The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is my favorite book of this series, since the first one.
The first book in the Long Earth series captured my imagination to a degree that’s rare. The world of the Long Earth is stunning. The characters Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Baxter created are fascinating individuals and it’s a rewarding experience to spend time with them.
When I read a book, I want to feel like the story exists for its own sake. I want to feel like the authors are compelled to tell this story, and no other. But the stories in The Long War and The Long Mars feel like they exist mostly as excuses to explore the expanding world of the Long Earth. This isn’t to say that the stories haven’t been good—they’re well-structured and well-told, populated by characters who I care about—but I can’t shake the feeling that different stories would have served the purpose just as well. Exploring the world takes precedence over telling the best possible story.
With the fourth book of the series, The Long Utopia, the story finally takes its place front-and-center.
Compared to its predecessors, the characters in The Long Utopia don’t spend much time travelling. The bulk of the narrative takes place in a few specific locations. This grounds the story and gives it a focus that makes it easier for me to immerse myself more deeply in the novel. Rooting the characters in a specific place lends tremendous power to the climax and conclusion of the book.
Just like the first three novels in the series, The Long Utopia opens up new vistas in the Long Earth. The primary conflict of the story results from a quirk in its cosmological topology, with profound implications. But in a new twist, the authors expand their world historically, as well as geographically. We learn much about the history of Steppers by following the exploits of one of Joshua Valiente’s ancestors.
With their fourth entry in the series, Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Baxter are wise enough to realize that they need to switch things up from the travel adventure structure that defined the first three books. A less peripatetic narrative structure turns out to be a more solid foundation on which to create a more compelling story. In The Long Utopia, the story finally becomes more important than the world. As a result, I find myself more deeply invested in the action and the outcome.
The Long Earth presents a world that remains tremendously compelling. The Long Utopia finally presents an equally compelling story.