Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 9

In the ninth part of Raising Steam, the railway begins to take over Ankh-Morpork. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of the death of children

Well, we’ll talk about That Thing at the end. 

Because first, I have to address the railway arriving. I say that fully knowing that at this point, the farthest this has gotten is a line from Ankh-Morpork to Sto Lat. And it’s a line that’s technically completed, but still has pieces that need work. Yet Pratchett has built a convincing case here: the people of these areas don’t care that everything isn’t perfect. The sheer spectacle and marvel of the railway is so intense that it has already proven to be a success. Financially, socially, intellectually… this progress is rapidly taking over the city and the surrounding areas. It’s part of the zeitgeist now! Nobby and Colon want to be some of the police officers to be assigned to the trains. Billy Slick is overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who want to work somewhere in this new system. And I love how Pratchett shows us that positions are being created that previously did not exist; it’s a reality of new technology and industry. Like the lady who says that they’ll inevitably need a translator working on the trains once the lines link locations that have different languages. 

The world is changing so fast. 

In a sense, Moist is witness to that in another way. As I’d suspected, many of the folks who Moist has had to negotiate with are stubborn and greedy. Rather than consider the public good that a national railway could provide people, their primary concern is how much money they can make and how the railway line cutting through their property can benefit them. On some level, I get anyone wanting a fair deal and to be compensated properly, but from what’s in the text, I feel like Pratchett leans more heavily towards depicting Moist as dealing with people who are a whole lot like him: a little bit slimy on the inside. Moist understands how human greed works, and it’s working to his advantage. (And to Vetinari’s. I adored that section about Vetinari’s love for politics.) At the same time, there’s an energy and a tension building across this book, one that’s due entirely to how fast this is happening. It’s like this novel is living inside a tinder box, and every new development is causing at a tiny spark. At what point is something going to ignite this highly flammable nightmare? Because that’s another sense I got from Moist’s POV in this split. He knows this is growing faster than he can keep up with. How many new developments does Moist notice or mention in just these twelve pages or so? There are developments happening—such as the progress that Simnel’s made on a new engine ALREADY—that Moist doesn’t even have a hand in. 

Progress is a living, breathing thing now, and Moist is just trying to hold on to the reins as tight as he can. 

So I’m also pleased that Pratchett gave space here for some domestic happiness. I do miss Adora Belle, but I understand that this book has to convince us that Adora Belle and Moist are busier than they have ever been in their entire lives. I’m sure that a lot of you who have been in serious relationships have experienced this at one time or another. I certainly have. But this does not diminish how much the two of them love one another. Pratchett isn’t repeating the dynamic he established prior to this either. We’d seen Vimes and Sybil dealing with similar stresses of time, but Adora Belle/Moist feel so different compared to that longstanding couple. The thing they do share—and something I admire about how Pratchett writes—is that they’re in love, that love isn’t threatened, and they get to be happy. There’s still conflict, and they’re still immensely different characters, but they actually get to stay together. It’s something I’ve mentioned before when talking about Vimes and Sybil, so I was delighted to see this crop up again.

Which brings me to That Thing. I assume that we have now reached the dreaded moment in which something terrible happens, and this whole beautiful rush into the future comes to a grinding halt. Simnel told the truth earlier in this book: This is dangerous. Everyone knew that. And they’ve actually taken great care to make sure that no one got hurt, but it’s impossible to think of every possibility, every eventuality, every accident. They just happen. And maybe this is due to the fact that no one thought about rambunctious, curious children and their propensity to chase that curiosity right into the face of danger. I don’t know what the beginning of the next split is going to say, but… shit, those kids are dead, right? They couldn’t survive something like that, and I assume that the final two words are Pratchett’s way of alluding to their fate. 


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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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