The Long Utopia

One more step be­yond

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Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

368 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thors: Terry Pratch­ett, Stephen Bax­ter Pub­lisher: Dou­ble­day

Can we ever truly es­cape

our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties? Or more sub­tly, take on new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties while leav­ing be­hind a for­mer life? Not, it seems, if you’re the AI rein­car­na­tion of a Ti­betan mo­tor­cy­cle re­pair­man and you’ve re­lo­cated to an ex­otic Earth where, de­spite your protests that all you re­ally want to do is live the ru­ral life, events are about to turn very pe­cu­liar in­deed.

Welcome again to the par­al­lel worlds of Terry Pratch­ett and Stephen Bax­ter’s Long Earth se­quence, where if you don’t like the neigh­bours, there’s al­ways the op­tion of step­ping to another ver­sion of home. Ex­cept, as AI- turned­farmer Lob­sang is about to dis­cover, some neigh­bours can’t be safely left be­hind, not when they pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to hu­man­ity – and to the su­per- in­tel­li­gent Next, aka hu­man­ity 2.0, for that mat­ter.

It’s time to get the old crew to­gether, which is how we come to re- en­counter not just Lob­sang but “nat­u­ral step­per” Joshua Valienté, up­loaded nun Sis­ter Agnes and Sally Lin­say, who’s adept at find­ing “soft places”, short­cuts be­tween worlds.

And it’s good to meet them all again in a novel that breaks with the for­mula of ear­lier books where the jour­ney, the idea of step­ping ever fur­ther from “Da­tum Earth”, was so of­ten the thing. This time around, as well as the threat- driven main story, we learn much about Joshua Valienté’s Vic­to­rian fore­bears, and there’s plenty too on how hu­man so­ci­ety might change when there’s so much room to roam.

In this con­text, a re­cur­ring theme is the way peo­ple might re­act to the end of scarcity, to the end even of need­ing to work. Bored of build­ing a space el­e­va­tor in one world? Move to another. Get enough peo­ple do­ing this, and soon the idea of knowl­edge be­ing lost be­comes a real is­sue.

Not that this comes across overtly as a novel of ideas. Rather, as with ear­lier vol­umes, there’s the sense of two en­vi­ably tal­ented writ­ers hav­ing fun as they play in an in­fi­nite fic­tional uni­verse. Which is also, of course, a source of huge sad­ness be­cause, with Terry Pratch­ett’s death, we are never go­ing to ex­plore the Long Uni­verse as fully as we might wish.

But let’s be grate­ful for what we’ve got. Pre­sum­ing The Long Utopia does prove to be the fi­nal vol­ume, it’s a fine fi­nale. We might grum­ble about a few con­trivances, but the au­thors’ wit and wis­dom more than com­pen­sates. Jonathan Wright Terry Pratch­ett’s 41st and fi­nal Dis­c­world novel, The Shep­herd’s Crown, will be pub­lished by Transworld in Septem­ber.

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