Book review: The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

09:00 19 June 2014

Terry Pratchett, who has written The Long Mars with science fiction author Stephen Baxter. [Picture: PA/Ian West]

Terry Pratchett, who has written The Long Mars with science fiction author Stephen Baxter. [Picture: PA/Ian West]

PA Archive/Press Association Images

The year is 2040. America is enshrouded with a “searing blanket” of dust and “ash like diabolic snow” after a cataclysmic event – the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano in the Yellowstone National Park.

Communities and landscapes are ripped apart and the devastating effects are not just witnessed in America – they are evident across Earth.

In an ordinary world, the survivors would flee from the immediate danger to neighbouring communities which were not as struck by the disaster, where they would attempt to reassemble their lives.

But these people, who live on our Earth (“Datum Earth”), exist in a world which has a key difference to ours – it contains the Long Earths, a string of Earths which number in the millions. Some are akin to Datum Earth, while others formed in vastly different circumstances.

So when Yellowstone emits its searing lava and deadly ash, Datum America’s residents flee to all corners of the Long Earth to rebuild their lives.

You may ask, how is this possible? Well it is all thanks to 2015’s Step Day, which saw humans suddenly gain the power to “step” into other Earths with the aid of a gadget appropriately named the Stepper box.

But despite the lives saved because of the device’s existence, life is not rosy. For Datum America, and beyond, is set to see the effects of Yellowstone for years to come, while the new citizens of the Long Earth are to suffer overpopulation and an increasing lack of resources.

The Long Mars, the third in a bestselling series by fantasy genius Terry Pratchett and science fiction star Stephen Baxter, follows the subsequent years through a variety of narrative threads.

US Navy commander Maggie Kauffman leads her crew along the Long Earth on two airships, in an attempt to surpass the Chinese record set five years previously of 20 million “stepwise” Earths.

An expedition is also to be had for Sally Linsay, who is contacted out of the blue by her father Willis, the inventor of the original Stepper device, with a tantalising offer to go where none have dared dream of – the Long Mars.

But will they find anything worth discovering? And what are Willis’ motives?

Meanwhile, Joshua Valiente is alerted to the existence of a new civilisation of super-smart humans and becomes pulled into the resulting conflict.

Each of the threads, which eventually begin to pull together at the end of the novel, are equally as gripping.

The discoveries made on the expeditions are jaw-dropping and, as you would expect from a science fiction novel, are intelligently explained rather than just shoehorned in.

Although not entirely normal, the stepwise planets at the beginning of the journeys are not as populated with weird and wonderful things as could be expected, but Pratchett’s trademark playful wit combines with Baxter’s science fiction expertise later on with creatures such as a dog-human species, a murderous crustacean and a flying reptile.

Not many other writers could introduce such wacky creations and make them believable.

The exploration of the emergence of super-intelligent humans is also compelling. The authors throw in a number of twists along the way and the tensions between the group and “normal” humans – who they call “dim-bulbs” – reach dangerous levels as the book nears its conclusion.

With a collaborative novel, there is a worry that the tale may not flow, but Pratchett and Baxter’s voices blend seamlessly.

In their creation of the Long Earth, they have formed a compelling series where ideas have no limits and a plethora of new adventures can run and run.

The conclusion to The Long Mars will only increase the clamour for these two authors to continue dazzling us with their ambitious and exciting tales.

The Long Mars is published by Doubleday today in hardback, priced £18.99.

Latest Stories

Fri, 14:16
The twins, who spend most of their day latched onto dad, have been named Winnie and Piglet by zookeepers ahead of this weekend’s Winnie the bear celebration at the Little Creatures family festival.

These two new arrivals, born just in time for a weekend celebrating the bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh, have been given some very apt names.

Read more
Fri, 18:38
In order to get your hands on the free crisps, you'll have to tweet a special code and contend with an animated Gary Lineker (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images for Walkers)

Londoners are set to get free crisps at three bus stops for the next two weeks!

Read more
Fri, 16:53
Dojo gives you hand picked recommendations for events, places and activities in London

Tired of always hearing about some amazing event in London after its gone, missing out on the best activities? That’s where Dojo comes in.

Read more

Top Stories

Promotions

Advanced running and training technology for beginners up to elite athletes

If you’re thinking of adding running treadmill to your fitness routine, you’re on the right track! There are several advantages to running on a treadmill versus running outdoors.

Renault-Zoe

The Renault ZOE follows on from the introduction of the electric Fluence ZE and Twizy, but unlike the former, the ZOE was designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle.

When no simple way to find Real Ale was at hand, 4 Ale enthusiasts got together to allow anyone with a smart phone to find Real Ale no matter where they happened to be, this was the birth of the Perfect Pint app.

Quizzes

Amy Winehouse's second album became a classic

Are you an Amy Winehouse superfan?

Read more
I'm only going to say this once: Stand. On. The. Right.

James Bond is Britain’s most famous secret agent, and the capital is its most famous city, so it makes sense that 007 would live and work here when he isn’t gallivanting around the world.

Read more
Can you find the animals hiding in London station names? (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

You may not realise it but there are animals hiding in stations across London? Play our quiz and see if you can you find them:

Read more