The Long War, Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett


I do not like wars.

If you cast your eyes over my posts, I think the only war related entries you’ll find are books I’ve had to teach: Strange Meeting by Susan Hill.

I groan audibly when the kids try to put on war films. Much to their annoyance!

So The Long War… I was actually looking forward to the war here. It’s a sequel to The Long Earth which was okay if you like your novels slow and languid with little real action or plot. So I was hoping that the war would at least inject a direction to the rather directionless first book.

The same premise exists: an (apparently) infinite number of alternative Earths exist featuring slight variations in the planet’s history and evolution and (most of) mankind has discovered the ability to step from one world to another.

There’s a significant gap of time between the two books. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking twelve years… but I could be wrong. Joshua Valienté, our protagonist, is now married with a son… but, apart from that fact, he seems to be exactly the same as he was in the previous book. Sally Linsay, similarly, is exactly the same character as well.

The book is such a rich concept that I feel … robbed. Cheated. Let down.

The central image in the novel is of the dirigible airships floating in the sky – the cutting edge technology of the first book made universal. These ships are a symbol of the narrative style: adrift, slow, vaguely heading in one direction. But the multiplicity of airships removed and narrative drive: one ship heads one way, another the other way, another follows the first, another comes back again… Many authors would coincide these different characters and journeys into a climax.

This book doesn’t have that.

It doesn’t have … anything really.

The novel gently records a variety of worlds like a travelogue but without the depth and colour. There is no war between humanity and the other sentient forms; nor between Datum and Long Earth communities – despite the name of the book. It all sort of… peters out. One of the airships travels millions of worlds … and just turns around and goes back again.

These books have none of the wit, wordplay, pace, humanity or passion of Pratchett’s usual writing. And the quality of the writing is … not great. I’m fully aware that I’m not one to talk – and a comment like that invites all sorts of criticism of my own prose! – but the repetitious nature of the language as worlds ticked by grated. Grated immensely.

The new species introduced in this book – Kobolds and Beagles and the extinct reptilians – were deeply unimaginative. They seemed almost lifted from computer games. And too familiar: however many times the beagles were described as wolf-like, they just weren’t.

Currently, I have the third book in the series – The Long Mars – queued up on my to-be-read list.

I’m not sure whether I’m going to bother…


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