Audiobook Review: The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

5 08 2013

The Long War (The Long Earth, Book 2) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Read by Michael Fenton Stevens

Harper Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: While I enjoyed listening to The Long War, I found myself often frustrated along the way.The Long War tried too hard to be something it wasn’t, a plot driven science fiction novel, when there was nothing wrong with what it actually was, a concept driven novel of exploration.

Grade: B

I was a bit skeptical about The Long War, the sequel to last years multi-earth science fiction tale, The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I loved The Long Earth. It was a brilliant concept and tapped that little inkling inside of everyone for the opportunity to just start over on a new adventure. The concept was simple, on one day it was discovered that there were multiple versions of Earth, and with one simple, easy to manufacture tool, almost anyone could take off and start over. It was fun tale of exploration, and the implications that multiple easily accessible earths would have on the original Datum Earth. The worlds that Pratchett and Baxter created opened what seemed like a playground for authors, an infinite amount of worlds for an infinite amount of stories. Yet, I sort of felt like I felt about Eric Flint’s 1632 series, It’s a great place for stories, but attempting to push that story, and those characters beyond the first few novels just felt like a misuse of potential. In The Long Earth, I felt that story was told. Those characters explored in full, and attempting to extrapolate more plot points set up in The Long Earth may ruin the original concept of the novel. Because, a sequel isn’t about further exploration of a writer’s world, but the progression of the story. I would have been down with more books within those worlds, in fact, I think that would be awesome. I think there was ways to explore the occurrences of The Long Earth, without focusing the book on them. Yet, it was called The Long War. The idea of an interdimensional war intrigued me. How would you handle logistics? How exactly do you deal with species with natural abilities to step between worlds when the majority of humanity depended on a device, and suffered physical ailments when stepping. This convinced me. A Long Earth War was a brilliant idea, and one that I would be fascinated to see executed by these two talented writers. Yet, I forgot a lesson I learned long ago when reading SM Stirling’s The Protector’s War, just because the title implies battles, or at least skirmishes of a military nature, it don’t make it true.

In the years since Joshua teamed up with the artificial intelligence Lopsang to explore the long earth, tensions between the Datum Earth United States and its interdimensional colonies have increased. Joshua, now married, has settled into a comfortable life as a mayor of a small colony town. Yet, when the often abused Trolls, sub-human sentients who are natural steppers and spread the history of the long earth through song, begin disappearing, old friends convince Joshua to use his celebrity to take up their cause. Meanwhile, a Chinese expedition travels in a revolutionary airship takes them further into the long earth than even Lopsang achieved. While much of what I loved about The Long Earth exists in The Long War, much of the spit and polish has worn off the fresh premise. I enjoyed The Long War, but at the same time was a bit let down by it. Like The Long Earth, there is a bare bones plot used to justify the themes of exploring cool new worlds. This plot includes some cool things like a look at a Sentient Canine Community, a cool almost Vonnegutesque scene involving a "First Person Singular" like collective and a Datum Earth Protection Force who gets changed by their interactions with the locals and the Trolls during their journey. It all sort of ties together loosely, and gives enough to call this a novel, instead of a collection of brilliant fictional concepts. Barely. I actually don’t mind the loose collection of concepts part. In fact, it was what I loved about The Long Earth. My favorite part of this novel was the Chinese exploration of the deepest earths, yet, that story, sort of fell by the wayside as the "plot" part of the book took over. I found a frustrating lack of any form of war, other than of words and symbolic gestures. The ideas of a Long Earth War where touched on, but this novel was more focused on what could cause a long earth war than on any actual military action. I think part of the problem with this novel was that it was partially written by Terry Pratchett. OK, not that it was written by him, but the people, including myself, came in with certain expectations of levity and lightheartedness that was often missing in this book. There is definitely some Pratchett moments but this series falls more solidly into Baster’s hard science fiction camp. This was a hard one for me. I really liked some aspects, and will definitely pick up the third novel in the series. The ending offered some interesting directions for the series. My major problems was the book tried too hard to be something it wasn’t, a plot driven science fiction novel, when there was nothing wrong with what it actually was, a concept driven novel of exploration.

Michael Fenton Stevens continues on with his narration of this series. I actually think his performance was better than the last novel, and may have kept me more interested in the happenings than the novel actually deserved. I do find it interesting that they cast a British narrator for a novel that is focused more on the issues between Datum America and it‘s colonies, but there is enough international feel where it works. I think he has a tendency to use a very Gary Cooper stereotypical American accent, with a real cowboy swagger. This may have gotten annoying in a more contemporary tale, but there is a real Western feel to the novel, so it works. Where I think he really improved was his female characterizations. I didn’t have as many cringe worthy moments in this audiobook as I did in the first when it came to the female characters. Where Stevens excels is in the more esoteric conceptual moments of the book. He captures an almost poetic rhythm to the discovery of new worlds, pacing these parts of the novel perfectly. All in All it was a fun performance and one that actually enhanced the experience of listening to this novel.

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