The Long Utopia doesn’t sound much like the late Terry Pratchett, but neither have any of the earlier three novels in the Long Earth series — The Long Earth, The Long War and The Long Mars.
I’ve read each because Pratchett’s name was there on the cover as co-author with Stephen Baxter, and, each time, I’ve come away disappointed. Indeed, while reading The Long Utopia, I often find myself asking: “Did Terry Pratchett want to write a dull book?”
Well, maybe “dull” isn’t the right word. The Long Utopia, like its predecessors, is cold and hard, exhibiting little emotional depth or psychological sensitivity. In contrast to Pratchett’s delightfully and endlessly interesting Discworld novels, the books in the Long Earth series aren’t really concerned with people. Over the course of more than 1,000 pages so far, its characters remain talking heads and (somewhat) animate plot devices.
How very much unlike the people — well, you know what I mean: the werewolves, trolls, dwarfs, humans and other human-ish entities — in the Discworld! One-of-a-kind sort of people such as Granny Weatherwax, Sam Rimes, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Lord Sir Henry King, Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs, Lord Vetinari, Tiffany Aching, Moist von Lipwig and Death. Who doesn’t like Death? Well, at least, Pratchett’s character Death.
By contrast, the Long Earth books are interested in scientific, anthropological and philosophical speculation, pretty dry stuff, especially when expounded in long strings of over-inflated dialogue.
They are based on a grand speculation: What if our Earth were one of untold millions of Earths, all existing at the same time in parallel realities, and what if we could “step” (or “waltz” or “move”) from one to another? Everything in the series flows from this idea, first suggested by Pratchett in his 1986 short story “The High Meggas.” (It’s included in his collection A Blink of the Screen, published in 2012).
A story-telling tin ear
Yet, in all the books that Pratchett wrote on his own, did he ever exhibit the story-telling tin ear that’s on display in the klutzy Long Earth series? Continue reading