The explosion of the Yellowstone supervolcano devastated North America with global consequences. The migration to other worlds of the Long Earth had a remarkable peak, bringing further changes to humanity. A new expedition aims to explore the Long Earth by going further than ever, finding worlds that are profoundly different from Datum Earth.
Years after the catastrophe, some children start showing intellectual skills superior to those of any human being. Growing up, they start working together and this causes the first serious reactions from common humans. The options under discussion are different but there are some people who want the genocide of this new species.
Willis Linsay contacts his daughter Sally to propose to accompany him on a very special expedition: not yet another journey in the worlds of the Long Earth but in one of the parallel universes in which Mars is habitable and the observations revealed life signs. The Long Mars, with a remarkable diversity between barren worlds and few ones that are alive, becomes for some explorers a further frontier.
In 1999, Larry Niven published the novel “Rainbow Mars”, the story of a journey on an alternative Mars inhabited by characters created by writers between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The idea was born in collaboration with Terry Pratchett but was eventually developed by Niven, who was credited as the only author. Somehow Pratchett took up the idea of an alternate Mars in the Long Earth series, applying it to some worlds of the Long Mars quite different from the red planet we know.
Actually, despite the title, the story of the expedition to Mars is just one of the stories of the novel, in which it’s alternated with the story of another expedition that travels through many millions of worlds of the Long Earth and the one linked to a new human species, in which there is the involvement of Joshua Valienté, who has been one of the protagonists since the beginning of the series.
The different plots have some points of contact but while reading them the general feeling I had is that they’re separate stories to which the authors have created some links to justify the classification of “The Long Mars” as a novel. They did it mainly thanks to characters who appear in different plots, less with a continuity of the story from one plot to another. This fragmentation is in my opinion even more problematic because it’s stressed by a journey that crosses many millions of worlds of the Long Earth and some of the Long Mars.
Perhaps the idea of the alternative Mars came from Terry Pratchett but Stephen Baxter also wrote stories with alternate worlds in his Manifold trilogy in the past. In fact, reading “The Long Mars” the impression is that it’s a Baxter novel for some characteristics, starting with the description of various exotic life forms encountered both on the Long Earth and on the Long Mars. The scientific speculations used to hypothesize different paths that evolution on Earth could take and the possible Martian life forms are typical of hard science fiction of which Baxter is one of the main writers.
Especially in the story about the exploration of the Long Earth, there are only a few information about each of the exotic biospheres that are encountered. Things are better in the story set on the Long Mars but the room for details is still limited and sometimes it seems almost a secondary story despite the novel’s title.
The theme of the exploration journey is still very strong in “The Long Mars” but the story of the new human species also proposes again the theme of the encounter with the diverse. In the first two novels of the series, the characters met other sentient species living in other worlds of the Long Earth, in this case they’re children of human beings. They’re very young but in the future they could become leaders, and for this reason in some ways someone considers them a greater threat than other sentient species. It’s a story that still has room for development.
The various stories of “The Long Mars” offer sense-of-wonder and some food for thought, but the narrative fragmentation really doesn’t help. If you’re interested in these themes, you might like it.