The Long War

Posted: October 17, 2014 in Book reviews

By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.


Firstly a fairly standard warning from me… Because this is the follow up to the Long Earth, by necessity there may be spoilers to that book in the review of The Long War. Also, whilst I try to avoid spoilers, there is a pretty big one I need to address with this book. You have been warned!


It’s now around ten years since the end of the Long Earth, and 25 years since “Step Day” when humanity first collectively realised there were millions of parallel earths they could now reach with the help of an easily assembled ‘Stepper’ device.


Mankind has quickly spread across these new earths, with colonies springing up throughout the Long Earth, connected by dirigibles called Twains (cue the joke about a small boy who wants to be a Twain driver when he grows up). There are problems on the horizon though. The US government on the original Earth (Datum Earth) isn’t too happy when the various American colonies start rumblings of wanting to gain independence, and as part of a counterpoint to this a fleet of US Twains are sent out to patrol the Long Earth and show the flag.


Meanwhile the Trolls (sentient creatures who live throughout the Long Earth) have started to vanish after being mistreated by some humans. When this happens Joshua Valienté, the hero of the first book, is contacted by his former travelling companions Sally Lindsay (the abrasive defender of all things Trollish) and Lobsang (the supposed Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as a near omnipotent AI) to try and track down where the Trolls are going. Joshua has a wife and child now, but the lure of the Long Earth is strong and he reluctantly agrees to help.


Ok first things first, and SPOILER ahoy!
Rarely has a book been so misnamed. There is no war, there’s barely even anything that would class as a police action. In fact at no point in the book do you really think a war is even likely. Sure the US Twains are crisscrossing the Long Earth, but if you have any hope of huge airship battles you might want to try a different book.


In many ways Pratchett and Baxter have created an enticing universe, the trouble is they don’t seem to know what to do with it. The Long Earth is a series of vaguely connected stories featuring a collection of characters, few of whom have any depth. Lobsang is enigmatic, Joshua is weary, Sally is angry…too many of them are basically made of cardboard. It comes to something when one of the most interesting “people” in the book is a robot cat.


There’s little in the way of drama. Sally and former detective Monica Janssen travel to a world next to The Gap (a reality where Earth was destroyed aeons ago) to rescue a Troll and her child, but what could have been a tense rescue mission turns out to be relatively straightforward, and as with many elements of the book the exciting stuff all seems to happen off camera.


There’s a mission by Chinese explorers, accompanied—for some reason—by a child genius, to travel all the way to Earth 2 million East (you can step either east or west whatever that means). The possibilities seem as endless as the Long Earths, but they get there, don’t find much, and head back, which pretty much sums up the whole book, the plot seems to be heading in interesting directions, but when it gets there it decides it can’t be bothered to do anything so things are either easily resolved, or just plain ignored.


And don’t even get me started on planet of the dog people or the fact that book pretty much ends the same way as the first one with a huge disaster.


As I said, it’s an enticing universe, but perhaps it’s too broad a canvas, when Twains step over dozens of worlds a second you can’t help feeling that there are dozens of opportunities a second being frittered away. It would be nice to have an in-depth exploration of a few worlds, and a few human communities. There is some interesting stuff here. Lobsang is still intriguing, as is Sister Agnes, and Captain Maggie Kauffman and her crew aboard the Twain USS Benjamin Franklin show potential, even if they come across as characters in a pastiche of Star Trek. At least they’re exploring, and at least they have a few dramas to deal with. I could have done with more time with them, and less with the Beagles and secret treasure troves of ancient laser pistols.


Maybe it’s just that the mash up of styles between Pratchett and Baxter is jarring and it’s easy to hazard a guess as to who came up with particular elements. Perhaps if the book had just been written by one or the other it would have held a more coherent narrative?
I feel like all I’ve been is negative, so I should probably add that, despite its problems, I’m still intrigued enough by the premise to want to read the next book in the series, The Long Mars, but if that one is similarly rudderless I might decide to step away from the last two books in the (supposedly) five book series.

  1. […] warnings, this is the third book in the Long Earth series, following on from The Long Earth and The Long War, so whilst I will try and keep spoilers for this book down to a minimum, its likely I will give […]

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