Friday, October 11, 2013

Science Fiction: The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Quite naturally, I had to eventually read and blog about Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's follow-up to The Long Earth, a science fiction series centered around the idea of there being parallel Earths, most of which are like our own. The Long War continues the story of how humanity is adjusting to the seemingly endless opportunities afforded to them by the Long Earth. As I mentioned in last year's post, this is a story line with seemingly endless possibilities, and Pratchett and Baxter decided to embark on a good deal of them.

The Situation: It is now ten years after Joshua Valiente and Lobsang took a trip across the Long Earth and discovered sights and species that most had only read about in science fiction novels. Now, humankind has spread out across the Long Earth, shaping it just as it is shaping them. And Joshua, now with a wife and child of his own, has settled in a small town simply referred to as Hell-Knows-Where (see what they did there?) a long way away from the Datum, or original Earth. Now somewhat of a celebrity, Joshua would like to live a simple life and leave all of the exploring to the more adventurous types, such as Sally Linsay, who doesn't care at all for Joshua's decision to "settle down." Also, the enigmatic Lobsang is still up to his old tricks with his ability to be in multiple places at once and know pretty much everything there is to know about anyone that he finds interesting or that he believes might help him in his personal mission. It has only been ten years since Step Day, so humanity is still making mistakes regarding the Long Earth, but progress is being made, and everyone is getting along as best they can.

The Problem: One of the many new species that human beings have encountered in The Long Earth are the trolls. They are kind, smart, strong, and somewhat sensitive creatures. They cause the humans little to know trouble. In fact, in many settlements, they work for the humans and don't seem to mind doing it. But in a place in the Long Earth known simply as "the gap," one mother troll decided she didn't want her cub to be part of an experiment being run by the space program, and attempts to subdue her and take the cub end tragically. And of course, because humans seem to have video of everything and will share anything remotely interesting  as quickly as they can, the video of this incident becomes well-known across the Long Earth, and the result is an almost complete split, with some wanting to protect the trolls and maintain peace with them, and others calling for their subjugation and/or extermination. Sally, a troll sympathizer, goes to Joshua for help, and despite his reluctance, he agrees. Meanwhile, President Crowley has sent out stepping airships across the Long Earth colonies that fall under the jurisdiction of the USA in an attempt to maintain control of them, and also to somewhat deal with the troll issue. And of course Lobsang seems to have his own objective as well, as he continues to recruit his own team and even attempts to get back into Joshua's good graces. With millions upon millions of worlds to explore, there are many opportunities ofr progress, and also for destruction.

Genre, Themes, History: In the first book, just the idea of there being so many alternate "earths" to discover was overwhelming enough. In this second book, it is still overwhelming, but that didn't stop Pratchett and Baxter from going even further with this idea. The Long War is of course a science fiction book, but it takes fear of the unknown and misunderstood, as well as colonization and greed to a whole other level. It is no longer just Lobsang and the Black Corporation that he works with that are interested in exploring the Long Earth. Now the Chinese are getting involved (and I'm assuming other countries as well) and are making their own discoveries. Also, it becomes apparent that each world isn't just slightly different from the Datum, but that some have the capacity to be nothing like anyone has ever seen, and same goes for the life forms that inhabit them. Literally anything is possible. President Crowley back on the Datum is concerned with maintaining control over the colonies associated with the US in order to not suffer a complete economic collapse at home, as well as protect those who chose to remain on the Datum. But like most things, it appears that ultimately, everything about the Long Earth doesn't revolve around human beings and what we think is best for it. These alternate earths have seemingly always existed without us, but now that humanity has started stepping, existence without the Long Earth may no longer be a possibility.

My Verdict: There was certainly some tension regarding the discovery of the Long Earth in the first book, but while there is still a great deal of discovery that takes place in The Long War, Pratchett and Baxter bring the tension to the forefront. Really, my only concern may be that there are too many possibilities for this type of book, as the authors bring up a lot of different storylines in the 400+ pages of this book. I am comforted by the fact that the series may end up being at least five books long, so maybe there will be ample time for everything to get somewhat resolved by the end, but still. It would be one thing if we were following Joshua, Sally, the US military, Lobsang, and the slew of other new characters that were introduced just over the surface of our own world. But we're attempting to follow these people over millions of worlds, all with their own species and ecosystems, a few of which nearly cost Joshua his life. But I suppose that is half the fun isn't it? So many possibilities make the story less predictable, and the adventures can literally go anywhere. I plan to keep up with the series, because at this point I just have to know where Pratchett and Baxter are going with this.

Favorite Moment: When Helen, Joshua's wife, completely lays out a would-be assassin of her husband with one punch to the face. 

Favorite Character: Before I had picked Joshua, who I still like, but I think I will go with Agnes for this book. Sister Agnes was one of the nuns at the home Joshua grew up in before she died. Now, she has been reincarnated (sort of) by Lobsang and is still as awesome and ornery as ever, but with a younger and quicker body. She is just the type who may be able to keep Lobsang in check, and she still doesn't take any nonsense from anyone.

Recommended Reading: Naturally, it would make sense for me to recommend reading The Long Earth before attempting to tackle its sequel. But just as I did a year ago, I will also recommend checking out Segei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series. It's much darker, and it's fantasy instead of science fiction, but it might be worth looking into if you enjoyed The Long War

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