Review - The Long War
For me, reading a good book is not something peripheral or external. It’s in same vein as a great conversation with friends, or a good film, a great TV series. I invest. I connect. I want to do these things. I want to experience it on a deeper level. Sometimes that’s enjoyment, sometimes it’s to be challenged, sometimes it’s to be scared or to consider an alternative perspective. Often it’s just to feel emotionally invested in something; to care about what happens. Occasionally I’ll do this and it not be rewarded. I”ll try, but I’ll be rebuked. Rarely I’ll do it and everything will seem like we are heading in the right direction, and even when we get wherever we are going it will seem like we had a good time getting there; but then I’ll sit back and think ‘hang on, what happened there?’
That’s what this book was like.
First the blurb: The Long Earth was published last year, an enjoyable story from the collaborative talents of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, two authors who should need no introduction. If you are familiar with sci fi (or even Saturday evening TV) then the premise of multiple dimensions (or “Earths”) should be known to you, but they weaved an entertaining story of exploration around the concept and introduced us to some well written, lifelike characters who lived in and changed the new worlds humanity found at its doorsteps. With the ability to move into another world so easy (you simply ‘step’ east or west to find yourself on a another Earth – for some via a natural ability, or for the vast majority via a potato powered device. Potatoes again!) it was interesting to see the impact that had on society, governments and individuals.
The Long War is the followup. As various groups of people have become ensconced in their new homes it looks at how various aspects of the lives we know change, showing the inevitable steps governments and people would take. This book picks up a decade or so after the first and similarly we see the Long Earth through the eyes of various characters, some familiar, some new, but all of whom are worth spending time with, well written, relatable, sympathetic, funny at times, yadda yadda.
In fact it’s all well crafted. These guys are obviously at the top of their game (one exception – when describing Sally, a character who steps a lot to escape “life”, they always, always describe her as “wearing her usual many pocketed coat, as though ready to leave at any point.” Always. It’s slightly bizarre.
Anyway, I think it’s that polish that lets this book down slightly. The characters are so good, so strong, and you want to spend time with them whilst they explore; the trouble is what they seem to be exploring for is an actual story. There are tantalising hints - this book goes more into the questions around what is, or is not, inhabiting these parallel Earths. The threat of war is kind of present through out the book – but only very slightly expanding on what was lain down in the first book. Plus the hints about the ending are layered in so thickly, that when the end came it felt like the classic line of “when you’re not sure what needs to happen next, have someone walk in a door.” In this case the door is a tad more dramatic and devastating but it still felt the same; and then they had then gone and clumsily inserted a few comments through the book to foreshadow events.
On balance it still comes out as a worthy read, and it is fun spending times with the characters from the first book I just wish it didn’t feel so much like a middle book. I’m all for strong characters, in fact they are a necessity for any good book. But they need to have a purpose, they need to be involved in more than just a good premise. They need to be in a story. Things need to happen for a reason. They need to fight and change for interesting reasons. And at times during this book it feels like we are simply reading a soap opera.
A damn fine soap opera mind (if indeed that’s not an oxymoron).
Here’s hoping the next one is entitled the Long Pay Off as opposed to the Long Read.