The Long War

The Long War - Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett Hmmm, two books in and I’m still kind of unsure how much I actually like this series...

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the underlying concept of a chain of (apparently) countless Earths (known collectively as ‘The Long Earth’), of which our own is merely a single link, each existing in its own universe. I simply adore the fact that the variation between Earths illustrates the ‘what if’ potential for massive changes in everything, from evolution of life to ecosystems, climate, atmosphere, and even ‘gaps’ (where what would have been near-misses from massive, rogue asteroids in other universes occasionally - thanks to random chance and probability - scored a direct-hit, leaving nothing but the empty vacuum of space where an Earth would have been). The theoretical possibilities are wonderfully exciting, and there’s pretty much limitless potential for ideas.

So what’s the problem?

Well, for starters, I’ll confess that I don’t find collaborative novels a particularly easy read. Especially when one of the authors has a style as singularly distinctive as Terry Pratchett. I find the constant back-and-forth ‘tennis match’ between Baxter’s and Pratchett’s prose is really quite distracting, with Baxter playing the straight man to Pratchett’s (always welcome) irreverent comedy (for the record, I had exactly the same problem with the Pratchett/Gaiman pairing in Good Omens, too, but for slightly different reasons I will not go into here). However, I got the distinct impression that this novel was possibly more Baxter-centric this time around, with Sir Pterry’s touch being somewhat lighter.

However, my main problem is down to the fact that the previous novel, The Long Earth, ends with quite a few loose ends in need of a resolution. I thought that maybe some of these loose ends would be addressed in The Long War. Apparently, I thought wrong. The novel starts a whole ten years after the events of The Long Earth, and those loose threads that are tied up are done so pretty much indirectly, through fleeting exposition - the rest simply have newer, longer threads reattached and just continue to run and run and run. Ugh.

I do understand that the story in this novel needed to be told - it’s essential to clarify how humankind quickly expand across the The Long Earth, and how our species’ inherent desire to exploit natural resources and other lifeforms for our own gains begins to have an impact on the indigenous inhabitants, as well as the growing political unrest between the new colonies and the governments back on ‘Datum’ Earth, but almost an entire novel to address this? It’s a stretch, to be honest.

I will keep reading this series, because the truly, utterly, mind-blowingly brilliant bits far outweigh the mundane (up to now), but I do hope that, given the wealth of possibilities that are on offer with this premise, the authors don’t run out of creative steam before they hit their stride.