The Long War is a solid, but poorly paced sequel to the excellent first novel, The Long Earth. What is the “Long Earth”? It is a series of seemingly infinite alternative Earths “organized” linearly like a number line, with our Earth in the middle, and alternate Earths extending in both “directions.” In order to travel to Earth 5, one must first step from our Earth, known as Datum Earth, through Earths 2 through 4. Only our Earth is inhabited by humans.
In the first novel, mankind learns about the existence of the Long Earth, as well as how to travel, or step, from one Earth to the next. The sequel begins 10 years later, as man has established colonies of various sizes and sophistication throughout the first few million habitable Earths. Trouble arises as the American government of Datum Earth attempts to tighten control of all settlements within the Long Earth located in the geographical boundaries of the United States.
Further tension is provided by the question of the trolls. Trolls are gentle, clever humanoids who may or may not be sentient. Communities throughout the Long Earth have come to depend on their labor, but abuse of these creatures is rising. Tempers flare as mankind confronts the question of whether trolls are people or merely beasts of burden.
The best part of the Long War is the chance to explore more of the parallel Earths and see how mankind has adapted to having seemingly infinite room to expand. There are natural limits on the types and quantities of material that can be transported via stepping. So Earths closest to Datum Earth are the most developed, with those further on being more frontier like. Want to form a religious community or found that libertarian paradise you’ve always dreamed of? Step to an unpopulated Earth, register your claim with the Datum Earth government (or not) and start communing. Tired of the madding crowd? Live the life of a Long Earth nomad, stepping from one fertile Earth to another, living off the land.
Overpopulation will never be a problem again. Need more gold, tin, wood? Just step to the next Earth. Even an civilization smashing comet strike can no longer threaten the survival of mankind. The Long Earth provides abundance, opportunity and security never before known in human history.
Unfortunately, The Long War has a problem with its pace. There’s lots of build up, but the resolution comes far too late in the book. It seems rushed and contrived. I expect more from experienced authors like Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
I was also a little disappointed with their prim, somewhat condescending critique of humanity’s failings. I understand that man screws up more times than not. If a country discovers oil reserves or diamonds, the result is often corruption, violence and misery. Unfortunately, Pratchett and Baxter handle this issue with all the subtly of a sledge hammer.
The best example of this is the trolls. Do we really need another victim group? Trolls are kind and gentle. They’re being exploited and vilified by the arrogant humans. Trolls offer gifts to humanity than man is too shortsighted to see. It’s true that one of the worst things that can happen to a new species is to be discovered by man. However, this is not a very original critique. And it’s described and presented in such a ham-fisted manner. Too cliched and too preachy. I hope they tone it down in the next book.
The Long War is definitely worth the read. Pratchett and Baxter have created a vast new world to explore. Just don’t get too hyped up about the denouement and steel yourself for the sermon.