Friday, September 18, 2015

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

I am excited to cover the fourth installment of The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The Long Utopia continues the story of Joshua Valiente, Sally Linsay, and of course, Lobsang. Other characters that have come along across the previous three books also make their appearance, as well as some new faces that have their own place in the ongoing discovery about the Long Earth and what access to potentially millions of other worlds will do for, or to, humanity.

The Situation: It is now the middle of the 21st century, not that many years since the events of The Long Mars. Sally has once again lost track of her father, and has continued stepping across the Long Earth on her own. Joshua has also decided to go it alone, even as his son grows up into a young man without him. And for once, Lobsang is trying his best not to be Lobsang, even allowing himself to die, although not completely of course. The are multiple copies of himself. So under the name of George Abraham, he and Agnes adopt a child and decide to settle in a pioneering community called New Springfield, a place that Sally picked out for them, on an Earth over a million worlds away from the one you and I know. Here they pretend to be any other small family deciding to step out into the Long Earth and try their hand at farming and building a simple life together.

The Problem: The world of West 1,217,756 isn't quite like its neighbors. Many of he worlds have some odd quirk about them, while others are simply referred to as "jokers" and are best to be avoided if at all possible. But for the most part, West 1,217,756 appears much like any other Earth. However, Agnes is having a difficult time sleeping, feeling as if the days are almost too short in New Springfield. Not wanting to alarm Lobsang, or George, and cause him to go back to his old ways, she conducts her own crude experiments that confirm her fears. Plus, there is a strange presence one of the children has discovered: a bizarre species of metal beetle-like creatures that have an entire underground network beneath one of the abandoned houses. The creatures seem nice enough, and don't appear to be threatened or threatening. But once Lobsang becomes aware of them, he enlists the help of Joshua to find out what exactly is going on, and what these beetles are up to. It becomes clear that not only do they have something to do with the shortening of the days, but Sally may have known all about it when she chose this world as George and Agnes' new home.

Genre, Themes, History: As I mentioned, this is the fourth in what is to be a five-book science fiction series. Even with the sad passing of Pratchett earlier this year, Baxter will be able to finish out the series, which fortunately only has one more book to go before its conclusion. An ongoing theme across the entire The Long Earth series has been one of exploration and even colonization. In The Long Utopia, people are continuing to settle onto other Earths, especially now that the Datum, the original, is nearly uninhabitable after a catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone. There are even different types of settlers. Some move out into the Long Earth and settle permanently. While others, mostly of the younger generation, shun the idea of farming and working the land, and instead move across the Long Earth from season to season, living off of whatever Earth they come to as they go. And then there are those like Joshua and Sally who prefer to mostly explore alone, for better or for worse. This is also the first book to go deeper into not only Joshua's mysterious family history, but the history of all natural steppers.

My Verdict: This is the first book in The Long Earth series that made me think that maybe five books won't be enough. I usually avoid picking up a series as I mostly don't have the patience. But knowing that there were only going to be five books, and that each one wasn't going to be all that long, I decided to try it and stick with it. With everything that happens in The Long Utopia, and all of the time that has to be skipped in order to get to certain events, it maybe would have been beneficial to even stretch this series to seven books. And it isn't just the time jumping. There are also characters that are introduced and will seemingly be a focal point, at least for this novel. But then they are hastily pushed to the background as there just isn't any time to spend on them because there are other plot points to get to. Sometimes things felt rushed, and sometimes the amount of detail and characterization was just right. But by the end, I did wonder about certain characters that had disappeared over 20 chapters ago. I'll have to wait for the fifth book to see if few loose ends will be tied up, or just cut off completely. Other than that, it was another interesting story about the potential possibilities that would come with having an endless amount of worlds to discover. And this time it wasn't so much about humanity going out, as it was about something else possibly closing in.

Favorite Moment: When the incredibly intelligent, and incredibly condescending, members of The Next are outsmarted and rejected by someone they attempt to recruit. 

Favorite Character: The reincarnation of Agnes is someone I wouldn't mind being neighbors with in a far off settlement in the Long Earth. She may be older, but she has seen a lot, and will take none of Lobsang's nonsense, which is exactly the type of person he needs around.

Recommended Reading: While I naturally recommend reading all previous books of The Long Earth series (The Long Earth, The Long War, and The Long Mars), parts of this book also reminded me a bit of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and the ongoing fear of a battle with the buggers.

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