The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
The Long Earth has been a strange little series. In some ways the scale is grander than anything else imaginable, but the events that take place are often smaller and gentle. Moments of extreme peril are rare and when they do take place the horrors are rarely dwelt upon. This has made the series frustrating at times, but the raw imagination and genuine optimism about the human spirit makes this a series hard not to like. The Long Cosmos does not offer a massive blowout conclusion, but that’s never been what this series is about.
The Long Cosmos takes place decades after Step Day; a mysterious message from the stars has arrived and been decoded as ‘Join Us.’ Now known as the Invitation, this message was not only received by humans, but by the trolls through their long call as well as the super intelligent Next. Groups from across the Long Earth gather to work out how to respond, or even if they should. A range of familiar characters play a role, from Joshua Valiente, now in his 60s, setting forth on another adventure to Nelson Azinkiwe, who discovers that he fathered a son during the events of The Long War and sets out to find him on the Traverser known as Second Person Singular.
The Long Cosmos is just as gentle and oddly relaxing as the previous books. This series is at its best when it’s a travelogue, pure worldbuilding as the authors take us through their strange and wonderful new worlds. Things begin to fall apart when actual plot is involved, with a story which never quite feels like a finale. It could be argued that the authors are simply being consistent with the rest of the series, but I think something more of a climax than this would have benefitted the book. The worldbuilding is damn good in this book too, with some of the weirdest and most magical stuff in the Long Earth held back for this book.
I never really grew to love any characters in this series, although I was rather fond of Lobsang, the Tibetan motorcycle repair man turned AI demi-god. He’s on good form here, as is Nelson Azikiwe, the intriguing priest and friend of Lobsang. Still, I can’t say I’m hugely going to miss many of these characters. The thing I will miss is never seeing any more weird and wonderful planets of the Long Earth.
The Long Cosmos is, in some ways, the perfect end to the series, summing up as it does both the strengths and the flaws of this odd little series. I never waited on bated breath for the next book, but always enjoyed them when I did read them. My pool of books to read with Terry Pratchett on the front is diminishing and that is utterly tragic.