Is it possible for something to be good but still be disappointing? That's what Raising Steam is to me.
I like and enjoyed this book. I thought it was funny and clever. But compared to what I was hoping for, and what might have been, and what the Terry of just a few years ago was capable of, it is a disappointment.
The pacing is baffling. Entire segments could have been excised with no harm done to the surrounding book; they were there to drive the point home, of course, but most simply weren't needed. Two entire sections were adverts for a tie-in piece, Mrs. Bradshaw's Handbook
, and done much clumsier than Thud!'s There's My Cow
, which integrated the merch into the book's very plot
The characters' voices are gone. Almost every character had the same diction and cadence; only Dick Simnel sounded unique, and even that was as much due to the Oop North
accent as to any real differentiation. There might as well have been a framing device revealing Dick was telling the story to his and Emily's children.
The continuity with other books is there, with dozens of little ShoutOuts
, but at the same time not, with no logic for this to be Ankh-Morpork's next evolution. This is an Ankh-Morpork book dealing heavily with dwarves; where is Captain Carrot? What happened to Vetinari's Undertaking, with the magical subway, that he's been setting up for since, it was implied, at least the end of Thud!?
And even for those of us who find Pratchett's sudden fascination for trains charming, those of us who like his politics were looking forward to a book of his about taxation, as so heavily hinted at the end of Making Money (and indeed Raising Steam's original title, Raising Taxes), with his usual wit and insight. If anyone could make taxes funny, it would be him. It's unsettling to realize the reason might be even he doesn't think he can tackle such a thorny topic...at least, not anymore.
It's hard to think of another Discworld book as clumsily done as this—even as far back as Mort, Pratchett had started to find his feet. It is still enjoyable, worth your time and money, but perhaps only in comparison with the great masses of books out there that aren't, not with its fellows.
It's painful to say, and I've tried to avoid saying it, but it's hard to imagine Terry writing his book even five years ago.