Book Review: The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
HarperCollins, 2014

I enjoyed The Long Mars, the third book in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series, better than the second entry. This outing managed to recapture some measure of the sense of wonder that characterized the first book in the series. Opening up the Long Mars adds a welcome layer of new complexity to the milieu.

There are three separate plot lines in this novel:

  1. Sally, her father, and Frank Wood travel to and explore the Long Mars.
  2. Captain Maggie Kauffman and her crew take another epic journey into the Long Earth—this time, traveling to Earth West 250,000,000.
  3. Joshua and Lobsang search the Long Earth for what Lobsang believes are a newly emergent and highly developed strain of homo sapiens. Nelson Azikiwe and Roberta Golding make appearances in this plot line.

It’s challenging for me to critique these books. They’re so hugely imaginative, the world the authors have created is so compelling, and opportunities to explore this world are a treasure. The Long Earth will go down in SF history as one of the great accomplishments of world-building. I enjoy exploring this world so much that I don’t want to have to say anything negative about these books.

But it’s precisely this desire to explore that leads to what I consider the major failing of both the second and third novels in this series:

They’re more about exploring the world than about telling a compelling story. The stories here feel mostly like an excuse to wander through the world. The plot lines are clearly secondary. None of these stories feel truly necessary in-and-of themselves.

The plot lines in The Long Mars are good enough to be entertaining, but I spent the novel convinced that Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Baxter should have come up with better stories than these. I can’t shake the conviction that they got so distracted gallivanting about their world that they lost focus on storytelling.

As compelling as this world is, The Long Mars felt too unfocused to ever completely draw me in.

The stories told in The Long Mars are entertaining and the world the authors have created is a wondrous thing to behold. But having taken this journey with these characters, I now find myself indifferent toward it.

The world of the Long Earth / Long Mars is an awe-inspiring act of imagination. Indifference is less than it deserves. Unfortunately, the storytelling in The Long Mars isn’t good enough to do justice to this world and I can’t let the authors off the hook for that.

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