Jun 29, 2016

[Books] The Long Utopia

A trilogy has become the more common long story format for genre fiction. Whether we're talking about a series of books or a series of movies, there's something that feels right about them coming in sets of three. Many of the former Expanded Universe (now Legends) Star Wars novels were all mapped out as trilogies, in the grand tradition of the movies that kicked off the franchise.

The Long Earth series of novels was mapped out as a series composed of five books, which is definitely not that common a number for books. And given a story about near-infinite Earths, you'd think that there'd be a lot of stuff to write about. And with The Long Mars, we were then introduced to the possibility of a near-infinite iterations of Mars that were not in-sync with the Long Earth iterations.

It's interesting to note that Sir Terry Pratchett was still actively involved with the writing of these books almost to the very end. It's a big part of the reason that I continue to read these books and hope for the best of things.

Synopsis: The Long Utopia is the fourth book in the Long Earth series of science fiction novels. All books in the series were written by Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

The story begins with a little interlude involving other children of the Long Earth discovering something strange - instead of the usual East and West directions of stepping, they somehow managed to go in a completely new direction that could only be described as something like North or South. And stepping in this manner leads them to discover an alien world covered by human-sized silver beetles who are busy laboring on some monumental task.

In other parts of the Long Earth, Joshua has separated from his wife and spends long stretches of time on sabbaticals deep in the Long Earth. And with his 50th birthday quickly upon him, he decides to go on a spiritual journey of sorts back towards the Datum. Shortly after, Lobsang has a spiritual moment of his own and decides to self-terminate his artificial existence. Of course he has another plan, but at the very least it represents Lobsang withdrawing from his former self-appointed role as a sort of guardian of the Long Earth. But trouble always a way of finding our protagonists.

I suppose the introduction of an alien race was inevitable. We had already seen Mars and its weird forms of life and the progression of the story only really had one logical place to go. At first it was a weird angle that didn't seem all that engaging, but in the long run it did provide a nice avenue for exploring some classic science fiction ideas in term of how an alien species might choose to expand across the universe.

The Joshua story starts out rather emo and it goes in weird places when we suddenly go into flashbacks that trace the history of natural steppers and how they were involved in various historical events going as far back as the early world wars. I sue this all might have been fascinating as a standalone short story as a sort of companion to the whole thing, but including all of it in this book just felt like a distraction that took us away from the action involving the protagonists of the book.

There's also the return of the Next in terms of involvement in things but not necessarily returning to live with their less evolved cousins. I guess we all should have expected this, but at the same time it felt a little trite. There were some new characters introduced into the story to tie into the arc of the Next but it didn't really feel all that fulfilling and meaningful in the long run.

The Long Utopia had its moments and it certainly continued to push into interesting new directions, but it was also bogged down by its supporting plot lines. I really hope they edited down a bit in the final book to just focus on maybe two or so main themes and end things there. As for this book, it still gets a good 3 strange activities of the silver beetles out of a possible 5.


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