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The Long Mars

by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Long Earth (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,1223614,683 (3.52)1 / 25
2040-2045: In the years after the cataclysmic Yellowstone eruption there is massive economic dislocation as populations flee Datum Earth to myriad Long Earth worlds. Sally, Joshua, and Lobsang are all involved in this perilous rescue work when, out of the blue, Sally is contacted by her long-vanished father and inventor of the original Stepper device, Willis Linsay. He tells her he is planning a fantastic voyage across the Long Mars and wants her to accompany him. But Sally soon learns that Willis has an ulterior motive for his request. ... Meanwhile U.S. Navy Commander Maggie Kauffman has embarked on an incredible journey of her own, leading an expedition to the outer limits of the far Long Earth. For Joshua, the crisis he faces is much closer to home. He becomes embroiled in the plight of the Next: the super-bright post-humans who are beginning to emerge from their 'long childhood' in the community called Happy Landings, located deep in the Long Earth. Ignorance and fear have caused 'normal' human society to turn against the Next. A dramatic showdown seems inevitable.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Start was a bit slow but nevertheless the book picks up pace and then it is unputdownable. The end leaves you asking for more. ( )
  Ethel_Bleu | Aug 8, 2022 |
good addition to the series. sorta has the same feel as the others where the build up to a plot point has an anticlimactic end. but loved the ideas and worlds that are introduced. if you liked the others you'll like this one as well ( )
  morgan.goose | Dec 14, 2020 |
This third excursion into Pratchett and Baxter's shared 'Long Earth' universe started out pretty much the same as the previous book in the series, 'The Long War'; and like that book, I soon began to get the feeling that we were here under false pretences. Although the central conceit of the book is fairly clear from the title, it takes us until nearly half-way through before anyone seriously mentions Mars; up until then, we have the same languorous examination of life in the Long Earth, where any semblance of a plot can wander off into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

But then things begin to change. The Gap world, a parallel universe where the Earth has been destroyed in some ancient cosmic cataclysm, leaving - well, a Gap - turns out to be ideal for getting into space quickly and cheaply (as long as you're not too concerned over which space you get into). Just get into your spaceship, step into the Gap, and suddenly you are floating in space without all the drama and expense of that rocketry palaver.

So some of our characters travel to Mars, in search of sentience, hopefully with artefacts. Here at least are all the Marses you could wish for, including some where that planet's cosmically brief habitable period is long enough for life to evolve. The authors make a fair job out of imagining alien life, though one begins to wonder quite how much of this was Pratchett by the time this was published (in 2014) and how much was Baxter.

Meanwhile, back in the Long Earth, a race of advanced humans have appeared, who have many of the features of 1950s pulp sf 'mutants' - highly advanced intelligence, a group mind (though there are no hand-waving psi powers here, just a strong group consciousness, social interactions and intuitive inter-communication), and a cool disdain for those simple souls who cannot appreciate their greatness and talents (that's the rest of us, to make that clear). I found this plot strand chillingly prescient; it has parallels with some of our political realities in the 2020s, with authoritarian politicians promoting a line of technocratic superiority which the rest of us voters are too simple or too hoodwinked to understand. In the end, these 'Napoleons' (whose charisma is one of their strong points) are accommodated within the reaches of the Long Earth. That may turn out not to be a lasting solution.

There are some problems over the novel's structure. The first of these 'Napoleons' is introduced in a series of flashbacks, and those flashbacks aren't handled particularly well. The very nature of this story will mean that it is going to have multiple p.o.v. characters; there are those readers who find this approach to story-telling unfathomable, though a story about an infinite number of parallel universes was always going to be too big for just one or two central characters. But the introduction of the Napoleions, with this series of flashbacks that are themselves scattered over two or three chapters might well infuriate some readers.

We begin to see some speculation as to the cosmology behind the Long Earth - some ideas on the topology implied by its existence, the reasons why Gap worlds exist, and the question of just how the situation arises in the first place - is there a strong anthropic principle at work here, that it's the existence of Mind that causes the quantum fluctuations that call the parallel worlds into being? And if so, then why do so many Earths appear devoid of intelligent life?

Non-UK readers should beware; although most of the characters are Americans, the whole novel is infused with a certain kind of Britishness. There are a lot of British names resoundingly dropped. A crustacean civilization is discovered on the shores of a distant Earth which is nothing more than the rock pool crabs who worship the Eyeballs in the Sky in the 1960s Daily Mirror cartoon strip 'The Perishers'. And one of the Long Mars settings is the Mars of Gerry Anderson's feature film 'Thunderbirds are Go!'. Genre fans everywhere will cope with this, but more general readers beyond the UK who have been attracted by the status of the authors might find this puzzling or off-putting.

I was beginning to think that this series had run out of steam; I'm pleased to be proved wrong. I shall now happily continue to the final two volumes in the series. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Aug 24, 2020 |
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. ( )
  johnthelibrarian | Aug 11, 2020 |
E.M. Forster once wrote that when it comes to fiction, story is the thing that makes you ask “what happens next?” while plot is the thing that makes you ask “why did that just happen?”

For example, here's a short piece of fiction I just wrote that's full of story and devoid of plot.

Opening the garage door and what Johnny found there

Johnny knew he shouldn't open the garage door, he knew the rumours. Nobody who opened this door ever left here alive. But, dammit, he really liked that Spongebob Squarepants balloon he'd won at the fair, and he wanted it back. And so, tentatively, he opened the garage door, then gasped at what he found there.

