The Long Mars

Posted: January 28, 2016 in Book reviews


By Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett

Firstly one of my usual 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 away plot points relevant to the first two books. You have been warned.

Years have passed since the eruption of the Yellowstone Super volcano and Datum Earth (the original Earth) has suffered major environmental collapse in the aftermath. With most of its population stepping to new homes in the Long Earth.

In the midst of this the US Aegis, the American Government across the Long Earth, despatches naval commander Maggie Kauffman on a mission to explore the outer reaches of the Long Earth. With two Twains (airships) and a crew that include a talking synthetic cat, a humanoid creature descended from dogs, and her grouchy Doctor, Mac, she sets out to travel further across the Long Earth than any human has gone before.

Meanwhile the irascible Sally Linsay has been contacted out of the blue by her long lost father, Willis Linsay, who persuades her to join him on a trip to Mars. She recruits astronaut Frank Wood and together the three begin a stepwise journey across the Long Mars.

Whilst this is going on Joshua Valienté is prompted by Lobsang (the supposed Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as super intelligent A.I—don’t ask!) to investigate the mysterious Next, who may be the next evolution of man, and who the US Aegis fear so much that they’re prepared to take terrible action against in order to protect humanity…


Three books in and this series continues to entice and frustrate in equal measure. To be fair I enjoyed this a whole lot more than The Long War, which didn’t seem to feature an actual war and which just meandered along without really going anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of meandering in The Long Mars, but at least it’s more focused than its predecessor.

Still I can’t shake the feeling of a universe in search of a plot. Sure we have three distinct plot strands going on here, Maggie and the crews of the Twains Neil A. Armstrong II and Eugene A. Cernan step further and further west, with Sally and co taking a shorter, but even more dangerous route along the Long Mars, meanwhile Joshua and others of Lobsang’s friends look into the concept of the Next, but in many ways the strands don’t go anywhere, or if they do they take an awful long time to get there.

Part of the problem is that the Long Earth/ Mars are huge, in both instances our heroes step across millions of worlds, and in so doing they conversely render the universe almost too big for us to care, when you can step across thousands of worlds in a day, then the multiverse of Earths and Marses becomes a trifle mundane, especially when, for example, Earth 174,500,126 doesn’t seem so different from Earth 209,139,005.

The authors delight in creating some new lifeforms, some more complex than others, across many Earths, and a few Marses, but even here too often the story speeds on, just giving us glimpses of wonder. Sometimes you just wish characters would slow down.

And whilst Maggie Kauffman, heroic Twain commander has always felt like a very obvious Trek homage, the homage goes so far as to effectively imitate a specific Star Trek episode and film, even down to paraphrasing dialogue from the classic episode itself. It’s far too obvious to be coincidence and I found it jarring.

At least Maggie, Mac, Snowy the humanoid dog and Shi-Mi the talking cat, are engaging characters. By contrast Sally Linsay is just plain unlikeable, and to be honest has been from the get go, but perhaps it makes sense now when we meet her father because he’s even harder to empathise with. This means it’s up to Frank Wood to carry much of the Mars segments of the book, but it’s still a struggle because it’s hard to care about three characters who barely talk to each other.

This just leaves Joshua and Lobsang’s investigation into the Next, which again riffs on Trek and feels a trifle short-changed sandwiched in between all the long-range explorations

In the end, after a lot of meandering, the novel ends up rushing to its finale. This is a story that details in depth the outward journey hundreds of millions of Earths and millions and Marses yet has everyone go home again ‘off camera’ without much incident, which is a shame. There’s some set up for the next book, but no clear sign of just where, if anywhere, the story is going. Given the sad passing of Terry Pratchett I wonder if The Long Utopia will be the final book. I do plan to read it, because the universe is interesting, and clearly both authors have enjoyed playing in the sandpit they’ve created, but thus far the books have yet to be anything truly memorable.

If you’ve got this far with the series I’d recommend reading The Long Mars because it does have its moments. It’s an improvement on the Long War and I found parts very interesting, I just wish rather than skimming across millions of worlds they focused on a few, and rather than skimming across characters they actually gave some of these people more depth.

  1. Despite my love of Pratchett, I’ve never read these books.

    The other day I thought, “I wonder what Terry Pratchett’s next book will be about?” And then I remembered. 😦

    • starkers70 says:

      I hate to admit it but aside from these books I think I’ve only read one Pratchett novel. I do mean to try and get into Discworld again.

      I think part of the problem with these books is that it’s two very conflicting styles. Baxter is real hard sci-fi whilst Pratchett was much more fantastical. Also I’m never sure co-authors ever works that well. Like I say the concept is intriguing enough to keep me reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.