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The Long Utopia: 04/28/16
The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the fourth of the Long Earth books. Most of the book is set on one particular Earth in the high numbers far from Datum. Something is weird about this particular Earth. Something weirder than any of the Joker planets. Something that is setting the natural steppers on edge.
If the Long Earth books are taken as science fiction genre road trips, then the fact that steppers naturally go either West or East is just one of the tropes. But taken in the context as a science fiction series, the bi-directionality of stepping is limited and artificial. This volume offers the idea that it is possible to step North and South as well (and I suppose in other directions too) but human imagination still fixated on the idea of the road or the curve of Datum Earth still thinks first in terms of East or West.
All of these Long Earth books are written like long versions of the original Discworld books, with episodic scenes that are loosely connected and do eventually come together to give a sense of a story. At least these books, though, do have chapter breaks, something most of the Discworld books don't have.
Out of all the episodic moments, one story line will stick in the craw more than others. For me, it is the mysterious doings in the half built basement of the Swap House. Basements, and more generally, holes, in horror are portals to other places. They are passageways to the Underworld, to Hades, to Hell, to other awful dimensions. Here too. And they are a way in for creatures who are hell bent, if you'll excuse the pun, on exploiting this Earth to its fullest potential.
The way these extra terrestrial creatures are described and they way they seem to affect the natural steppers reminds me most of the creatures dug up in the abandoned Underground line in Quatermass and the Pit (or Five Million Years to Earth for those who saw it in the U.S.).
Really and truly, I wish The Long Utopia had settled down to just telling the story of the invasion of this High Earth. It was the most compelling of the plot threads. Unfortunately precious pages are wasted on the origin story of stepping and of Joshua Valente. You know what, I really don't care how stepping came to be or why his family is so good at it. This far into the series it's rather a moot point.
Although Terry Pratchett died in 2015, there is a fifth book in the series coming out later this year called The Long Cosmos. I am going to hazard a guess that it will be the last of the series unless Baxter decides to keep going.