Mark Reads ‘Raising Steam’: Part 21

In the twenty-first part of Raising Steam, a perplexing set of events leads to a surprise discovery. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

There were three huge surprises in this split, all of which took me back to the very opening of Raising Steam. I’ve commented on this before, but Pratchett has repeatedly shown us that you can’t control an idea once it is let loose in the world. And he’s given us evidence of that in the unexpected. How many unforeseen ramifications have there been so far? Yes, Moist, Vetinari, Dick, and Harry have done their best to try to see where this whole railway thing was leading to—and doing so literally, of course, by designing the actual destinations—but even then, you can’t account for the sheer chaos of life. 

Let’s first deal with the children on the track. Yes, you can see me on video wonder aloud if Pratchett was setting up a pun because for a brief moment of time, I thought he meant baby goats. LOOK, I WAS TRYING TO STAY PREPARED, OKAY. But once it was obvious it was human children, I was perplexed. Who the fuck lives all the way out here??? How are there just kids on the track in the middle of nowhere? Then, my next thought: Oh, shit, the dwarfs somehow are using human children as bait for a trap. 

Except that’s not the case, either. No. these kids deliberately threw debris onto the tracks in order to be heroes who saved the train from danger. Thankfully, Bluejohn spotted this all before something actually happened. And it’s how Moist reacts to this all that impressed me the most: He is surprisingly chill about it all. Well, it was surprising initially, but in Edith, the apparent ringleader, he saw a young girl with a very active imagination. He didn’t want to crush it at all; rather, he wanted her to redirect that creative energy elsewhere. Now, he did frighten her enough so that she and the other kids understood why this was such a dangerous thing to do, and he compels them to make sure everyone knows that nothing like this is to be done again. But look: THIS IS LITERALLY THE FIRST TRAIN TO EVER PASS THROUGH HERE. Of course these kids didn’t actually comprehend just how dangerous their stunt was! To them, it was merely an idea, one that they would allow them to emerge as victorious saviors of the railway. This is also why Moist doesn’t punish Edith’s father, Nesmith, nor does he want the man to take anything out on the kids:

“Oh, and treasure your eldest daughter: you might be grateful for her imagination one day.”

In Edith, Moist saw a bit of himself, didn’t he?

From here, the train makes it to Ohulan Cutash, which gave me the split’s most sincere and genuine sequence: the entire town of Ohulan Cutash celebrating the arrival of the first train in their town. It didn’t matter that it arrived hours late or that it was beyond midnight. No, these people were ready, especially the mayor. There was a welcoming speech! A modest banquet! And of course Moist was going to ultimately understand this. Hadn’t he seen the marvel of the railway first hand? Wasn’t he visiting places that he’d never been to? That means that the reverse becomes true: People would soon get to travel to places they had never been. How many residents of Ohulan Cutash are going to save up money for a ticket to Ankh-Morpork and have the same experience, just in reverse? Like I wrote about before, I saw trains as a means of seeing the world outside of the city I grew up in. It made it possible. 

That being said, Pratchett wrote this book in a way so as to acknowledge that progress as a concept often does not mean progress as an execution for all people. From Ohulan Cutash, there are two important side effects addressed by the text.One of them is that Dick Simnel and the engineers ignore their own physical and mental health in the name of pushing on. Which I don’t relate to at all! I’ve definitely never worked myself to exhaustion ever in my whole life. (Immediately flashes back to the all-nighter I pulled last month to get line and copy edits done on my next book.) Moist is both empathetic about this, since we have seen him work himself to exhaustion multiple times over the course of this very book, and intensely practical about it. These men need to rest because the worst is yet to come. The rise up into Bonk/Schmaltzburg will undoubtedly require all of their attention and brilliance, and it would be detrimental if people were passing out or not firing on all cylinders because they were so tired. Progress can have a physical cost.

But it can also be a boon for one culture while a nightmare for another. When the decoy train sent ahead is derailed and then explodes, the team has a lot of work to do. During that downtime, Slam reveals himself, and WE GET TO SEE GNOMES IN THE DISCWORLD!!! While we don’t know much about them, I got the sense that there’s an internal logic to why we haven’t seen much of them. They have a good reason to hide from the world. Sort of like the goblins, people either don’t think they’re around or forget they are. The railway, then, hasn’t brought them success and prosperity. Instead, it’s brought them this horror: exploding steam engines and murderous dwarfs. As Slam puts it:

“You must know it’s the little people who’re the last to be thought of when great tribes go to war.” 

And it’s telling, too, that when Rhys offers the gnomes respect and asks what he can do for them, Slam asks them to leave them the fuck alone. Actually, this line is so damn poetic, I have to quote it:

“That’s what everybody needs. To be left alone. Left alone to get on with their lives and, indeed,” said the little gnome more sharply, “to be allowed to live at all.” 

Powerful. And that’s what the Low King swears: to defend the rights of the gnomes to live in these woodlands. It’s only when Dick Simnel asks them to do the sort of work the gnomes enjoy and are good at that the gnomes decide to get involved. As I said on video, it reminded me of how the trolls were asked to contribute to the railway. They weren’t assigned a random job, but asked to do what they were already doing or what they desired to do. Thus: the bridge trolls. And now, the gnomes can work with metal and tinker away at constructing boots that would be perfect for the railway workers. 

Still nervous about what the future holds, but DAMN. This whole collection of scenes was incredible!!!

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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