The Long War

The Long War by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter, published by Random House Australia
The Long War by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter, published by Random House Australia

This is the second novel in the The Long Earth series by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter, the fictional multiverse where you can step into a new world uninhabited by humans using a Stepper, with new worlds extending for (perhaps) infinity in two directions. Each world is different from the last, and there are other humanoid creatures out there. The last book finished with an atomic bomb going off in the Datum (original) earth in Madison, just as our protagonist Joshua returned from a journey in the Long Earth with an artificial intelligence, Lobsang. Overall the book was decent, there were some interesting themes, and I like the idea of the world. It’s not perfect, but I’m more than happy to continue reading the series.

The main premise of this novel is the fall out of human and ‘troll’ relationships. As oft repeated in human history when one group can dominate over another, things don’t go so well. And that’s the case with the trolls. People take advantage of them, which the trolls seem reasonably amiable about (they’re happy to work hard) but then we go a step too far. For instance, as the book starts out, trying to send a baby troll through to ‘The Gap’ (where there is no Earth just space) as an experiment. The mother was there at the time, and obviously did not want to do it, despite there being a spacesuit on the troll, so he should have been fine. The troll mother, Mary, made obvious signs of refusal, “I will not”, using a sign language that had been developed. And so escalates the troll-humanity problem.

I did find the title a little much. It sounds so ominous and fierce, but a war, I’m not sure that one even fully happened. Like sure the Datum government became quite threatening to the Long Earths and screwed them over, and then sent out war ships to Vahalla (the new Long Earth hub out beyond 1 million West) when they wanted to be independent. But no battle took place. Sure there was the troll-human issue, but again not really much of a war. So I guess my preconception that it was going to be a battle filled war was wrong, and instead it was more like ‘the war on drugs’, with perhaps even less violence.

Our hero Joshua has settled down in the intervening years, at Hell-Knows-Where, married Helen one of the pioneers mentioned in the previous book (she had the diary). And they’ve had a few children. His relationship with Sally Linsay is strained because his wife doesn’t take to her too much and is a bit jealous. And then his relationship with Lobsang is frosty. Josh blames him for not preventing the nuclear explosion, which “killed” his old friend Sister Agnes (we find out that Lobsang converts her into another body). And of course Joshua has to save the day again, and repair the Troll-human relations, as the Trolls have had enough and are leaving.

I found the book interesting, and I really do love the concept, but it’s execution is not amazing. Perhaps because it jumps around a lot to various people for short amounts of time, the connection isn’t made. Or it’s the writing style which doesn’t feel that engaging. Or maybe it’s that while they do a lot, not that much happens which is shocking or really eventful, it’s a little monotonous. I’ve heard a lot of comments that Prachett is usually really funny, and I got that from Good Omens, but here, not so much. I expect a bit more. I don’t think I’m quite as harsh as other reviewers who have read a lot of Prachett, since I haven’t, but I do certainly understand where they are coming from. I even found that there weren’t really any stand out quotes to be taken from the book, or its contemporary, despite making an effort to be on the lookout.

I’m quite interested to see where they continue to take it in the next two sequels, and I will certainly read them. I’m just not blown away by them, which is okay.

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