Hey, look everyone! Something exciting happens in this one!
|Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter in 2015|
I actually wonder why it took the better part of two books for something interesting to actually happen in this series. The Long War was basically world building, and The Long Mars was very much more of the same. Then, suddenly, WHAM. Baxter and Pratchett come up with The Long Utopia, which sets up an interesting premise and a problem to actually solve.
Depending on your point of view, the exploration of the scale and many varied possibilities of the Long Earth (and Mars) carried out in the first three books were either the series’ strength, or weakness. The problem with an infinitely large universe is that the scale doesn’t suit the tale. For instance, none of the books in The Long Earth series are particularly long for science fiction. Yet, they are set in an infinitely parallel universe, and it takes a span of two relatively boring books just to get to a properly interesting event.
It’s now been decades since Step Day. The effects of the Yellowstone supervocano eruption are still being felt on Earth, and more and more people flee the environmental shock. Joshua is on a quest to find out more about his own family, especially about his roots and how he managed to gain the ability to be a natural stepper.
Meanwhile, Lobsang and Agnes leave their old lives behind to try their hand at being “normal”. As normal as a cranky aritifical intelligence and a reincarnated Catholic nun in android bodies can be, of course. They fly off to another distant Earth, with their adopted son Ben in tow to become pioneer farmers. However, something on this Earth feels wrong. Very, very wrong.
I don’t really know whether Baxter and Pratchett were forced to write a story with a bit more oomph and urgency than the usual Long Earth affair of exploring millions of worlds through the probability tree by reviews or whatever. But this book actually has decent meat on its bones. There’s an existential threat to humanity from a newly encountered alien force with a none too palatable solution.
On the other hand, the storyline concerning Joshua’s family tree feels a little bit like filler, just waiting for when the rest of the story unfolds. Joshua’s importance in the Long Earth series has diminished greatly, which is fine. I don’t mind new characters filling the gap. One wonders whether he should have been written out altogether, riding off into the sunset with his wife and son living happily ever after. Let Maggie Kauffmann, who is a far more interesting character, do some of the leg work.
The fact that something interesting can happen in the Long Earth series bodes well, especially for the final book in the series. Except it’s a bit like the Australian (men’s) cricket team’s performance in the 2015 Ashes. Wish they’d gotten their arses in gear when there was still a chance of an awesome series win. Right now though, it feels like a draw, two wins and two loses on the board.
The Long Utopia is the kind of book that I wish Baxter and Pratchett had come up with instead of The Long Mars. Exciting stuff happens, focused on characters and there’s not as much free form exploration. Face it, you can only rely on exploration stories without action for so long. Thankfully, this book delivers.
Much better. Four Dyson Spheres out of five!
Read this if you…
Have wanted something interesting to happen in the last two books. This will reward your patience.
Skip this if you…
Don’t like beetles.