The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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

The novel “The Long Cosmos” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was published for the first time in 2016. It’s the fifth book of The Long Earth series and follows “The Long Utopia“.

In 2070, humanity is fragmented into many groups, large and small, scattered over a lot of parallel Earths. However, all over the Long Earth comes a message which, through various means, says “Join us” and is addressed to all sentient beings. Encoded, there’s a much more sophisticated message that contains a huge blueprint that could change the Long Earth.

Joshua Valient√© is on one of his solitary journeys but ends up in a situation that could cost him his life. He gets rescued by a group of trolls but the complications don’t end for him and on the contrary, extend to his son Rod.

“The Long Cosmos” is the final novel in a series born from a collaboration of two very different authors that has increasingly become the work of Stephen Baxter due to Terry Pratchett’s health problems that led to his death in 2015. In an introduction to this final book, Baxter recalls some exchanges of ideas he had with Pratchett in which they put together various ideas for the whole series. However, the readers who know the two authors can see that Baxter’s hand becomes predominant in the later books.

The initial premise of the parallel Earths was expanded over the course of the series and “The Long Cosmos” is based on a message reaching the Long Earth, presumably sent by unknown aliens. It could be an attempt to end the series with a bang using events that change the history of humanity once again. In this case, the message is sent to all sentient species living on the Long Earth, so its importance goes far beyond humanity.

The problem is that this plot creates expectations that ultimately left me rather disappointed. I wonder if the original project included a sixth book with further development that was never written. Maybe the problem is simply that my expectations were wrong.

In the previous novels, the authors got us used to have different subplots that sometimes intertwined in various ways, giving in some cases the impression of being anthologies masked by exploiting the common setting. “The Long Cosmos” has the advantage that the different stories converge until the ending focused on the consequences of the alien message.

A subplot of this novel is centered on Joshua Valienté which is about his personal story and new encounters with other characters who are important in the series such as Lobsang. Unfortunately, his adventures only occasionally seemed interesting and showed above all that Joshua was now too old to travel on his own.

Joshua Valient√© has been a protagonist of the series since the beginning but a part of his story seemed like a filler to me. It’s an impression given by a number of subplots of the later novels in a series that probably would have been better as a trilogy without those fillers. It’s easy to think that Terry Pratchett’s health decline negatively impacted the development of this series too.

The Long Earth series was characterized by a fragmentation of the developed plots and themes. Adding something new to each book is good but in my opinion, that wasn’t enough to cover up the flaws. The readers who appreciate the constant changes or simply want to complete the series might as well read “The Long Cosmos”.

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