Raising Steam is the 40th book in Sir Terry Pratchett’s incredibly long-running and hugely popular Discworld series. The Discworld is a disc shaped world being supported on the back of four elephants that are themselves being carried through space on the back of a giant turtle called A’tuin. The series is known for its humor and use of fantasy tropes to skewer the foibles of the modern world.
The Discworld has rapidly progressed from late feudalism to early industrial revolution as the era of railroads suddenly comes to the city of Ankh-Morpork. Through the lens of the some of our favorite characters, we watch the explosion of new services and new trade suddenly made available via the railroad as well as the great social upheaval it causes amongst races of Ankh-Morpork. There are definite echoes of Britain’s own rapid industrialization in Raising Steam. Also prevalent is the rise of religious fundamentalism and the attempt of fanatics to arrest progress at any cost to themselves and others. If there is slightly less humor and understated satire on this subject, it is understandable, and Pratchett makes up for with an unusual amount of action and fight scenes.
As the series has progressed, we the readers and the denizens of the Disc are feeling as if we are rushing to some final end – a feeling intensified with Sir Terry’s announcement several years ago that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Sir Terry has named his daughter as successor when the time comes that he can no longer write, and with 40 books and more to come set on Great A’tuin, that time may come sooner than many of us would like. One thing is certain: Sir Terry, like his character Lord Vetinari, has been engaged in a “Great Work.” He has taken a series of light-hearted, slapstick, fantasy satires and transformed them into the one of the longest-running series of literature in the English language. These books are fun, spirited and have a deeper meaning that will hit you when you least expect it.