Friday, October 10, 2014

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

I am excited to be writing about the third book in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth series, The Long Mars. I am surprised I have been able to keep up with the series thus far, and I plan to keep doing so through all five books. And just like with other series that I write about in the blog, I must put out the usual spoil alert. If you haven't read either The Long Earth or The Long War, and don't want to know any of the details, it is probably best you don't read any further.

The Situation: It the year 2045, five years since the end of The Long War, where the story left off with a massive and catastrophic eruption in Yellowstone Park. Much of Datum Earth, that is the Earth you and I live on in present day 2014, has become uninhabitable due to the ash spewed from the volcano in Yellowstone. Most of the US has evacuated over the Long Earth. And even other countries such as Russia and China have been severely affected, causing them to evacuate as well. Joshua Valiente has become estranged from his family due to an almost innate desire to help with the relief efforts back on the Datum. Commander Maggie Kauffman is once again commanding an expedition to explore the limits of the far Long Earth, taking with her both humans and non humans, as well as a prominent politician. Sally Linsay has been contacted by her long disappeared father and inventor of the stepper box, Willis Linsay. And of course, there is Lobsang, who is still manipulative but well-meaning.

The Problem: It will be years before Datum Earth will be able to recover from the eruption, so people are traveling over the Long Earth in record numbers, filling up already established cities, much to the annoyance of those already there. Joshua is already estranged from his wife and son, and now Lobsang has contacted him in hopes the he can help identify what appears to be a new generation of smarter, wiser human beings. Meanwhile, Sally isn't exactly thrilled to be contacted by her father, knowing he always has an ulterior and self-serving motive for everything he does. And the more questions she asks, the more secrets he seems to keep. And while attempting to maintain peace between those that have join her on her new expedition, Maggie comes across a few of the humans that Lobsang has been wanting to know about. But this new generation isn't the most friendly, and they are different enough that many people are ready to declare that they aren't actually human. But most everyone understands, through the many examples throughout the history of the human race, what events naturally follow when a group of people is demoted out of the human race.

Genre, Themes, History: The Long Mars is the third installment in a science fiction series that explores the possibility of there being many parallel earths, some of which are similar to ours, but many are completely different. This book is the first in the series to explore the idea of there being parallels of other planets in our solar system as well, as is denoted by the title. Much like in The Long War, human beings are still attempting to navigate relationships with other species found on the other earths, and due to some initial transgressions, progress remains slow with many of them. And as if dealing with a new species that looks like nothing we've ever seem before wasn't hard enough, it seems a new type of human being has emerged out of one of the established cities out in the Long Earth. This new human being is not only smarter and wiser, they also know they're smarted and wiser. And the knowledge of being different coupled with the treatment that comes with others recognizing those differences has made many of them hostile and calculating. How these people are treated is really a lesson on how history repeats itself, and how the initial reaction to almost anything or anyone different is usually fear. The book also asks if whether or not a preemptive strike is ever justified. Both sides of the question are heavily debated, and there can be serious consequences to either course of action.

My Verdict: This book is much more interesting and engaging than the second least it was for me. It is always slightly strange for me when there are multiple story lines going on at once and the chapters switch between them, as there are always storylines I want to stay with and know what happens, and others that I prefer weren't even there. And having the Linsay's explore the long worlds of an entirely different planet certainly added an entire new level to the whole story. Naturally, with the possibility of infinite earths there are infinite directions Pratchett and Baxter could take the story. But now there are infinite Mars too. And it stands to reason there could also be infinite Jupiters, Saturns...even infinite versions of our own moon. There are just so many possibilities with this story that predictability is not an issue. If I did have a bone to pick with it, it would be that some details are cleaned up and disposed of a little too easily. Of course, the authors have two more books in which to work everything out, so maybe those details will be dealt with later.

Favorite Moment: When Frank Wood called both Sally and Willis Linsay out as the arrogant loners they are.

Favorite Character: It can be hard a lot of the time to like any of the characters in this series, as they are usually either angsty, arrogant, self-serving, defensive, manipulative, or just stupid and reckless. While Frank Wood isn't less guilty than any of the rest, he does seem to at least have some insight into the Linsays and what is really going on with them. Plus, if I was stuck on some space expedition with the three of them, he is certainly the only one I would trust.

Recommended Reading: Naturally, I recommend both The Long Earth and The Long War. Anyone who enjoys either of the author's precious work will most likely enjoy The Long Earth series.

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