Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review - Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long War

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: June 18th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you
What more can we do?

We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society
God save Mrs. Mopp and good old Mother Riley
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross, and all those who were awarded them

We are the Sherlock Holmes English-speaking Vernacular
God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups, and virginity
We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliates
God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards

Preserving the old ways from being abused.
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you.
What more can we do?

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties

God save the village green!

A generation has passed since the Long Earth has opened up. Travel is now easily possible between the worlds and large and small communities are forming throughout this stepwise expansion. Joshua is now married with a son and has a contented life. Then Sally shows back up and tells him that the Long Earth needs him. Joshua's wife realizes that as long as Joshua is Joshua, if Sally shows up and says the Long Earth needs him, he will go. Things are happening that his voice will lend credence to. Sure, there are political problems and questions of taxing and policing the footprint of America, but Sally couldn't care less. She is worried about the trolls. They have always lived peacefully in their way and have even proved a valuable resource to the settlers. Their long call binds the earths together. Yet humanity is uneasy of their presence. Violence has arisen against the trolls and the trolls have responded by disappearing. Sally knows, in her bones, that the Long Earth cannot survive without the trolls. They must be found. So their journeys begin again.

About a year ago, when I read the last page of The Long Earth, all I could think of was how was I going to be able to wait a year for the second volume. I am not at all patient in my nature, luckily my Barnes and Noble understands me, and I don't know by what fortuitous alignment of planets this happened, but they accidentally put this book out the Friday before it's release date and I was lucky enough to be stopping by looking for Father's Day cards (see, it pays to be a good daughter!) Going home I quickly finished off the book I was reading, how could I not, and then I returned to the world Terry and Stephen had made. The reentry was not the smoothest. I should have perhaps re-read The Long Earth, because there was more that I had forgotten then remembered, so that might have brought my appreciation for the book down a notch or two, but I quickly rebounded.

The Long War, set twenty or so years after Joshua's legendary journey with Lobsang, really doesn't have that much more of a plot then the first book. And seeing as it's twenty or so years on... shouldn't the jokes be less timely to 2013? I mean, sure, there is a stalling of continued innovation and invention due to people fleeing the Datum, but still, for 2040, less of the 2013 would be nice. The book continues with the further exploration of the Long Earth but weaves into it the ramifications of what this means politically, environmentally, and even morally. This book deals with massive concepts but in a palatable way. The Long War deals with humanities dual nature of innovation and destruction. That said, I think a book with "war" in the title might have a little more war and a little less barbecue parties as a denouement. Unless it really is "a war unlike any mankind has waged before" in that it's not really a war...

As for humanities innovation, they have spread across the Long Earth and made new colonies and new ways of life. Joshua lives in a little town in a stepwise Hannibal Missouri, home on the Datum of Mark Twain, where his life is very much like it would have been for a settler when "westward ho" was the call in America. Yet this new frontier and westward expansion is different from our ancestors, because the human capacity of ingenuity is infinite, and they create colonies, not just in one world, but in the same area over many. They are able to use different worlds for scavenging, and this changes the way things work and the need for life's sustainability converts back to a hunter gatherer nature versus an agrarian nature. Though just the fact that all these stepwise Earths are in the footprint of what is on the Datum, the United States of America... well, that brings a whole lot of other problems with it. But to me, there's a feel of a science fiction Little House on the Prairie meets Deadwood vibe, that in turn had me start rewatching Deadwood.

But humanity itself is the main problem. There are so many evils that man does. Without even consciously thinking, the expansion into the Long Earth has brought death and destruction to the worlds and to the indigenous trolls and kobolds and elves. I keep going back to the Kinks song that the kobold Finn McCool loves in the book, The Village Green Preservation Society, it's about preserving how we've always done things. The world, or in this case, worlds, around us have changed, but we stay dogmatic in our beliefs. We stay xenophobic, imperialistic, we believe in taxes and policing and destroying that which is "other." The violence to the trolls is just the most horrific iteration of this. If there is one point to The Long War, it's that we must learn to coexist. What we are doing to our world has ramifications. Will a Long Earth open up to save us?


Newer Post Older Post Home