on 20 July 2014
I'm a big fan of both pratchett and Baxter and have stuck with this series since it started, but this one left me frustrated and unsatisfied. The humour of the first novel seems to have been abandoned in Earth west 1, the tension of the second fell into the gap and really I'm struggling to find any redeeming points from this third instalment. Despite taking us to earth west 250,000,000 and various joker mars', ironically the plot didn't go anywhere. The idea of super intelligent children is far better realised in baxters time series, poor old lobsang seems to have been an afterthought. If there is a fourth part, I would like to see the seeds sewn here developed into actual threads and some pay off for the hours I lost reading this.
on 18 August 2014
The third “Long” novel from this collaboration is an improvement on the second effort. The content and style of it seems to be more Baxter than Pratchett – the latter’s hand is clear in the Lobsang episodes but it seems the waning powers of the author have meant Baxter has taken a lead on this latest effort. It is heavier on the science fiction, with lighter touches on brow-breaking philosophy…a subject matter Pratchett indulged in with his last Discworld novel – Raising Steam.
This novel is all about “Evolution”. It takes three main routes post Yellowstone super-caldera: the first a decision for the inaugural Unites States of Step-wise America to head to East 250 million; the second a change for Sally and her dad, Willis, to fly over to Gap Mars and then step a few million Mars East; the third the spasm of evolution that is the “Next” – think ‘Tomorrow People’ or a proper Homo Sapiens if you will. The rest of us all are just dimbulbs, after all.
The first effort is a chance for us to follow the author’s own Star Trek notion. This time Captain Maggie is off with the cat Shi-mi, Mac, and Snowy the Beagle to discover more and more bands of worlds dominated by crustaceans, purple algae, and acid-developed life-forms amongst many other matters. It’s a true voyage of discovery for those who love the whole “Captain Cook” nature of these novels.
The second effort means we follow the unlikeable, dour Sally as she floats off with her Dad and Frank to Gap Mars, then heads East to find a Joker Mars with a civilisation. The arrogance of her father backfires slightly on this trip…they should really have adhered to the Star Trek tenet of “non-interference” but this gives the authors a chance to inject some action into the story whilst inserting their own version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 monolith.
Both trips are East…clearly the West steps are being saved for later novels.
The final journey is back on Madison 5 and Happy Landings. A group of young people - who were hinted at with Roberta Golding in the previous novel – have emerged as a new homo species with accelerated cerebral cortices. Speaking their own language, understanding everything much faster, yet without experience, they are seeking their own home. The journey here is pretty much X-Men…and humanity’s reaction to a same species/genus ‘threat’. Joshua Valienté steps in and a decision to wipe them out is stopped giving them the chance to head off into the realms of another novel.
This book is all about growth, all about exploration, all about potential. It’s also an improvement on book two as it’s more purposeful, more inventive….more hard science fiction than aimless fantasy. I get the feeling that Baxter took the lead on this one and the rhythm of the story is much better handled, despite the genius of Pratchett. As Mac opined:
“Who would ever have imagined that life even without the power of oxygen was capable of such beauty, such inventiveness of design?”
Indeed. Let’s see more inventiveness on the Long Universe, Mr Baxter and Mr Pratchett….
on 29 July 2014
I'm kind of at a loss as to what to say about this third book in the triology.
I read the first part and was massively impressed with the concept of the Long Earth...loved the idea of it.
I even loved the characters that TP and SB started to fill the story with.
But I was left ploughing through chapter after chapter just like the airship stepping through earth after earth...constantly moving on, but with pretty much nothing happening. And then, abruptly, part one ended. Oh...was that it? Maybe part two will explain/enhance/improve on things.
So I read part two...and felt exactly the same thing - that the story just constantly felt like it was building up and building up and building up to something big...something to make me go "wow" but then book two ended. And I thought again oh..was that it?
And now I'm a third of the way through book three - and STILL it feels like it's all building to something...all plot points and stories and set pieces building to something big. A slow burn maybe...a very slow burn...
But to be honest, I'm struggling to finish it. I know I will because it's TP and it deserves to be finished. I just wish something would happen...
It's well written, highly descriptive, a great concept...but it just never seems to go anywhere. Never seems to get going.
If the rest of book three continues along similar lines I think I'll call it a day, even if there is a part four and five.
on 15 April 2016
The third book in the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter very much carries on with 'more of the same' as the previous books. Therefore if you haven't liked the series up until now, you probably won't like this installment.
