Review of ‘The Long War’ by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

images The problem with creating a science fiction “opportunity” such as the one the Long Earth presents is that you need a space opera to do it justice. When “The Long Earth” came out with its Pratchett notion of a potato inspired device (quickly forgotten in this latest because it was a tad too ridiculous) that gave rise to an infinite series of earths for humanity to expand into, it created a vast series of options for the authors to explore.So vast, in fact, they’ve fallen short with this latest, directionless effort. All it has done, in truth, is show the brilliance of the idea (though rehashed somewhat – see Greg Bear’s ‘Eon’) and the incapacity of the authors to deal with it. The reality is the concept needs Peter F Hamilton to do it justice. The vastness of the new world of Datum East/West requires more words than these authors are prepared to throw at it and this sequel flounders in a mire of nothingness.

Part of the problem is Joshua Valienté’s weary inclusion –  it’s almost as though the character isn’t interested; part of the problem is the character of Sally – she’s intensely dislikeable; part of the problem is that Lobsang’s not in it enough; the whole of the problem is nothing gets the detail it deserves. We’ve too many threads fighting for four hundred pages of large print space and no one’s a winner. As a reader I want to investigate more about the culture of Trolls, of Kobolds, of Beagles; I want a thorough story following Capt. Maggie on her personal starship Enterprise with the Cat; I need Joshua to be kicked in the backside to show some enthusiasm; I want the gifted Roberta and her Chinese expedition to get ten times the airtime. The whole East twenty million voyage is begging for a juicy hook to yank the reader. The disappearance of the Trolls (yet they are too easy to find) is casually handled; the chewing off of Joshua’s appendage unexplained; the “war” that is the title is merely an apologetic after-note of vapid inconsequentialness scrawled in the final chapters. I’ve seen more fight in the Norse Sagas on Valhalla than I saw in this book.

I was disappointed. The concept of stepping into an alternative reality is handled better by the likes of S M Stirling. He devotes a trilogy to just one “step” and you can see why. The creation of four million worlds needs four million pages, in truth. Pratchett and Baxter have created something too big to handle – and this is coming from two of the very best authors out there. I’ve read nearly everything these two authors have ever produced. They have all the kudos they deserve for they are very, very good at what they do. But…it’s possible for even the very best to produce a poor book…and this might just well be a nadir for them. I hope the next is better. In summary…The Long Earth was great; The Long War…disappointing.

Categories: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

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