Raising Steam is Terry Pratchett’s 40th Discworld novel. It’s been over 30 years since the first book, The Color of Magic, was unleashed upon the world. Discworld (and Roundworld for that matter) has changed a great deal since then, and so has Pratchett’s writing style. The satire has gotten more biting, the plots tighter, the philosophic musings more subtle, and the unrepentant silliness has long since faded. This is not a criticism. Forty books in, any author’s interests and preoccupations would shift, and this series is a rare opportunity to watch it unfold in front of us—book by book.
Raising Steam is about the railroad and the industrial revolution. Steam power has come to Discworld, and a role call of favorites is on hand to profit from, or at least survive, the shift. The Wizards make their cameos (including Rincewind), the Watch, the Dwarves, the Orcs and Goblins, even Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler puts in an appearance. But this is first and foremost a Moist von Lipwig novel as he desperately tries to keep the trains running, and manages to talk himself into and out of the usual amount of trouble, while Vetinari is suitably threatening.
Terry Pratchett has created a vast and highly populated world that is now more than capable of propelling an entire novel on its own power. The cameos and honorable mentions are more than just fan-pleasing moments, although they are that too, they are also demonstrations of just how rich Discworld has become. One of the joys of this book was the interactions between Lipwig and Vimes, two characters who despite living in the same city have previously had only limited interaction. The copper’s copper and the ‘reformed’ con man make an amusing pairing.
Nevertheless, for all the fun cameos, and delightful pairings, there is little that is new here. Novels such as The Truth, Going Postal, Making Money, and even Unseen Academicals all dealt with issues of modernization, and although the railroad is a new technology, the pattern has already been set, and the larger philosophical and satirical comments been made. But as I said earlier, after 40 books, one of the central joys of reading a Discworld book that it is a Discworld book, and while Raising Steam did not quite rise to the heights of previous novels, Pratchett remains highly enjoyable, and it is a welcome opportunity to become reacquainted with old friends.