Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter returned to their sci-fi multiverse odyssey in 2014 with The Long Mars, the third book in the series, which began with The Long Earth back in 2012. Taking the thought experiment to the red planet and back again it manages to add even more conceptually imaginative layers to the overarching storyline. There’s a bit more excitement and action than in the previous novel, but it’s let down slightly by the plot contrivances that the authors have built up in the third entry with a number of the story arcs feeling forced at times.
It picks up where things left off at the end of The Long War, so if you haven’t read that yet, or the first book in the series, you might want to stop reading now to prevent reading any spoilers on the previous books. While the last book didn’t really live up to its title all that much, with barely the threat of looming warfare, let along a long one, the third installment definitely delivers a stepwise Mars and this makes for some of the coolest section of the book.
With the Datum Earth in turmoil, Joshua, Sally, Lobsang and Sister Agnes start out by pitching in to help the people in the thick of the disaster at Yellowstone Park in their own different ways before dispersing again into the long earth. For Sally it’s a reunion with her dad on a crazy adventure to Mars via the space link through the gap, but for the rest of them it’s a challenge a little closer to home as Lobsang’s predictions about a new evolution of man.
While none of the development jar when you look at them in general, the build up and delivery of them can come across as being a bit on the clumsy side. The situation on the long Mars with Sally is one of the best new directions the series has taken, and it builds things up for more outer space action later on in the series. However, it does contort itself to contrive the appearance of a menacing threat, which could have been realised better with a bit more subtlety. While this is to emphasise the importance of consequences, which is credible in itself, it was just too blatant as a plot device, especially as it appears out of nowhere when they finally found what they’d been searching for.
The dialogue can also grate at times too, in particular when the two older authors have tried to write in the young and super smart Next characters. It’s kind of unusual for the duo, having started things off with youth so well in the opening novel, but they just seem out of touch. There’s also a lot of inconsistency with their inclusion as they’re bested all too easily at every turn, in spite of their crazy super intelligence.
Looking back on our review, we’ve blasted out more than a few negatives at The Long Mars, but it’s not without its positive, not least of all the sheer geeky delight of all the crazy theoretical science that has been crammed into its confines. Action on Mars is a big part of this, along with the existing multiverse concept of the series, and it’s got good humour and doesn’t fall foul of being as fantastically focused as The Long War is at times.
One thing you’ll need to get used to when reading this or any one of The Long Earth books is the rapid fire and sometimes jarring juxtaposition of narrative between characters, locations and timescales. This gives you a bit of a challenge in keeping up with what the hell is going on in the mind fuzz of the books zig-zagging steps. Most of the time this is fun in itself, but every now and again it can get washed away as you skim the jumps without necessarily staying hooked.
The Long War keeps the story of the series moving forward as we get further and further away from Datum Earth and the big discovery on Step Day. It was initially released on hardback, ebook and audio book on the 19th June 2014 before going on to arrive in paperback recently on the 9th April 2015. While it’s not without its negatives, it does add even more interest to the sci-fi series from Stephen Baxter and the late, great Terry Pratchett.
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, The Long War review: 3.5/5