The Long Mars
Terry Prachett and Steven Baxter
Review by Richard Saar
Damn, I've done it again! I've bought a book that's in the middles of a series… I really enjoy book series; they just give the reader so much more time to develop lasting attachments to the characters and allows the writer to create new world’s in much more depth.
So, I always try and start them at book one… not this time though, in what seems to be a bad habit forming; impulse purchases at airport book concessions with the pressure of imminent boarding. I only realised the The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is actually the third book in The Long Earth series when I sat down at my seat... I guess that's the perils of purchasing books in a hurry… plan ahead people!
Terry Pratchett, who’s now sadly no longer with us, is an author that I've been aware of for decades, yet I've never taken the plunge and read one of his many, many books. They just didn’t seem quite my style. On the other hand, Stephen Baxter is an author I’m quite familiar with, having read a number of his books over the years. The combination of these two well-known authors was something that really sparked my interest.
The Long Mars is based in the not too distant where humanity has discovered that our Universe is not the only one; the Earth and Universe we live in, is only one of an infinite number of Universes and Earths.
Revealed in the first two books, a small percentage of humanity discover the ability to step between the Universes by themselves. Now anyone can do it with the use of steppers that allow movement of not only people, but vehicles and goods between universes. When you step, you stay in geographically the same place and the next Earth over will differ only very slightly from the one next door… however, go out a million steps from the Earth and it’s a vastly different place, sometimes completely uninhabitable. This is the Long Earth.
The one constant is that Humans seem not to have evolved on any other Earth, so the un-spoilt and empty Earths a few steps away are a gift for humanity dealing with the environmental disaster of the Yellowstone super volcano erupting and devastating the original Earth or Datum Earth as it’s now called.
Phew…did you get all of that?
This would have made more sense to me if I had read the first two books, however after a little bit of a confusing time in the first 50 pages it all made sense to me eventually. I’m not saying you must read the first two books before diving into the Long Mars, I’m just saying it would help, but the book can stand alone.
So, the titular Long Mars is only one of the threads of this book. Here we follow the story of Sally Linsay, one of the main characters in the series who is contacted by her Father for the first time in many years. Her Father is the man that announced stepping to the world at large and in this one act ruined Sally’s career as an Astronaut as humanity left the stars behind to explore the new Earths. Their relationship is not a good one. He wants Sally to go with him to Mars to start stepping into the long Mars on the wild theory that on one mars intelligent life must have existed, Sally being largely redundant as an Astronaut is uniquely qualified to take the trip, not that she really wants too.
We also follow US Navy Commander Maggie Kauffman who along with her crew in a highly advanced military airship, is tasked with going as far from Datum Earth as possible to explore what is out there… millions of steps in fact until there is something to report. This is actually a fascinating storyline as we discover countless variations of the Earth and some of them are truly bizarre.
Finally, what feels like the most important storyline, we follow Joshua Valiente who was born on another Earth when his mother, a natural stepper, left Earth when she was pregnant. Joshua is also one of the lead characters of the series. He is trying to uncover and work with humans who have started to evolve differently from the rest, vastly most intelligent and with a natural affinity for stepping. Unfortunately, government and military powers have also discovered these “Next” humans as they call themselves, and believe they pose a threat. So, Joshua is in race to save them from a war they already knew was coming and must try to stop both sides from escalating it.
The Long Mars certainly packs a lot in it, and therein is one of the problems, by necessity the characters get drawn a bit thin, as we’re switching between story arcs, we never really have time to get into any one storyline or character too deeply… you sort of just skip along the surface for the most part. I think that may be by design, it does feel like the journeys are supposed to be at the fore more than the characters within them.
Make no mistake the book is very well written and the world in which we inhabit shows the benefits of a book series, the authors have lots of time to really develop the universe, I just wish there was that much care taken on the characters that inhabit the universe. However, that’s just a small gripe and I don’t want to overstate it as I genuinely enjoyed the book, it moves fast and holds your interest.
I will definitely be going back to pick up The Long Earth and The Long War so I can develop a better sense of how the story started, I’ll just treat them like prequels… hopefully the good kind like Hugh Howie’s excellent Shift and opposed to Star Wars Ep 1-3!
Source: Bought from a real Book Store
IBR Rating: ★★★★
Recommendation: It’s a unique take on the multiverse theory with the additions of alien civilizations and super evolved humans to boot, in fact it’s got everything a good sci-fi book should have, how can you be disappointed with that!?