down their guard… just a bit. Not a whole lot! But there’s a twisted camaraderie unfolding here, one borne of two people accomplishing something that most people would balk at. Seriously, they’re trying to control the advent of the steam engine, and Vetinari knows how challenging it is to try to “control” progress. Yes, he’s good at it (see: every book he’s ever been in), but one thing Pratchett does with Raising Steam is make it very clear that the change that’s about to overcome the Disc is completely paradigm-shattering. This is not the addition of the clacks, or the return of the post office, or the renovation of the bank, all of which were massive undertakings. 

The whole world is about to change, y’all.

Which is why I am retaining like 5% of my brain for being worried about Lu-Tze’s appearance. As I said on video, it’s possible that the conversation he has with Ridcully is the conclusion of this detour. The History Monks are potentially worried that the steam engine has arrived at the wrong time… and aren’t the History Monks generally not wrong about this sort of thing? It made me think that maybe this is the meaning of the opening scene. What if the idea came too early to the Disc and ended up in Stimnel’s head? But then I think that perhaps that’s the whole point. The world is never technically “ready” for a change to be hoisted upon it. It just happens, and we have to accept what has swept over us. I feel like this is exactly what the dwarfs are dealing with, albeit much more poorly than with the railway. (I still think the two plot lines will intersect.) One group wants order; the other has given themselves over to chaos. (Which will become a new order at some point.) 

ANYWAY LET’S TALK ABOUT THE LAUNCH OF THE FIRST RAILWAY LINE. It’s not terribly far, but in terms of what it means… it’s huge. It actually worked. Simnel delivered on what he promised, and he did so without a single hitch. I love that we don’t even know what he did to improve the locomotive; it’s just better. And while I don’t want to discount the technological feat here, I also appreciated that Pratchett devoted time to some social implications of the train. I was, of course, very nervous that something would go wrong, that there’d be an accident or something would break, or even worse: WHAT IF SOMEONE DELIBERATELY SABOTAGED THE TRAIN.

I did not anticipate Hardwick of the Pseudopolis Daily Press.

I know Pratchett likes to poke fun at journalism through Vetinari, but in the scene with Hardwick, he tackles something far more insidious and damaging: outlets that publish stories specifically to stoke the very worst fears of humanity. And the Daily Press doesn’t just do that; they have a longstanding grudge against Ankh-Morpork, which means that it’s entirely possible that any angle they can find is one they’ll spin to make the railway and the city look bad. As Pratchett drops us into the confrontation between Hardwick and Simnel, we understandably are worried. Since we’re seeing it all through Moist’s POV, it’s easy to feel the same anxiety he did. Simnel is not media trained, and Hardwick’s questions aren’t honest inquiries; they’re bait. Seriously, the fact that he starts off a question with, “You must admit…” is a sign of manipulative phrasing. (I also wonder if Pratchett borrowed from history in coming up with the possible “concerns” with the trains, like faces melting above a certain speed, or sheep miscarrying from a train passing by.) He wants Simnel to say something embarrassing, and he was definitely going to take it all out of context to create a sensationalized story.

So yes, I deeply loved that Simnel surprised everyone, including Moist. And his point rings so beautifully true: Isn’t everything inherently dangerous? Simnel knows trains are dangerous; that’s why he has devoted so much time to building one that is safe. Seriously, Simnel’s father DIED trying to construct a working steam engine. I don’t think anyone needs to condescend to Simnel about the dangers of his line of work. If Simnel had said it wasn’t dangerous at all, I’d be concerned. His answer is pitch-perfect, and Hardwick has nothing to use against them. 

ALL THIS BEING SAID: Something is coming down the pipeline. And I will remain worried about whatever that is. I think it’ll most likely come into play with the Ankh-Morpork to Uberwald line, since that has the highest possibility of contention. That’s about all I feel comfortable predicting, because I genuinely don’t know where this book is going.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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