The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
There aren’t many books still to come with the name Terry Pratchett emblazoned on the front and each one is a treasure. The Long Earth series has been a slightly uneven one, but The Long Utopia is thankfully the most coherent since the first, being the first novel in the series not to be focused on a big adventure into the unknown, telling a complete story instead.
Picking up a few years after the end of The Long Mars, Willis Linsays space elevator technology has been released and the great cities of the ravaged Datum Earth have become even less relevant. Lobsang, tired of contemplating existence on a massive scale, fakes his death to live life as a human, alongside his resurrected nun partner Agnes and an adopted child in a distant settlement known as New Springfield. Things aren’t as they seem, with strange and intelligent creatures being sighted which have hitherto never been seen in the Long Earth and bizarre changes to natural rhythms of the planet. Forces from across the Long Earth are summoned to investigate to get to the core of what is going on.
The weakness of this series has long been it’s propensity to run a series of parallel storylines which do not interact or intersect. They may be entertaining enough, but they make the books feel incoherent and vague; it’s difficult to pin down what exactly The Long War or The Long Mars are actually about. The Long Utopia isn’t like that, with all the subplots revolving around the core mystery of New Springfield, which is a much better approach. That central story is really enjoyable and I’m looking forward to seeing where the series ends up at the end.
The humour is a bit lacking in this one and it’s difficult to shake the feeling that we’re reading a book which is much more Stephen Baxter than Terry Pratchett. With Pratchett’s illness, I suspect that Baxter was doing the majority of the work here and although he does a good job, I prefer the sardonic and humane style that made Pratchett so special. The big ideas are big but don’t come alive necessarily due to the prose, but more because of the sheer imagination behind it.
The story is more epic than intimate, with even characters we’ve spent four books with not feeling particularly familiar, perhaps with the exception of Lobsang. Despite being our protagonist for four books now, I don’t feel like I particularly have a grip on Joshua Valiente, which may be intentional but does end up making this book feel a little impersonal.
The Long Utopia improves on the flaws of It’s predecessors and delivers the strongest entry in the series since the first. This series is never going to be considered among either author’s best, but it’s an enjoyable curiosity nonetheless and I’m looking forward to seeing how the whole thing wraps up.