Friday, September 2, 2016

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

At last we finally reach the much anticipated conclusion of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth series. Starting in 2012, a new book in the series was published every year, making The Long Cosmos the fifth and final installment. Readers will get to see where Joshua and Lobsang end up, as well as how the discovery of the Long Worlds ultimately effects every type of being across the universe.

The Situation: It is the year 2070, almost sixty years after the initial Step Day, the day that changed humanity forever. Joshua Valienté is now 70 years old, but refuses to believe he is too old to continue with his old ways and habits. Maybe it is because his ex-wife has died, or because his relationship with his son is more strained than ever, or even because Sally Lindsay is long gone, but Joshua is planning yet another sabbatical on some largely undiscovered world out in the Long Earth. He is well aware of the dangers of going off alone at his age, but he does so anyway, hoping to learn even more about the Long Earth, but ultimately, to just get some time by himself. Meanwhile, something - no one is sure what - has issued an invitation to every living being across the Long Earth that is capable of listening. It is a simple message, made all the more straight-forward in its simplicity: "Join Us."

The Problem: It isn't long that Joshua runs into trouble while out on his own, far away from home, with no one really knowing where he is. A band of helpful trolls are able to offer him some assistance, but their lack of western medicine and food more suited to Joshua's stomach make their attempts at being helpful much appreciated, though largely fruitless. And while Joshua struggles to survive, the rest of humanity grapples with what to do with the strange invitation from the sky. Naturally, the incredibly smart Next population has a plan, although they are just as split on the next course of action as other humans. The military insists on being included in any plans for making contact with whoever issued the invitation, no matter what world in the Long Earth is used to do it. And then of course, as always, there is Lobsang, who naturally comes with his own ideas.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel, and the fifth and final installment in The Long Earth series. What initially started out as a bunch of children almost accidentally "stepping" into an alternate earth, has now lead to whole civilizations spreading out and settling in other worlds, coming into contact with other humanoid species they would have never imagined even existed, and ultimately mining the resources now available to them through this seemingly infinite multitude of other earths. And since The Long Cosmos deals specifically with an invitation from yet another unknown life form, there are many references to the Jodie Foster movie Contact. The message of "Join Us" is straightforward enough, but still lacks the practical details. Who is inviting us? And how are we supposed to join them? These are the questions that bring together groups of people and other beings who normally don't play well together, while also fracturing groups like the Next from within. Some worry that this invitation may prove harmful to humanity, while others are sure it can only be useful, or at the very least, educational. The military insists on overseeing the whole matter as a means of security and protection, while others are only interested from a business and financial standpoint. It is another complication to be dealt with now that humanity has discovered the ability to step from one world to another. Even after 70 years, there is still much the human race has to figure out concerning the Long Earth.

My Verdict: While the book is good, it is far from being my favorite among the series (that honor still goes to The Long Mars, the third book in the series). And it is only somewhat satisfying as a conclusion to the entire series. It felt as if a few of the issues that had persisted throughout the previous four books were dealt with and dismissed a little too quickly early in the book, only to make room for new plot points that would not amount to much before the series ended for good. There are also some loose ends, although I can understand why many of them would be left that way. The constant conflict and tension between the Next and regular humans will always be there for as long as the two groups exist, so it does make sense to have the series end with them working together on one massive project, and with both sides admitting their own flaws and setbacks. Even so, I felt more could have been said regarding not only the future of the Next, but also the trolls, kobolds, and even Lobsang. Granted, any storyline involving something as massive and complex as the Long Earth could literally go in a million different directions, so it would be impossible to explore all of them. The books had to end somewhere. And as for Joshua, his son, Lobsang, Nelson, and Maggie Kaufman, there is some semblance of closure, however obvious it may be that new adventures will always await.

Favorite Moment: When Sancho, Joshua's troll friend, carries him up a massive tree that stands miles high in the air of some distant world. The tree is large enough for beings like the trolls to live comfortable among its branches, as long as they are used to breathing in the thin air.

Favorite Character: Sancho the troll manages to save Joshua's life, and is then invited on the ultimate mission of exploring the Long Earth in a direction that no one had gone before. Though a troll, he is intelligent, and incredibly useful. He even holds the title of "librarian" at one of the universities in the Long Earth.

Recommended Reading: The Long Earth series is certainly one worth picking up. Only five books long, it is what I refer to as 'accessible' science fiction, as in it isn't too over the heads of the less science-minded life myself, and is incredibly imaginative and entertaining.

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