Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: The Long War

Title: The Long War

Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Pages: 422
ISBN: 9780857520128
Series: The Long Earth #2
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

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The Long Earth is open. Humanity now spreads across untold worlds linked by fleets of airships encouraging exploration, trade and culture.

But while mankind may be shaping the Long Earth, the Long Earth is, in turn, shaping mankind - and a collision of crises is looming.

More than a million steps from our original Datum Earth a new America has emerged - a young nation that resents answering to the Datum government.

And the trolls - those graceful, hive-min humanoids whose song once suffused the Long Earth - are, in the face of man's inexorable advance, beginning to fall silent . . . and to disappear.

The Long War is set 10 years after the events in The Long Earth. Joshua is now married and has a child of his own. Tensions between the US government and the colonies are on the rise and people are exploiting the trolls in the worst possible ways. Joshua is called to help solve the troll abuse and their subsequent migration away from humans.

The title is somewhat misleading; if you expected explosions and battles you will be disappointed. The war at play here is one of a far more metaphorical variety - a war on people’s perceptions of what constitutes sentience, how the world should be governed and on the status quo in the wake of the discovery of the Long Earth.

The Long War has some classic moments of Pratchett’s humour thrown in that alleviates the serious tone of the overall story.
‘Godzillabytes: Nelson had an irrational dislike of ‘petabytes’... Anything that sounded like a kitten’s gentle nip just didn’t have the moxie to do the job asked of it. ‘Godzillabytes’, on the other hand, shouted to the world that it was dealing with something very, very big... and possibly dangerous.’ (p 53)
‘Being human isn’t about the brain, it’s all tied up with messy things like – well, organs and juices and instincts.’ (p 167)

And then there’s the most apt description of the human condition I’ve read in a long time:
“It was the way he felt himself, sometimes, if he woke in the small hours, at three a.m., a time when the world seemed empty and stripped of comforting illusion. A time when you knew you were a mote, transient and fragile in a vast universe, a candle flame in an empty hall. Luckily the sun always came up, people stirred and you got on with the stuff that distracted you from the reality.” (p 343)

My biggest criticism of The Long Earth was that the plot seemed disjointed. This has been remedied somewhat in The Long War. There is a more concrete central plotline (Joshua’s attempt to fix the troll problem), but it soon becomes jumbled again with the introduction of new characters and sections which don’t seem to play any role in the story arc except to lay the groundwork for the next instalment. This was less problematic in the The Long Earth since it was the start of the series, but I would have expected this second novel to have a much clearer direction of where the story is going.

The ending is bittersweet. It was good to be reunited with familiar characters and to inhabit the Long Earth once again. There are hints of very promising things to come, but I hope the series manages to find some focus for the story it wants to tell. Without an overarching plot to provide momentum it will be all too easy to lose interest.

The Verdict:
As with The Long Earth the plot seems to wander all over the place and you still don’t have a clear direction where things are going. That being said, this continues to be an intriguing read with some very interesting ideas being explored, but interesting ideas can take you only so far. I enjoyed reading The Long War. The writing is very good with some beautiful and poignant observations on life, but the lack of a cohesive overarching plot just doesn’t satisfy. The series is taking the scenic route; the problem is that the journey might become too long and cumbersome without a clear destination in sight, especially if it’s going to be a 5 book series as speculated.

The Rating: 6.5 (Good)

Thanks to Tamaryn from Random House Struik for providing the review copy.

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