Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (2013)
Not as gripping as The Truth (the birth of news-papers) or The Colour of Magic (the birth of Film) and perhaps it is a fact that I have read an inordinate number of Discworld novels. HOWEVER, Pratchett is clever. His toying with words and their meanings delights me. For instance, it took me some time to realise that the ‘loggysticks’ that the engineer was going to depend on to finish building a bridge in time were actually … (cue drumroll) … ‘logistics.’
I checked the publication date for this novel because it, very early on, appeared obviously satiric. 2013 – the global troubles had been bubbling away for some time. In Raising Steam Rhys, the Low King of the dwarfs, faces a rebellion from those who reject peace their fellow creatures – humans, trolls, goblins – in favour of preserving their ancient Ways and Identity. Their garb derived from the dangerous task of releasing pent-up fire in the mines (I think) but they have made of it a uniform:
It was the deep-down grags that gave him nightmares because, well, there was something offensive about those thick leather clothes and conical hats. After all, he thought, we’re all dwarves together, are we not? Tak [dwarfs’ God] never mentioned that dwarfs should cover their faces in the society of their friends. It struck Rhys that this practice was deliberately provocative and, of course, disdainful.
Throughout, the novel prods and teases and pats human experiences – of Learning, Change and the Fear of It, Tradition, Modernity, Curiosity and Mastery, Prejudice – into a shape resembling Our Present Times, and All Times for that matter, I suspect. There is a final shout out to the biases of our Western Societies, and others, in the final pages, but it would be spoiling things to say.