Okay, thanks to Bouncy's generosity, I've finished the book.
I could write pages on this, but I think what I conclude is that this is what we're going to have to expect the future of Pterry's books to be like. Guess what: his writing style IS influenced by his Alzheimer's; it has been at least since Unseen Academicals. I've said this both here and in reviews of UA, Snuff and Dodger and I say it here. What this reflects is a dictated style that often leads of rambling long paragraphs and the replacement of quick dialogue with long-winded speeches. As someone who has known many people with Alzheimer's, some of whom were writers, this is a completely consistent was for a writer who can longer write economically (or even write themselves on paper or a computer) to write.
Overall, I liked Raising Steam much more than Snuff. Perhaps because I came into with far-lowered expectations after the huge disappointment of Snuff. A lot of this I think in its guilty pleasures: Seeing Pterry 'flesh out' favorite (and not favorite) characters like Harry King, the Low King, Albert Albrechtson, even Drumknott. Having Pterry add new geography, towns, and peoples to the Discworld, particularly to the cities of the Sto Plains and the mountains, is also a pleasure. Showing more of the married relationship between Moist and Adorabelle (with implied sex, even, although why don't they have children after probably five or more years of marriage?) and his turning of Effie King into something more than a aristocrat wanna-be are also admirable. The plot itself, while not highly dramatically gripping (let's face it; the train battles were simply the riverboat ride of Snuff on rails), was, particularly near the end, compelling.
But, in spite of all this, it's very hard to read this and see the gigantic decline in Pterry's ability to write in the spare, economic, and funny style of his greatest books. At this best, Pterry made every word count. Like the best works of P.G. Wodehouse, nearly every non-dialogue phrase was a pearl of wit. Dialogue, rather than narration, moved scenes forward. Footnotes were mostly funny. And few things were rarely spelled out--you often had to infer what was going on by all the dialogue clues.
That era is gone. Pterry now overwrites nearly everything. I almost gave up after the first 20 pages or so, because of this endless exposition where he was trying to explain everything and provide unneeded backstory. The occasional dialogue that occurred wasn't even dialogue--it was one long speech, followed by more long speeches, followed by more exposition.
And--most regrettably--there is no longer humor. Instead of the crackling dialogue that not only made you laugh but helped to "flesh out" character types, the speeches and rare dialogues changes are overburdened with slang, idioms and puns, as it much of the narration. Over and over Pterry repeats phrases in sentences, trying to wrench a laugh where it doesn't exist.
Unfortunately, not only is this not funny, but it also reduces most of the characters to a level of sameness. At one time, Moist's use of words was his greatest strength--here, he's a straight man most of the time. His dialogue is barely different than Vimes, which differs not at all from his long-winded dialogue of Snuff. Again and again, characters have to remind Moist that he is Moist von Lipvig, and what that means. It's a terrible narrative weakness--forced memes--and there's very little that Moist actually says that reminds us of the classic Moist of Going Postal (or the best parts of Making Money).
The other characters fair little better. Dick Simnell(sp.) just seems like a tinkerer version of Dodger. Pterry doesn't seem to know what to do with him--he sings with one note. While it's great to see Harry King have a prominent role, the tough pragmatist of The Truth and Making Money becomes a soppy, sentimental creampuff here.
Vetinari is nearly completely unrecognizable. The coolest man on the DW now gets furious over little things like crosswords? And all of his understated menace has been replaced by obvious menace. How many times does he have to repeat that he's a tyrant or that he can torture people? The old Vetinari never had to do this--one arched eyebrow was all you needed to know.
And the talking golem horse? Weren't we led to understand in Making Money that these golems had no chems and therefore no intelligence or free will? Yet, now the golem horse can not only talk, but it it can sarcastic as well. Then doesn't that make keeping the 5,000 golems underground (except when they're need as bridge supports) a crime against sentient beings?
And that he just brings in characters for the hell of it--none of the wizards have any useful role here, and bringing in Lu Tze for a cameo--is just plain pandering. I'm surprised Granny Weatherwax and Susan didn't have a cameo (although I'm betting that the woman applying for a job as an interpreter who spoke every single languange might have been her).
The only characters who seem to be believable are the dwarfs, perhaps because we haven't see much of them in recent books. But now all the trolls seem to have ice packs on their foreheads--how come Bluejohn doesn't use the "dems and deres" like Detritus?
I think what's most annoying, in spite of the bloodshed in the book, is the general polyannish nature of most of it. Except for the attacks and the occasional boiler blowout, everything bounces merrily along. Pterry is trying to hard to create--dare I say it--a politically correct world that says that every species is smart and has its own virtues and Nutt-like "worth"--makes the book incredibly cloying, reading more like a young adult book teaching a lesson on tolerance than an adult Discworld book.
Pterry is trying. Trying very hard to continue to writing when his illness is clearly affecting his ability to write with the economy and sharpness of his best work. But, as I've said in the reviews of his last few novels, he's not getting edited properly. The huge number of typos, the prevelance of sloppy writing, and the lack of a firm hand at the editor's control is taking its toll on his last works. Obviously, one can't expect an author to keep the perfection after 40 books, and many of the greatest writers went into a tailspin in their latter years (just look at all 1950s work of WIlliam Faulker, or contemporary authors like America's Tony Hillerman for examples). Maybe even if he wasn't afflicted by Alzheimer's Pterry's work would have declined in quality. Who knows?
It's fair to game to criticize the work of any author, even those we love. Pterry chooses to publish still, and he knows that he's going to be lambasted by readers and critics, even those who have are his most ardent (pun) admirers. He's still going to sell millions of copies of Raising Steam, and what any of us here or any Amazon critics say isn't going to affect sales. If you're a Pterry fan, you'll read it.
But, after reading Raising Steam, especially so soon after re-reading some of the classic DW books, it's sad to see that this is what we have to look forward to. Again, it's not a terrible book, but compared to his greatest works, it's a pale shadow.