The Long Mars is the third novel in the Long Earth series and is set in the years following the events of the cataclysmic finale of The Long War. The world has now been changed not just by the continued expansion of humanity into the Long Earths but also by recent events. Populations begin to migrate to other worlds in large numbers and the Datum earth economy changes.
Lobsong, Sally and Joshua are all involved in this economic dislocation when Sally receives a message from her father Willis Linsay, the inventor of the original stepping device and long vanished from Sally's life. He tells her of a fantastic voyage not stepward but out into space, to investigate the Long Mars. He wants Sally to come with him but it isn't clear what his real motives are...
I almost kicked myself when I realised that Mars would play a part in Pratchett and Baxters series. I never considered the possibility of stepping through the variations of Mars. It's an incredible idea and both Baxter and Pratchett are on top form (after the slightly lackluster Long War). The exporation of the Red Planet is simply extra-ordinary. It's what science fiction was born for. The imaginative dialogue, the wonderfully richly described floura and Fauna and scientifically pausible restraint in what we could possibly encounter is breath-taking.
When they are on form Baxter and Pratchett create a combination of minds that is simply staggering, a gestalt entity that has the power to transport the reader into a rich, vibrant world full of clever messages and a wonderfull exploration of the possible.
It isn't all about Mars though and a size-able chunk of the story takes place on the Long Earth, expounding on the developments in the Long War. This includes a trip into the "High Meggers", the Long Earths that are way beyond places people have explored before and it's US Navy Commander Maggie Kauffman who oversees such an intrepid adventure. Lastly we have the continued adventures of Lobsang - advanced artificial Intelligence (or should that be artificial consiousness) who in my opinion doesn't get the screen time he deserves - he is my favourite character of the series despite being artificial.
As with the series as a whole, the Long Mars is ultimately about the very human condition of betterment, of advancing ones knowledge and the search for something greater than ones self. Each of the characters are on a quest to find something, be it knowledge or peace or freedom or even alien life. Told in a Pratchett-esque way with toungue firmly in cheek, laughing both with and at humanity but with a warm affection all the same. The idea that humanity needs a baby-sitter (or at least guiding influence) is examined through the various non-human characters - Talking Beagle and Cat, the Trolls and of course the wonderful Lobsang - each a sutble influence and offering a counter-point to humanities ideas.
I really enjoyed this novel, not least as it re-affirmed the promises set out from the first book. It's jam-packed with original, thought-provoking ideas, clever dialogue and interesting characters.
Written on Monday 15th September 2014 by Antony Jones.
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