The Long War

“People do what they do. But that doesn’t mean that whatever your deeper hidden personal motives, you can’t try to do something good.”

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Look! Look, everyone, is a new Terry Pratchett book!

(And Stephen Baxter, of course. But nobody seems to know who he is.)

The Long War is the sequel to The Long Earth, a novel which introduced the concept of a possibly infinite series of worlds only a step apart and asked what exactly would happen if humanity had access to these worlds.

So The Long War is set twenty-five years after the events of The Long Earth. Joshua Valienté, who, together with Lobsang, an apparently omniscient computer who may or may not be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman, first explored many of the worlds of the Long Earth, is summoned again to solve a mystery that may be crucial to the survival of the Long Earth: where have all the trolls – the kind, singing, intelligent humanoids slowly being driven away by human stupidity – gone? And can the increasingly intolerant Datum governments ever be reconciled to the newly emerging cities of the Long Earth?

First of all, I think this cover is just fantastic. I mean, look at it. It has an airship. And pretty clouds. Who wouldn’t want to read this?

I personally read it in two days, which is fast even for me. And most of it I loved. Unlike The Long Earth, which suffered a little from plotlessness, The Long War has several storylines, all engaging, all fascinating, which slowly begin to overlap and develop and gain complexity in a really quite wonderful way as they reveal more of the secrets of the Long Earth.

And then – it all just stops. With one line, the whole thing is ruined:

The Long War was over.

Oh. Right…did I miss something? Did something momentuous happen while I wasn’t paying attention? Or is this just a case of Everything was Magically Better syndrome? There doesn’t really seem to be any satisfying resolution to the main tensions of the book. It just – stops. And then Lobsang does a bit of ex post facto explanation and…that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, the scene in Valhalla that serves as the denouement was genuinely heartwarming, but what it was not was an elegant solution. And there are odd gaps, too, throughout the novel, events that are skipped over that we really should have seen up close rather than have them explained vaguely afterwards (the escape of Mary and her cub is a case in point), scenes that are summarised rather than shown.

And the dialogue is really awful. At several points the characters seem to be talking past each other like bad Shakespearean actors who don’t really understand what they’re saying.

But, somehow, all of these flaws, which would kill any other book, are just dwarfed for me by the sheer reality of the world (or multiverse). I loved reading about how humanity has coped with the challenges and potentials of the Long Earth, the settlements millions of worlds away, the new lifestyles, the transport links, the communications systems, the political and economic realities of having a fifth of the world’s population step away into infinity, the Star Trek-y Operation Prodigal Son, the insights into the uninhabitable Joker worlds, even the name of the inn in Valhalla (the Healed Drum. Anyone?) that proves this is a Terry Pratchett book. The Long Earth as a concept is so damn convincing that it’s almost weird returning to the real world and realising that it’s total fantasy. And, yes, you can see the ending coming a mile off, especially given the ending of The Long Earth, but it’s still scary.

I haven’t enjoyed a new Pratchett this much since Unseen Academicals. I can’t wait for the next one.

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