See? Story. You are no doubt on the edge of your seat/toilet and screaming at your laptop/phone “But what happened next?! What becomes of Johnny?! Are he and his Spongebob Squarepants balloon ever reunited?!” Now for a plotful bit of prose that lacks in story.

Johnny survives the alien invasion then dies, without pants

The war was over, the alien invaders defeated. For all their fancy technology it turned out that, ironically, the aliens were not immune to having thermonuclear bombs blown up in their face. Unfortunately neither was Johnny. He leant back against the wreckage of the alien ship, enjoying his last few breaths and without any regrets. Well, no regrets except one. As he drew his last breath he really wished he hadn't lost his pants.

See? Plot. You are no doubt far back on your seat/toilet, “hmm”ing to yourself and stroking your chin inquisitively. There's no story here, no “what happens next?” There is no next: Johnny and the aliens are both dead. But there is plot. What happened to Johnny's pants? It's a cheap kind of plot, but I only had a few lines to work with so give me a break, okay?

Almost every work of fiction contains a story, if the reader doesn't care what happens next then they'll stop reading. The only exceptions should be novels that are either awful or magnificent.

A novel being awful is obviously quite subjective. But if you have given any novels the dreaded one-star rating then chances are you didn't give a flying monkey what happened next for most, if not all, of the book. At the other end of the spectrum are books that excel not through the reader's desire to know what happens next but to understand what has already happened, books that are great because of their plot.

No book can be great if it lacks both story and plot. No amount of pretty writing can save a novel if the reader doesn't care what happens next nor wants to understand why things happened. Which brings us to The Long Earth series.

The first in the series was really just set up: a world building exercise. The authors introduced us to the eponymous Long Earth, an apparently infinite chain of parallel Earths, arranged all in a line and that humankind suddenly gained the ability to "step" between, from one to the next to the next… The first book is a collection of vignettes, the centrepiece being a journey two million steps away away from the original Earth. Then, out of the blue, the novel ends on a catastrophe.

Book two is yet more vignettes, the centrepiece being a journey twenty million steps away from the original Earth. Then, out of the blue, the novel ends on a catastrophe.

Guess what happens in book three.

Just as the second book in the series, The Long War, didn't really feature a war, long or otherwise, this third book, The Long Mars, doesn't feature a whole lot of Mars. Baxter and Pratchett have come up with this amazing idea: what if humanity suddenly had access to infinite land and resources? And what if scientists could explore countless worlds, each differing from our Earth in ever more radical ways? And then it's like they just don't know what to do with this idea. So they keep on world building (here's what the Long Earth is like a million steps away from our Earth! Now ten million steps! Now a hundred million!) and filling the rest of the pages with re-hashes of their other works. Baxter's fondness for alternative takes on human (or humanoid) evolution came through in the first two books. In this third one his penchant for seeing all the ways life could evolve in the Universe , in even the most extreme climes (a regular from his Xeelee sequence), is on show, as is his fondness for exploring the future evolution of humankind. Even when it makes no-sense whatsoever. Our brains will evolve to be four dimensional? Really? There's even a chapter fairly early on that seemed both a little sillier than the rest and somewhat familiar. Only when I got to the afterword did I realise that it was a scene from one of the Science of Discworld books.

None of the three books in the series display what Forster would call a plot. Stuff happens, crises are dealt with, the end. There is a story, but mostly that stems from the protagonists' journeys ever more steps into the Long Earth (and now into the Long Mars). But even this is wearing thin. The authors seem at pains to point out that most of the Long Earth is either a lot like our Earth, or just boring rocks where nothing ever evolved. They even retcon one of the few interesting things to happen in the first two books – a huge Long-Earth devouring being from the first novel is demoted to just another weird life form that has apparently evolved on some of the worlds.

Despite my moaning, The Long Mars is an improvement over its immediate predecessor. And, for better or worse, the series as a whole will now apparently be five books long. I'll cross my fingers and hope that in the last two books and in all those parallel worlds, the authors manage to find a real story. And maybe somewhere out there amongst the infinite, a plot. ( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Terry Pratchettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baxter, Stephenmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Shailer, R.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevens, Michael FentonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Lyn and Rhianna, as always

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For Sandra

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The High Meggers:

Remote worlds, most still unpopulated, even in the year 2045, thirty years after Step Day.
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2040-2045: In the years after the cataclysmic Yellowstone eruption there is massive economic dislocation as populations flee Datum Earth to myriad Long Earth worlds. Sally, Joshua, and Lobsang are all involved in this perilous rescue work when, out of the blue, Sally is contacted by her long-vanished father and inventor of the original Stepper device, Willis Linsay. He tells her he is planning a fantastic voyage across the Long Mars and wants her to accompany him. But Sally soon learns that Willis has an ulterior motive for his request. ... Meanwhile U.S. Navy Commander Maggie Kauffman has embarked on an incredible journey of her own, leading an expedition to the outer limits of the far Long Earth. For Joshua, the crisis he faces is much closer to home. He becomes embroiled in the plight of the Next: the super-bright post-humans who are beginning to emerge from their 'long childhood' in the community called Happy Landings, located deep in the Long Earth. Ignorance and fear have caused 'normal' human society to turn against the Next. A dramatic showdown seems inevitable.

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