The "alternate earths" concept is
not new in science fiction, there are even multiple role-playing games and campaign
settings based around the idea, but I have to admit that Pratchett and Baxter have gone
somewhere original with it. Apparently, it is all based on an unpublished short story, The
High Meggas, which Pratchett wrote while The Colour of Magic
was being published. Discussing the idea with Stephen Baxter in the 2000s led to this
collaboration. Unusually, they havent gone for alternate history there are no
Britannias or Reichs here but alternate biology, geology, even astronomy. And it is
the latter that is the key to The Long Mars, because among an
infinite number of Earths, there is the Gap, where Earth has been smashed to fragments by
a catastrophic cosmic collision. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get to the Mars of
the Gap. Its a Long Mars, of course, which means that there must be sentient
Martians out there somewhere among the infinite alternates of the Red Planet.
While Sally, Willis and Frank explore the Long Mars in stepper-equipped
modified gliders, Captain Maggie Kauffmann leads an airship expedition further west into
the Long Earth itself than anyone has been before, to versions of the Earth that become
increasingly alien. Closer to home is Joshua Valianté, and the problem of the Next; young
people who despite their human appearance have somehow evolved beyond human. And
lets not forget the Datum itself, still devastated by the eruption of the
Yellowstone supervolcano some twenty years after Step Day.
If thats sounds confusing, it was
mainly because I came to The
Long Mars without reading either of its predecessors, The Long
Earth and The Long War. I loved the ideas here,
but there was a bit too much going on, maybe even too many narrative threads. And at the
back of my mind was a niggling doubt not about the Long Earth itself but
about infrastructure and logistics, the practical issues of a series of new, wild Earths.
Step sideways into an uninhabited Earth-like world
how long can you survive? How
long does it take to build a civilisation from the ground up? Never mind having a sizable
chunk of the Earth you came from being blown up and the rest thrown into the deep freezer
of a volcanic fimbulwinter! Maybe itll make more sense with the two books in the
series yet to come.