Stuff and Nonsense: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett


Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

I ... delayed ... reading Terry Pratchett's Snuff and Raising Steam, because I'd not enjoyed Unseen Academicals as much as I'd anticipated and felt I couldn't brook further disappointment. Pratchett was -- along with McKinley and McKillip -- my childhood gateway into fantasy literature and I maintain a serious soft spot for his works. But when it came time to stuff my Kindle with hospital reads, I found I craved the comfort of Pratchett and was willing to take the risk. After all, while the quality of Unseen Academicals had disappointed me, it still checked most my boxes for enjoyable humorous fantasy.

Ordinarily, I try to read Discworld books in order and I knew Snuff came between Unseen Academicals and Raising Steam, but it currently isn't available for immediate download from OverDrive via my library so I made do with Raising Steam, knowing full well I might have missed out on important story-lines and world-building by skipping Snuff. And I hope I'm right -- that some of my dissatisfaction with Raising Steam lies in reading the books out of order. That, if I'd read Snuff first, Raising Steam might have seemed more robust and "sensible."

Reading Raising Steam was a strange experience. Like visiting a place I once knew well, but have been away from for too long. All the characters I remembered were there, but they seemed different -- abridged, shorthand versions of themselves with little or no character development (and where was Carrot in all this talk of dwarves?). But then, I'm not so sure Raising Steam was intended to be about its characters so much as about its ideas -- technological progress, (sub)urban expansion, gender, fundamentalism, etc. If that's the case, then there were also too many ideas in play, because the story frequently felt disjointed and choppy -- dragging here, rocketing along there, too much speechifying everywhere. (Seriously, too many conversations felt larded with Portent or overladen with moralizing).

Maybe there was just too much of muchness in Raising Steam? Many might-have-been-interesting characters or events -- like the girl who knew every language on the Disc, the interspecies love affair of Crackle and Dopey, or the goblin underground -- went undeveloped. Indeed, the whole goblins-love-trains-and-are-building-their-own-underground really felt as if it is should have been a Significant Plot Point -- especially with the Patrician's push to get the special express train to Uberwald as quickly as possible and all, but it isn't. It's just a storyline that fizzles out.

Did enjoy some of the in-jokes -- Edith Nesmith, The Railway Children, and The Fat Controller especially, but Georgina Bradshaw as reference to Bradshaw's Guide (and, maybe, all those lady Victorian travel writers?) was also a nice touch -- but mostly I felt some of the humor was flying over my head.


  • Did I enjoy it more than Unseen Academicals? No.
  • Do I regret reading it? No.
  • Am I anxious to hurry up and read Snuff? No.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. Random House, 2014. Kindle AZW file.

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