The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
The Long Earth was a slightly muddled novel, but it was carried by the strength of its ideas and compelling central conceit, as well as being anchored by the compelling central journey of Joshua and Lobsang. The Long War still has a lot of that brilliance, but it’s even more muddled, and lacks the impact of the original.
The Long War takes place ten years after the end of The Long Earth and the destruction of Madison by anti-stepper terrorists. The Long Earth of America has expanded further, with the new city of Valhalla forming as a central hub many thousands of steps from the Datum. Sick of the interference of the US Government, Valhalla releases a new Declaration of Independence from the US, prompting a mission from the Datum through the Long Earth to quell rebellion. Meanwhile, following terrible mistreatment at the hands of humans, the trolls are leaving human colonies, leaving some to realise how much they are needed. Joshua is recruited by Lobsang to find where the trolls have fled to, and persuade them to come back to the fold.
Simply put, there’s too much damn stuff going on in The Long War. A lot of that stuff is good, but it’s muddled, and too many plot lines are included. Now, I don’t mind a wide plot at all, but pretty much all of them involve some kind of journey through the Long Earth, from Joshua’s trip to find the trolls to a young woman’s trip East with the Chinese. I reckon there are about five different journey narratives, and they begin to roll into one. The first book had lots of snippets from other characters as well, but the focus was very much on Joshua, but that focus is lost in The Long War. There’s a lot of good stuff here, easily enough to make me want to come back for the next one, I just hope that The Long Mars is a bit more focused.
Still, that imagination that made the first one so great is still there, and Pratchett and Baxter’s hypothetical future remains as well developed and intriguing as ever. It’s a fair bit darker than the previous book, and has quite a depressing outlook on the general cruelty and stupidity of humanity. The tone works though, managing to be faintly depressing without being maudlin or lacking the moments of levity key to any good book.
Lobsang is still the star of the bunch, although his role is slightly diminished in The Long War. One of the more interesting characters is Nelson, the South African priest who played a very minor role in The Long Earth, who rises to a greater position of prominence in the sequel. Overall though, everything is just slightly too spread thin to really allow for decent characterisation. Most of the characters are likeable, but few manage to shine beyond that, although some of the non-human characters are interesting and amusing.
This review probably reads like I didn’t enjoy The Long War; I actually really did, but it’s a frustrating book nonetheless. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, but it’s an absolute mess, and a lot of the impact is lost. Look, if you liked The Long Earth, this is still definitely worth a read, just be prepared for a rather chaotic journey.