The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
After a really strong debut for the series with The Long Earth, I wasn’t quite so enamoured with the follow up, The Long War. It was with a pinch of trepidation that I started The Long Mars, the third in the series, but thankfully this is a much stronger book than the previous one, even if it has some of the same issues of focus and overall narrative coherence.
Following the eruption of Yellowstone at the end of The Long War, people have fled Datum Earth in greater numbers than ever before, with the United States relocating their seat of government several steps west. Five years later, Joshua, estranged from his family, is recruited once again by Lobsang, who has deduced the existence of a higher form of human which has evolved in the Long Earth, seeking his help in finding them. Meanwhile, Maggie Vasquez, the captain of the twain Neil Armstrong II, is sent deep into the Long Earth with two missions; to go further West than anyone else has before and to discover what happened to the Neil Armstrong I. The third main arc is the one that gives the novel it’s title; Sally Lindsey is recruited by her father, Willis Lindsay, the creator of the Stepper Box, to travel across the Gap to explore the Long Mars and hopefully find sentient life.
Once again, the plot feels slightly unfocused. Although Joshua and Maggie’s stories link, the Mars story arc is very distinct from the rest of the book. It opens the doorway for some interesting developments in future books though, so I guess that’s something. The main reason The Long Mars succeeds where The Long War didn’t is that it manages to recapture that sense of wonder and awe which made the first one so good. Each of the books has contained a journey through the Long Earth, basically as an excuse to show us as much weird stuff as possible, but here this feels a little less contrived than it did in the previous book. Long story short, I enjoyed The Long Mars the whole way through.
The differences between the Pratchett and Baxter sections have grown starker. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t help the lack of cohesiveness which is becoming the biggest issue with this series. Individually though, both are on top form, with Baxter’s focus on slightly harder science fiction contrasting well with Pratchett’s sharp wit.
There’s not much in the way of character development for the main leads, although Lobsang remains comfortably the best character. Lobsang’s relationship with humanity is beautifully explored, although not necessarily as much as I would have liked. He’s a very odd character and a brilliant one. He’s also used relatively sparingly since the first book, which is probably for the best to keep a sense of mystery surrounding the character.