Tuesday, August 4, 2015

5 x 5 Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

1. So, once again this is part of the Summer Reading Program but is showing up here on Thark instead of Epicurus because, well, this is where it belongs (as I sort of made clear here.) Raising Steam is the last Discworld book published before author Terry Pratchett's death earlier this year; one more volume is due out later this month, but that will apparently be the end of the series, at least for contributions from its originator. The world that Pratchett created is so rich and detailed that I would be surprised if there weren't more books to come from other authors, perhaps even in some sort of shared-world deal.

2. The idea of other authors writing Pratchett's characters came up for me when I was reading Raising Steam, because honestly, it didn't have the same crackle and spark usually marks Pratchett's writing. His struggle with early-onset Alzheimer's was widely publicized, and it is sad to think that his last works might have been marred by the effects of the disease, or by Pratchett's need for collaboration from lesser lights. I guess we'll never know for sure under what conditions the book was written, and I'll definitely be curious about The Shepherd's Crown, the posthumous novel.

3. Much of the flatness of the story lies in the narrative. While the stakes are enormous - the plot centers on a coup within the dwarf nation by fundamentalist terrorists, a not-very-subtle allegory - the protagonists never seem to be at very much risk or to suffer any serious setback. In fact, in neither the political situation nor the technological challenge of bringing steam locomotion to Discworld does   failure ever seem to be a threat at all: terrorists, physical adversities, and railway accidents are all dealt with summarily and successfully, and the body count (except for Bad Guys) is really quite low, all things considered.

4. I think that Pratchett also fell victim to something I saw in the later films of Christopher Guest. I felt Guest started to like his characters too much: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind are progressively less edgy and dark (although For Your Consideration get a lot of that juice back). Similarly, I think Pratchett grew a little too fond of Vetinari, Vimes, Moist, and the others; they shine a little too brightly and achieve a little too easily, their flaws plastered over. I liked the the Moist who was always a step away from cutting and running; he was someone not to be entirely trusted instead of a happily married hero, and that made him more interesting.

5. All that said, there is enough good stuff in the book to make it worth the read - and I still did laugh out loud while reading it. Reading even a lesser effort from Sir Terry is excellent way to pass the time.

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