The Long War opens ten years after the events of the first book. Joshua is married to Helen Green, with a family of his own, content to live as a simple homesteader out in the High Meggers, the (differently spelled) neighborhood at least one million Earths removed from Datum Earth. Lobsang is out of Joshua's life, busy running the Black Corporation, which has a monopoly on many important new technologies, including the nonferrous dirigibles that keep all the iterations of Earth in contact, under a loose affiliation known as the Aegis. Joshua's placid life gets a disruptive jolt with the reappearance of Sally Linsay, as prickly and unpredictable as ever. Sally is worried that the trolls — kindly, peaceful partners to humans — are being slaughtered or maltreated up and down the Long Earth, and she convinces Joshua to try to do something about it, launching him on a new odyssey, with his family along for at least part of the ride.
In addition, we get a passel of intriguing new characters and their quests, such as Captain Maggie Kauffman, who helms the USS Benjamin Franklin dirigible, tasked with enforcing Aegis authority up and down the Long Earth. Her conversion from an officious point of view to another frame of mind becomes a central theme. We also meet Christopher Pagel, an expert on trolls. Moreover, Sister Agnes, the Harley-riding nun who helped raise orphan Joshua (can we discern Pratchett's hand here?) returns in a surprising manner.
Baxter and Pratchett don't merely repeat the feel of the first book. Everything has evolved. Some twenty-five years after Step Day, their frontier is now morphing into "statehood," with all the Realpolitik issues that condition implies. The plot of this volume reflects the extant complex conditions of a widely settled cosmos. The milieu is less Davy Crockett (a figure cited frequently in The Long Earth) and more John C. Frémont, Great Pathfinder turned politician. At one juncture, the authors illustrate these changes with a touching symbol: the markers that Helen Green and her family used on their long trek across the endless forests are now crumbling and abandoned. (Also conducive to more empire building are the anti-nausea medicines that have normalized the Stepping procedure.) Additionally, whereas the first book concerned mainly the cognate USAs, we now experience what China has been doing in its associated dimensions, thanks to riding along with the East Twenty Millions Expedition involving pedagogue Jacques Montecute and his super-bright student Roberta Golding.
The Long War concludes on a very satisfactory note, after its patented amalgam of jesting and jousting, having explored topics such as the nature of consciousness (human and otherwise), cosmology, freedom, and the soul. But the last couple of chapters also form a trembling springboard to further adventures. Whether Terry Pratchett's well-known health issues will permit any extensions remains in doubt. But should this entry terminate the series, readers will still feel blessed.
Like Greg Bear's infinite corridor in his Eon series, Philip José Farmer's overstuffed Riverworld, Larry Niven's Ringworld, or Roger Zelazny's feuding realms of Amber, or any of a dozen other allied venues, Pratchett and Baxter's Long Earth is a quintessential SF construct tailored to offer an infinity of exploration and a bounty of fresh readerly joys.
Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.
Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 6/19/2012