The Long War – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
It’s been ten years since Joshua Valienté returned from his history-making journey across the many sideways worlds of the Long Earth. Humanity has adapted to its 21st century Eden, spreading out wherever they can reach and using the Stepping natives known as trolls for labour. But now ideologies new and old threaten to collide. Tension is rising between the American government and its most distant outposts, an enmity only fuelled by increasing cases of cruelty against the trolls – and while humans argue over the laws of right and wrong, the trolls themselves are beginning to disappear…Joshua is no longer the wanderer of the Long Earth, but it seems that to protect the worlds he loves, he’ll have to return to the one he left behind so very long ago.
I know very little about Stephen Baxter’s work but I admire Terry Pratchett’s enormously and enjoyed their previous collaboration, The Long Earth, so it makes me sad to admit how much I didn’t like this. The concepts established in the first book continue to be rich with possibility, but the plot lacked any sense of direction, the characters had no substance, and the title is deceptive at best. This book is more philosophy than fiction, with extensive exposition slowing down most of the action. It’s clear they intend to continue the series with a third novel, but I doubt I’ll be reading it.
SPOILER: I had particular problems with the character of Sally Linsay. She is presumably supposed to be an admirable character, but keeps doing highly offensive things. She takes every opportunity to belittle and undermine Joshua’s wife Helen; supposedly a passionate proponent of trolls’ rights, she denigrates the kobold Finn McCool every time they’re in the same scene without once noticing her own hypocrisy (Finn McCool, incidentally, was probably my favourite character. Give me a proper storyline about Finn.) She also thinks it’s a good idea to hand over highly advanced weapons technology to a warlike race who actively hate humans and manipulates Joshua to help her with that, leading to his torture and maiming. This is never acknowledged. A similar attitude is taken towards Bill’s deliberate use of Joshua as bait and Lobsang’s unending god complex. And don’t even get me started on ‘sexy native girl’ in Chapter 60 (because of course a woman only has to be told that a man wants sex to throw herself at him!). I expect better than this from Terry Pratchett, much better. Neither author comes off well from The Long War.