Tag Archives: Stephen Baxter

The Long War (The Long Earth #2)

by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The Long WarThe sequel to their previous collaboration The Long Earth, The Long War takes mankind’s prejudices and intolerances into the new, parallel worlds that opened up in the first book. Whilst The Long Earth explored the possibilities of a new beginning and a return to the spirit of exploration, The Long War tackles the all too human arrogance and propensity for self-destruction that has littered history for millennia.

Sounds a bit deep, but, this being Pratchett and Baxter, it is not. I am not sure how the collaboration between the two worked, but I can definitely hear Terry Pratchett’s unique characterisations and off-centre humour woven into Stephen Baxter’s imaginative storytelling.

It is twelve years since the Long Earth opened up and humanity began its relentless spread across the endless worlds it offered. For some it has been an opportunity to get away from the stresses of the modern world and return to a more simple and meaningful way of life. For others it is an opportunity to expand their influence and gain power. Joshua Valiente was one of the original pioneers who pressed forward across the myriad new worlds with his companions Sally and Lobsang. Now, twelve years later, he is a respectable married man and wants nothing to do with the changes going on in other worlds. But inevitably, he finds himself drafted into a new expedition to prevent the whole lot come crashing down in war.

The thrust of the plot is simple, but the complexity of the interweaving stories makes it a particularly interesting read. Whilst it doesn’t have quite the same level of humour and comic twists that made Terry Pratchett so beloved by his fans (me included) there is just enough hints of madness and quirkiness to make us comfortable.

The Long War may not be a classic; it is certainly not the best I have read from either author, but it is full of imagination and wonderful characters. From the opening scene with scientists seeming to mistreat one of the long Earth’s indigenous species, to the explosive climax at Yellowstone Park, The Long War is a great little story that will keep any fan of Science Fiction amused.

Proxima

Proximaby Stephen Baxter

Prior to reading this book, my only experience of Stephen Baxter was as a co-author with Arthur C Clarke and Terry Pratchett, so I decided to try his solo work. I chose “Proxima” as it was a recent book and is one of the few that does not form part of a series.

My first impressions were good. The characters are interesting and right from the start you can see there are good back-stories and interesting personality clashes. I was also intrigued by the dual story-line, following two completely different sets of characters, separated by decades and light years of space.

Stephen Baxter’s skill as a story teller is obvious as each of the stories unfolds and the characters and their stories begin to take shape. 

But then the plot begins to take a rather strange turn. The discovery of a mysterious “hatch” triggered a memory of the TV series “Lost”. And remembering how badly that ended, with a twisted plot and so many loose ends it was positively frayed, I got a little concerned.

But this isn’t a TV series, it’s a highly praised Science Fiction novel, so I shouldn’t worry about things like that. 

At this point the two different stories begin to merge and take a whole new direction. It remains tight and well written, with the characters continuing to develop and grow. The science is imaginative and well explained and I really enjoyed the book – until the end!

The premonition I had with the discovery of the hatch turned out to be well founded. The book ends without any attempt to answer many of the questions it raises. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise interesting book. I know that sometimes science fiction writers like to leave the reader with something to think about, but in this case I felt slightly cheated. Will I read another? Maybe, but I will pick it much more carefully next time.

The Long Earth (The Long Earth #1)

The Long Earthby Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Whilst I have been a great fan of Terry Pratchett’s work for many years, the only other work by Stephen Baxter I have read is the Time Odyssey series with Arthur C Clarke. So, just what do you get when a serious sci-fi writer teams up with an eccentric fantasy writer? Good question. For me, it is neither one thing nor the other, a serious story with some very surprising characters and twists.

I have often wondered about how writers go about collaborating on a project like this. Does one of them come up with the idea and the other flesh it out? Do they lock themselves away in a darkened room and fight over who gets to write the next line? I suspect it is neither of these, but the picture that the later conjures in my head, of Terry and Stephen laying into each other with sharpened pencils is one I think I will keep me amused for a little while yet.

Do, what about the book then? Well, as you would expect from any project involving Terry Pratchett, the wall between reality and fantasy are perilously thin. I am sure that everyone is aware of the many worlds theory which states that there is a very large – perhaps infinite – number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but did not, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes. In “The Long Earth” Terry and Stephen use this hypothesis to create a host of parallel universes, in each of which evolution has taken a slightly different track, and opens a door between them all.

Not an original idea in science fiction, but one I have never seen tackled in this particular way before. In a world where resources and land are becoming increasingly under threat, the possibility of “stepping” into another world, untouched by mankind and his industry holds great fascination. 
Travel between the different “Earths” is opened up by the invention of a device powered by a potato! But it is soon discovered that there are some people who can “step” between the different universes naturally. One such natural stepper is Joshua Valient who finds himself travelling across the Long Earth with a sentient AI as companion. 

Most of the characters are pure Pratchett, as are some of the situations, but the story has a serious edge to it that is obviously down to Stephen Baxter’s input.

There is enough eccentricity in the characters to satisfy most Terry Pratchett fans, and enough serious stuff to awaken my interest in Stephen Baxter’s work. I really enjoyed the collaboration and look forward to reading the next instalment “The Long War”