The Long Utopia
One more step beyond
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.