The usual characters are here. Lobsang is less in evidence than previously, despite driving what is the core of the book. Joshua is also a little sidelined as his story is tied closely to that of Lobsang. The bulk of the actual pages are concerned with Sally Lindsay and Maggie Kaufmann as they set off on their own voyages of discovery on the seemingly infinite copies of Earth and - not too much of a spoiler since it's in the title - Mars.
Whereas the previous books have essentially had one thread of a story around which the characters revolve towards some sort of end. This book seems more as if the authors couldn't really decide what they wanted to write about.
Should they write about more versions of the Long Earth, more fantastic worlds and lifeforms? Or perhaps investigate what has really been happening at Happy Landings, the seemingly too perfect town which existed long before Step Day? Or perhaps you are Stephen Baxter and can't resist going to Mars and showing many stepwise possibilities for that planet?
Rather than focus on one of these, all three are covered.
Maggie Kaufmann takes a brand new Twain far beyond the current limits of exploration into completely uncharted - and very strange - worlds. She must deal with the crew during their long trip, a surprise guest and aims to find out what happened to a previous expedition that vanished. Once again Pratchett and Baxter dig up some potentially different outcomes for both life on Earth and the planet itself, although many of the worlds are skimmed over and this part does get a little repetitive - another world, another odd ecology. This thread did feel a little like filler, there for those who want to see what might happen at the extremes of the Long Earth, although events do tie in with Lobsang's story.
Lobsang (the omnipresent super computer) has become concerned with matters of existence and what might come after. In particular is the human race evolving? He asks Joshua to help out and discover if there is any evidence for a breed of super human evolving as Lobsang theorises there must be. It seemed to me this is the real story of the book, a query on what would happen if a vastly more intelligent form of humanity evolved as a step change rather than a gradual one. What would they do? Would the rest of humanity accept them or feel threatened by them? The thread is short - barely more than an essay - and takes a good while to work through but provides the ultimate ending to the book.
Meanwhile, Sally Lindsay finds herself at The Gap, preparing to visit Mars, part of some mysterious quest for 'something' by her father. Here Baxter's history of writing Mars colonisation stories (they even get a mention) comes to the fore as the possibilities of a Long Mars are explored. In the real world Mars is cold, arid and inhospitable but there may be the odd chance for life to have developed. What would this be like? Again we have many different worlds although these are skipped through a little better than the Maggie Kaufmann Long Earth voyage and seem a little less repetitive - or where there is repetition it is more interesting than mundane.
Overall this is a good read in the series, probably a little better than The Long War but again lacking the coherence and sheer enthusiasm of The Long Earth (perhaps inevitably). As a work of science fiction it works well - the broad brush 'imaginary worlds' of the Long Earth and the Long Mars juxtaposed by the more existential investigation into human evolution.
Would I read a fourth installment? Undoubtedly, there are stories yet to be told. Would I recommend this book? Only if the recommendee had enjoyed the previous two books.
on 17 January 2016
I've enjoyed the series so far and this third book has continued that appreciation. The core premise of the Long Earth, a seemingly endless array of parallel worlds is an effective one. The light style of the writing carries some fascinating concepts and this book carries them further with the introduction of the Long Mars.
It's the exploration of these worlds that is the real strength of the series for me. There are some vivid and strange worlds on offer here and to be honest I would happily have read more about the oddities and explorations here. There's also a glimpse of alien civilisations and approached in a novel fashion.
The story follows two main threads, that of the Long Mars and the Next. The Long Mars might be the title of the story, but it is the lesser thread in terms of content, but again the exploration of what might have, or could have been lends it extra weight.
The Next provide the more traditional story and plot and it doesn't excel in the same way as the exploration aspect. The basics are fine and examine the ramifications of a new human species coming into being. However it isn't developed too deeply and at times almost feels like a cursory examination of the subject.
The characters are reasonably well drawn, but do pale in comparison to the setting. Part of the issue here is that page time is spread thinly as there is quite a lot going on. In this regard the Next are perhaps the most weakly drawn.
Overall though it's a decent read and an easy one. It might not be up there with the greatest sci-fi, but it's an interesting enough read.
on 27 June 2015
As the third book in the Long Earth series, The Long Mars develops what has happened before and continues its onward plotline. By Book Three we’re now at the point where the series has expanded from ‘Datum Earth’ to millions of Earths. As before, much of the plot derives from the ensuing human politics, as well as the physical calamities, that have come to fruition as a consequence.
