The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The novel “The Long War” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was published for the first time in 2013. It’s the second book of The Long Earth series and follows “The Long Earth“.

Many years after the Step Day, which marked the opening of the Long Earth frontier, humanity has expanded into many parallel universes forming a complex network of communities, sometimes even large, and fleets of airships that maintain contacts. Relationships with Datum Earth are becoming tense because the Americans who staid there want more and more money in taxes from the inhabitants of the other Earths without offering anything in return.

Many communities of Americans who settled on other Earths don’t like their government’s attitude and the pushes towards independence increase. Captain Maggie Kauffman’s mission is to remind all of them of the presence of their government. The situation is made complicated by the presence on many Earths of other intelligent species and their relationship with human beings are not always easy.

In “The Long Earth” the authors told the consequences of the spread of the schemes of the stepper, a device that allowed to step from their Earth, called Datum Earth, to a series of parallel Earths. In “The Long War” they skipped many years forward to tell the ramifications of the changes that occurred after Step Day, when the world discovered the stepper.

Several characters from the first novel return in the second one, starting with Joshua Valienté, who now has a family. Other important characters were created for “The Long War” and reflect the new situation such as Captain Maggie Kauffman, charged by the US President to strengthen contacts with the Americans who settled on other Earths, and various non-human characters.

The journey is still a crucial theme in “The Long War” and in fact there are more characters who travel, each with their own destination and for their own reasons. This marks the main difference from “The Long Earth” but in my opinion it also brings the biggest problems. The first novel had an exploration journey as its main subplot, the second one has various journeys connected to conflicts between various factions of human beings or between humans and other intelligent species living on various Earths.

The emigration of many people to other Earths left on the Datum Earth especially people with a strong connection to it or even with a phobia about stepping. One of the subplots concerns the US government’s decisions to try to get more control, and consequently taxes, on the citizens living in other Earths in contrast with various separatist pushes existing in various communities.

The consequence is that in “The Long War” political and social issues become even more important. Historically, human beings fought to seize limited resources but after Step Day they can move into a number of worlds that could be infinite. Many Americans of Datum Earth think that showing off powerful weapons is still the policy to be adopted to assert their authority and the authors tell the complex relationships with communities that started living following different ideas.

The risk of a war that crosses various Earths is not only between human factions but also with other intelligent species. The authors had already started introducing some of them in “The Long Earth” and in the following years humans’ spreading to many Earths led to new encounters but also caused consequences on interspecies relationships.

All this leads to the development of various subplots with themes that are often interesting but also a fragmentation of the story. The complexity of various situations, in which the solution of the problems tends not to arrive at the first attempt, doesn’t help the reader to keep up with everything that happens. Sometimes it seems that the authors tried to offer a big picture of the Long Earth as if it were a mosaic but showing only a few pieces, however important, and of those they show one at a time.

In particular, the parts of the plot linked to other intelligent species often suffer from the fact that the motives behind their behavior must be understood through a few details. Some interspecies relationships are influenced by specific events but the readers have to continuously switch among them and try to follow them all.

Lobsang’s journey is added to all of that, connected to the Black Corporation’s activities. In “The Long War” he has a new travel companion but his story reflects the story’s fragmentation because there are several copies of it. There are still various mysteries around Lobsang and the Black Corporation but he explicitly states that his is a long-term work so at least in his case it’s clear that in this novel there’s only a part of his story.

Perhaps a second novel in the series set a few years after the end of the first one would’ve been better. Giving more space to the introduction of other species, to the building of human communities on various Earths and to the development of the protagonists’ stories might’ve helped. In this way, the authors could’ve subsequently focus on the events of “The Long War” avoiding some plot cluttering.

“The Long War” also ends with an important event and therefore without a real ending. It contains various interesting themes but there’s really too much for a single novel and something remains sacrificed, such as the development of various characters. In my opinion it’s still interesting but read it without too many expectations.

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