I did get my hands on Pratchett's Raising Steam which...it's a Discworld novel. If you like those, you've probably already decided to read this one. If you haven't read any, don't start here, it's basically "I like trains and here are many characters I hope you're already attached to." I am, in fact, attached to many of them, so I won't deny that I enjoyed that bit, but otherwise, it's a little flat, though perhaps less so if you're already as devoted to trains as he clearly is.
However, let us discuss the strange things he's decided to do with gender lately. So at the end of Raising Steam the Low King of the dwarfs announces that he is in fact a she and would like to be publically female and more femme than the average dwarf, everyone better recognise and stop disrespecting their mothers.
Three cheers for personal expression and all that, but essentially this is an unpleasant retcon of what started as a firmly gender neutral dwarf society that didn't do femininity in a modern human way, but also didn't regard things WE think of as masculine as gendered in any way. They didn't do frills not because frills were girly, but because frills weren't dwarfish. There's a parallel you could do there WITH gender expression, but instead he decided to tie a love of frill and sparkle to genitalia and have all the dwarves who decide that they enjoy femininity also possess vaginas. For starters, if nothing else, I refuse point-blank to believe a group of people that obsessed with gold and gems have no appreciation for sparkle on a wider cultural level. Furthermore, let's just not associate particular visuals with vaginas, shall we?
Obviously, he's been doing this for a while, ever since he introduced Cheery Littlebottom and her desire for a more femme style of dwarf attire. We know dwarf culture mostly doesn't do that, but some dwarfs have decided that they like it and it's contentious. So far, kind of awkward, but not too awful. But this speech makes the connection between biological femaleness and disrespect explicit! So, uh, hurrah for now making things gross. We apparently can't have dwarves who don't care what's under the beard and chainmail so long as there's a beard and chainmail, we have to have dwarves who care desperately, but assume it's a penis, so it's all right. This is not how we continue the metaphor!!! (I'm not even getting into trans questions because there is so little room for them in this narrative, despite it being entirely about gender presentation and how it relates to biology, lolsob.)
Which all reminds me that I was also rereading I Shall Wear Midnight, which has a much lighter touch and a sharper eye for gender relations (presumably because he isn't attempting to create a new set, but is instead replicating a set of stereotypes about northern England that seem more or less accurate to me, based on things I've read by women living in the area, but I'm perfectly willing to take a grain of salt over), but then another curiously thudding ending. Tiffany spends all of ISWM thinking about what it means to be a witch and essentially comes to the conclusion that it's a female job because it largely consists of doing the tedious caretaking things that other people don't want to do and even the fraction of magic it involves is also usually based on cleaning up other people's messes. It's nuanced and sensitive and acknowledges that being the person who will do the boring and unpleasant parts of clearing up after the sick are important to keeping things going. So far, so good. But then he ends with Tiffany meeting a young man who is her equal in intelligence (something she's failed to find at all in her tiny village) and setting him up as...the village doctor.
Now, the village in question certainly needed a doctor. But it drastically undermines the point of the rest of the book that people who do unpleasant work that needs doing are not only not helped, they're reviled for it. It's not that doctors never do unpleasant work, but being a doctor is to be lauded for it, and it's certainly a profession with an implied staff to do the dull bits, even if that staff is the patient's family in a rural setting. The book spent the whole time more or less saying that what Tiffany needed was someone else around to share the job of cutting the toenails of the arthritic when no one else is prepared to do it because there are a lot of toenails and only one of her and it's not fun, and then makes her give up the one person who was prepared to back her up (though, again, we only see him back her up when it's dramatic and magical, even if they are still people who do dramatic, magical things in a very practical way) for the benefit of the village.
I just want to know: did he write a book about how a woman constantly puts other people's needs first to her own detriment (as fucking symbolised by the fucking MAGICAL SPIRIT OF WITCH-HUNTS AND KILLING WOMEN WHO ARE A BIT WEIRD) and then end with her putting collective needs first? Especially when her needs and the collective needs didn't HAVE to be at odds and she could in fact have apprentices or social work committees or something like that as well as a local doctor. Or, for fuck's sake, at least an acknowledgement that she hasn't really improved her own life except in as much as she managed not to be murdered by the witch-murderers.
Overall, between I Shall Wear Midnight and Raising Steam, one comes to the depression conclusion that Pratchett can see problems with a clear eye, but is entirely confused when it comes to imagining solutions, which makes me worry that he is somehow managing to describe the problems in question in this much detail while not noticing just what the problems are. It's a bit terrifying. I suppose I shouldn't be shocked, but his prior vagueness about dwarf gender roles made it so much easier to think of them as entirely gender neutral, and it's annoying to realise that was apparently only because he was so ignorant of that as an option, he didn't bother to say it wasn't true. Sigh.
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