Jun 15, 2016

[Books] The Long War

I got started on The Long Earth series of books because of Sir Terry Pratchett's involvement in the project. And while the first book turned out to be nothing like his much-beloved Discworld series of books, it's still an interesting exploration of a new concept on its own. Among more recent works, Nation was a compelling enough demonstration that Pratchett is more than just Discworld when it comes to his writing.

The Long War is the continuation of this series and apparently only the second in what was mapped out to be a 5-book series. With Sir Terry Pratchett's passing, it seem that Stephen Baxter remains committed to completing the full story arc, which is well enough.

And it's not like we don't think that Terry Pratchett's work can't shine through well enough within a partnership project like this one. After all, many of us are quite familiar with his other co-writing project. Good Omens, and there's little that most of us can complain about when it comes to that brilliant book.

Synopsis: The Long War is a science fiction novel written together by Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. It is the second book in the Long Earth series of books tackling the discovery of seemingly infinite parallel Earths.

The book skips forward to a point in time when acceptance of the reality of the Long Earth - how they term the infinite parallel Earths. Mankind has well-expanded across these virgin worlds while Datum Earth, or the original Earth, finds itself weakened with the loss so many citizens. Those that remain on Datum are either too scared to Step across the worlds or are physically incapable of Stepping for reasons unknown. And thus the government of Datum America decides to assert control over the far-flung colonies of the Long Earth by sending a Twain of its own on a sort of goodwill tour as both an assurance of support and perhaps a not-so-subtle threat.

The book starts out a bit slow as once again we are introduced to the Long Earth and a quick update on certain characters and the new status quo. Thus we learn of Valhalla, a sort of growing splinter government far off thousands of worlds stepwise from Datum Earth that could very well become a power of its own. And how the Datum government decides to eventually deal with Valhalla makes u a major arc in the story.

Lobsang is still a key figure, although this time Joshua isn't quite as willing to work with the Buddhist monk who may or may not have reincarnated into a computer system. As much as the threat of a far-reaching Datum government is important, Lobsang is more concerned with something else - something that has to do with the few other races they've encountered in their exploration of the Long Earth such as the singing Trolls, the aggressive Beagles and the shifty Kobolds. And so we stop thinking about the humans alone and take a closer look at the races that share the Long Earth.

I liked how this book was a logical progression of the idea originated in the first book. When a government claims to extend into infinity, how does one actually enforce that? How do you collect taxes? What services could  government like that actually offer it's distant citizens? There's a lot of questions to be answered and this book is an interesting thought experiment into exploring that notion and seeing where it might go.

On the flip side, the book does get a little long-winded and there are times when you start to wonder how much "slice of life" style content do you really need to tell the story. I can't even call all of it narrative build-up - sometimes there's just so much mundanity that you wonder why the writing went into this direction. It's not terrible writing in itself - it just sometimes feels like the book is a little disjointed, as if we all got distracted by certain nuances of a sub-plot and eventually lost our way. We get back on track in time, but it does feel like some meandering has gone on.

The Long War is still an interesting expansion of the original concept and it's nice to see how things develop. I just don't know how the series is going to extend to a full five books without becoming this seemingly epic multi-generational tale or something. This second book in particular gets 4 majestic twains stepping across the worlds out of a possible 5.


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