Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Long Mars The Long Mars
by Terry Pratchett And Stephen Baxter

Supplied for review by Random HouseNew Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

The "alternate earths" concept is not new in science fiction, there are even multiple role-playing games and campaign settings based around the idea, but I have to admit that Pratchett and Baxter have gone somewhere original with it. Apparently, it is all based on an unpublished short story, The High Meggas, which Pratchett wrote while The Colour of Magic was being published. Discussing the idea with Stephen Baxter in the 2000s led to this collaboration. Unusually, they haven’t gone for alternate history – there are no Britannias or Reichs here – but alternate biology, geology, even astronomy. And it is the latter that is the key to The Long Mars, because among an infinite number of Earths, there is the Gap, where Earth has been smashed to fragments by a catastrophic cosmic collision. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get to the Mars of the Gap. It’s a Long Mars, of course, which means that there must be sentient Martians out there somewhere among the infinite alternates of the Red Planet.

While Sally, Willis and Frank explore the Long Mars in stepper-equipped modified gliders, Captain Maggie Kauffmann leads an airship expedition further west into the Long Earth itself than anyone has been before, to versions of the Earth that become increasingly alien. Closer to home is Joshua Valianté, and the problem of the Next; young people who despite their human appearance have somehow evolved beyond human. And let’s not forget the Datum itself, still devastated by the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano some twenty years after Step Day.

If that’s sounds confusing, it was… mainly because I came to The Long Mars without reading either of its predecessors, The Long Earth and The Long War. I loved the ideas here, but there was a bit too much going on, maybe even too many narrative threads. And at the back of my mind was a niggling doubt – not about the Long Earth itself – but about infrastructure and logistics, the practical issues of a series of new, wild Earths. Step sideways into an uninhabited Earth-like world… how long can you survive? How long does it take to build a civilisation from the ground up? Never mind having a sizable chunk of the Earth you came from being blown up and the rest thrown into the deep freezer of a volcanic fimbulwinter! Maybe it’ll make more sense with the two books in the series yet to come.

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