May 23, 2024

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Discworld Read-Along Continued: The Long War

It's been a while, but I finished another book in this series.

When I started the Discworld Read-Along, I was hitting up a novel every week or so.  They were short and delightful.  As the series went on, the books got longer and I got a bit busier with other things.  Then I decided to read a couple more books by Terry Pratchett before ending this Gabbing Geek series.

As it turned out, I didn’t care as much for The Long Earth as I did for, say, Good Omens.  Will the second book in this series, The Long War, come across as any better?

Plot:  War may be breaking out on the Long Earth, the name given to the nearly infinite number of parallel worlds that humanity has learned to “step” to.  But what do people fight over when there’s no longer an issue of resources?  The answer seems to be ideals.

Back on Datum Earth (the human original), while the United States had the foresight to declare all territory it held on the Datum to be likewise American territory on every other Earth, that doesn’t make governance easy.  How, for example, does a government collect taxes from far-flung colonies that use the barter system for everything?  That leads to political tension between a president looking to get tough and win re-election and the people of the Long Earth so far removed from the Datum that they don’t see the point of still being a citizen to that country.

Also, there’s some problems as the largely friendly trolls are disappearing, while the more hostile kobolds and a race of dog-people called beagles have an axe to grind against the first humans to come out their way…

Commentary:  I said of the first book it works more as a thought experiment than as a novel.  The main characters seemed to be Lobsang, an AI that claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman, and Joshua Valiente, a “natural stepper” who can travel between worlds without a stepper device or the nausea that most people experience when stepping if they can step at all.  There were other characters, many of whom are still hanging around, but mostly the first book was Joshua and Lobsang exploring different worlds to see if there was a way to loop back to the Datum.

The problem I had with the book was that the characters were, well, bland.  There didn’t seem to be anything particularly endearing about Joshua, Lobsang, Sally, and the various other characters who popped up here and there along the way.  Most characters were just there.  The ones that weren’t were stand-offish and obnoxious, probably on purpose.  I know Terry Pratchett was capable of better, and maybe Stephen Baxter is as well, but it isn’t on display in either of the first two books.

It isn’t helped by a plotting problem.  The “long war” seems to be just something running in the background.  The trolls, helpful humanoids that love singing, just start disappearing as a plot point that drops in from nowhere halfway through the book.  You’d think something more important would be introduced gradually from the first chapter, but not really.  And we’re still stuck with characters that are either bland or obnoxious.  If I can’t bring myself to care about what Joshua is doing, why should I care if he survives?  Lobsang seems to be manipulating just about all the other characters for as-yet unstated purposes, but they always react the same way no matter who they are:  they get offended then do what Lobsang seemed to want anyway.

If there is one theme that runs through the book that isn’t explored enough, though, it is the fragility of existence.  “Joker Earths” were a topic in the first book, worlds that seemed outside the norm for some reason, but the idea keeps coming up that freak accidents and the like happen everywhere, and you never know when some solar flare or a hypercane (a continent-sized hurricane) will pop up to wipe everything out.  The concept seems to be that while humanity chose to step originally for all kinds of reasons, there may come a circumstance where humanity is forced to step for its very survival.  More comes of that, and it somewhat redeems the book, though not that much.

NEXT BOOK:  I will finish this series, and the project as a whole, so hopefully I’ll get to the next book faster than this one.  Up soon will be The Long Mars, where humanity uses stepping to assist in space exploration.