Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 20

In the twentieth part of Raising Steam, I LOVED ALL OF THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of anxiety

I really do love traveling by train, and I love that Pratchett takes time to comment on the small and big things that make train travel so wonderful. I admit that I’ve not ever been able to travel by sleeper compartment, despite that I really want to some day. There aren’t too many routes in the United States that have sleeper cars, and what research I’ve done resulted in me realizing that they’re all incredibly expensive. It was always cheaper to fly and rent a hotel than to stay aboard the train. BUT I WANT TO DO IT! Some day! I’m curious, though. What are sleeping compartments like on trains elsewhere? Because now that I think about it, I’ve never actually seen any outside of what Amtrak has. I… I am guessing they are a million times nicer. JUST THROWING THAT OUT THERE. 

Anyway, there’s so much here to discuss regarding both the story itself and what Pratchett includes from our world. I love that the text itself veers from admiration of the train, to Moist’s own emotional state, to the tension of the dwarf attacks on… well, everything and everyone. Like, there’s that scene very early in this split where Moist has the most relatable moment in the whole book:

And gods, he was tired, and whatever it was that drove him seriously needed a rest, but the mind was its own worst enemy and the more he tried to get himself lulled by the rhythms of the railway, the more his niggling thoughts seemed to burgeon like a cloud.

HI, ANXIETY, HOW ARE YOU. You’re such a familiar friend! This has been one of my own personal struggles with anxiety, and I’ve had an overactive mind since I was a kid. Some days, usually when I’m exhausted, I can fall asleep rather quickly. But the majority of the time: this is me! This is what it’s like in my head! I think what’s interesting about this isn’t just the accuracy, but the fact that Moist never really had issues with anxiety prior to this. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t there! But Pratchett didn’t really include it on the page. So, watching someone cope with something more recent is fulfilling, even if it’s not my own experience. I have friends who developed anxiety disorders late in life, you know? Our experiences with anxiety are so personal, too, and that’s what Moist’s feels like. 

So, while Moist is busy worrying about what’s in his immediate future (SAME, BECAUSE I AM ALSO WORRIED), he still takes time to appreciate the world around him. I meant that two-fold: there’s a culture that’s developed on the railway, its own little ecosystem and hierarchy born not out of supremacy, but appreciation for what jobs each person holds. The drivers are the top, as the text notes, and THEN the stokers. There’s been a motif in this book of every day tools being both tools of the workers and also weapons, and we see that in the stokers. (Of course, sometimes, the workers don’t see their tools as weapons.) But there are others, too: the people who watch the water and coal supplies, like the Plumridge family. Who inadvertently stop a dwarf saboteur, thanks to an overfull chamber pot! Each of these people play a part in this elaborate system, and it’s amazing to me how quickly it all just formed. There were meetings about this sort of stuff, but Moist, Harry, and Simnel couldn’t have come up with all it on their own.

I also enjoyed that there does feel like a split between this world and the world that Rhys is returning to. I don’t think the railway system is devoid of politics by any means. (Hell, I think you can find politics in anything, really.) But Rhys is occupied by such a different reality. He’s not thinking about the hierarchy of the railway; rather, he’s got to think about how best to resolve the situation back home. Bashfull thinks that excising the grags through violence is the only solution, while Rhys wants to avoid as much bloodshed as possible. And I don’t actually know what the solution is here! Rhys wants to humiliate the delvers, but as we’ve already seen, public pressure from other dwarfs hasn’t stopped them one bit. How exactly can Rhys embarrass them? What would possibly make them feel shame? They’ve already done such awful and terrible things in the name of their beliefs, so I’m interested in what Rhys thinks he’s going to be able to do. 

LET’S TALK ABOUT ZEMPHIS. I believe this book is the first time in a LONG while that we’ve seen Zemphis? On video, I said it was the VERY first, but nope. Esk was there in Equal Rites!!! And so, many, many years later, Zemphis still has the general feel of Zemphis from way back then, in that it’s chaotic, not particularly under the rule of law, and it’s also a huge trading outpost, one where people from places we don’t see much of anymore come to exchange wares, supplies, spices, etc. It’s the kind of place that exists almost as a foil to Ankh-Morpork, in that it’s not excessively regulated and organized. The kind of place, as Vimes puts it, that exists so that this doesn’t appear in Ankh-Morpork. It’s a nice contrast from a worldbuilding perspective, and I think it also contributes to that sense of wonder that you can feel from Moist as he spends time here and appreciates the journey into the Paps of Scilla. The railway got Moist there. How many other people will soon get to appreciate the beauty of this? How many people will travel to the Paps just because they can? 

I brought up my own train ride from Paris to Geneva from 2015 because it’s about the closest personal analogue I have to this experience. And granted, that train was able to travel a whole lot faster than Iron Girder. Well, it also wasn’t attacked by dwarfs? THERE’S THAT, TOO. But the thing Pratchett captures so magnificently here is that sense of wonder that comes from the possibility of travel. I also admit that it is VERY difficult reading all this while most of the world is in lockdown or quarantine because holy shit. Y’all. I miss traveling SO MUCH. I will never take it for granted ever again!!!

So let’s talk about the sabotage attempt. I did not understand Moist’s comment about Iron Girder’s silver carapace, BUT NOW I DO. There are so many little details that come together there, like the chainmail pieces acquired earlier in the novel that end up being VITAL to Iron Girder’s survival. Seriously, I expected at least one of those boulders that the dwarfs threw down to send the train off the track, but nope. Sorortanium, y’all. THEY BOUNCED OFF. I was also so pleased that we got to see Bluejohn again, which lead to the FUNNIEST moment in this split:

When he was joined by Detritus, the assailants soon discovered that aiming boulders at the trolls was a fool’s errand. The lads, who were quite literally in their element, just grabbed them and tossed them back with interest.

With interest!!! That one bit just KILLS ME. It’s so incredible. Not just that, though. The goblins also take charge of the moment and—I am so happy I get to type this out—invade the dwarfs’ underpants. Y’all, I know I make requests for fanart every so often, but I really hope someone drew the scene where Of the Twilight the Darkness is wearing a helmet “that was far too big for him and spun around on his head.” IT IS A GLORIOUS MOMENT. 

Now, look: I’m still worried. The train may have conquered the Paps, but there’s a lot of land to cover after the mountains. I believe they’re not even halfway to Bonk at this point, right? So, there’s still a lot that can go wrong. We haven’t seen any sabotage on the water and coal supplies yet, and we already know that the grags are going to focus on that. But this whole sequence made me so happy. Time and time again, this team has been beautifully prepared for the various onslaughts against their mission, and I think they’re going to make it to Bonk relatively unscathed.

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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