The cliffhanger ending of The Long War is resolved immediately at the beginning of The Long Mars. The start of the book deals with the clearance of people from North America as a consequence of the Yellowstone super-volcanic eruption. The result of this is the partial abandonment of Earth and the redistribution of the Earth’s population as the Datum Earth gets colder winters and climate change.
The hook this time is that, unlike the previous books which were mainly set on a myriad of alternate Earths, we see humans explore our nearest planetary neighbour. The Mars aspect of the plot involves Sally Linsay, daughter of Willis, the inventor who created the machine to allow ‘stepping’ (the ability to travel East or West between parallel worlds), who is requested by her estranged father to travel with him and an ex-astronaut, Frank Wood, to alternate Mars-es, though the reason for doing so is not entirely clear until towards the end of the novel. Travelling by glider and multiple-stepping, they encounter red, green and blue Mars-es, and the remains of dead and lost civilisations without any real meeting with intelligent life, at least at first.
One of the great fun things about doing this with a seemingly-unlimited number of other planets is that you can create Mars in a variety of forms, and it is clear that the author-collaborators have enjoyed creating Mars-es that are Bonestell-ean, red, green, blue, inhabited or isolated.
Though the title of the novel is The Long Mars, it must be said that not all of the book is focused upon the Red Planet. Of the plot points on Earth that develop, Commander Maggie Kauffman continues the Star Trek-like continuation of her journey. Now in two new super-dirigibles, Maggie and her US Navy team continue the journey step-ward from Earth into the thousands of millions. She encounters worlds of purple algae, strange alien lifeforms and the return of the ‘beagle’ species first encountered in The Long War. Along the way we have shipboard situations to deal with, such as political shenanigans, an animosity between officers and crews and a strained relationship between different cultures and ideologies. There’s also the issue of a nuclear device similar to the one set off in Madison on Datum Earth a couple of books back.
Joshua Valiente, hero of ‘Step Day’, is still present, though generally I felt was of lesser importance this time around, except for certain key interventions.
Throughout we have the overseeing eye of Lobsang, the AI whose purpose, with the ex-nun Agnes, seems to be to observe and advise, though there are still hints of a larger and deeper covert operation through the creepy presence of entrepreneur Douglas Black.
One of the newer developments is something that was hinted at in earlier novels – that of the Next, the evolution of humans into the next stage of human development. Incredibly quick, both in terms of intelligence and in their speaking, their disdainful and superior attitude causes some issues for Maggie and her crew before a major plot revelation and an action that involves Joshua’s intervention. This is an element that is clearly going to run in future novels, but there are aspects here that will be recognisable to anyone who has read John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos.
As before in this series, anybody expecting Discworld humour will be very disappointed. In fact, the general tone of these books are rather sombre, or, at best, elegiac. What we’re here for is the travelogue experience, though interestingly there are times when the stepping becomes so rapid as to be almost meaningless. At Earth West 250 000 000, the US Navy dirigibles seem to be less about the wonder and more about the difficult drudgery of travel:
“The world itself turned out to be unprepossessing, barren, ordinary, but at least you could walk around it with a facemask, walk around a little.”
The travel, in the end, becomes less about the joy of exploration and more about surviving the journey:
“And as the journey wore on, and the Earths became ever more exotic and challenging, Maggie sometimes felt as if it was only her own willpower that held the mission together.”
To lighten things a little, the accumulated knowledge of the two collaborators has led to some nice little sf-nal references for those who want to notice. I did like the little genre references throughout that were nice little nods to other writers. They’re not essential to the plot, but for those who know other works they’re fun. I’m sure that there were some that I missed, but the ones I particularly noticed were references to sand-worm-like creatures a la Dune, Red Dwarf, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series (“You will not go there.”) and the rock snakes of the Thunderbirds Are Go! movie from 1968. (I know that Stephen, like me, is a big fan, so it’s not that surprising.)
On the downside, the characters can still come across as rather flimsy at times, though this is as a result of having to compromise between plot and pace. I did feel that not all characters are as visible as I’d expected – very little troll-action this time around, for example – but the focus was clearly elsewhere this time around. Lastly, I did feel that towards the end the plot seemed to move rather too easily to an equally obvious conclusion, although this does leave an ending that means that you have to pick up the next book (The Long Utopia) to discover what will happen.
On balance, The Long Mars is a step or two forward (ha!) from The Long War. The plot holds together better this time around, events seem a little less ramshackle and by the cliffhanger climax there was a genuine desire to read what happens next. The Long Mars is not the place to start this series, but those who have enjoyed the books so far will continue to find much to appreciate here.