The third “Long” novel from this collaboration is an improvement on the second effort. The content and style of it seems to be more Baxter than Pratchett – the latter’s hand is clear in the Lobsang episodes but it seems the waning powers of the author have meant Baxter has taken a lead on this latest effort. It is heavier on the science fiction, with lighter touches on brow-breaking philosophy…a subject matter Pratchett indulged in with his last Discworld novel – Raising Steam.
This novel is all about “Evolution”. It takes three main routes post Yellowstone super-caldera: the first a decision for the inaugural Unites States of Step-wise America to head to East 250 million; the second a change for Sally and her dad, Willis, to fly over to Gap Mars and then step a few million Mars East; the third the spasm of evolution that is the “Next” – think ‘Tomorrow People’ or a proper Homo Sapiens if you will. The rest of us all are just dimbulbs, after all.
The first effort is a chance for us to follow the author’s own Star Trek notion. This time Captain Maggie is off with the cat Shi-mi, Mac, and Snowy the Beagle to discover more and more bands of worlds dominated by crustaceans, purple algae, and acid-developed life-forms amongst many other matters. It’s a true voyage of discovery for those who love the whole “Captain Cook” nature of these novels.
The second effort means we follow the unlikeable, dour Sally as she floats off with her Dad and Frank to Gap Mars, then heads East to find a Joker Mars with a civilisation. The arrogance of her father backfires slightly on this trip…they should really have adhered to the Star Trek tenet of “non-interference” but this gives the authors a chance to inject some action into the story whilst inserting their own version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 monolith.
Both trips are East…clearly the West steps are being saved for later novels.
The final journey is back on Madison 5 and Happy Landings. A group of young people – who were hinted at with Roberta Golding in the previous novel – have emerged as a new homo species with accelerated cerebral cortices. Speaking their own language, understanding everything much faster, yet without experience, they are seeking their own home. The journey here is pretty much X-Men…and humanity’s reaction to a same species/genus ‘threat’. Joshua Valienté steps in and a decision to wipe them out is stopped giving them the chance to head off into the realms of another novel.
This book is all about growth, all about exploration, all about potential. It’s also an improvement on book two as it’s more purposeful, more inventive….more hard science fiction than aimless fantasy. I get the feeling that Baxter took the lead on this one and the rhythm of the story is much better handled, despite the genius of Pratchett. As Mac opined:
“Who would ever have imagined that life even without the power of oxygen was capable of such beauty, such inventiveness of design?”
Indeed. Let’s see more inventiveness on the Long Universe, Mr Baxter and Mr Pratchett….
Categories: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter