The Long Cosmos | Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter | 2016 (30 June) | Doubleday | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was always intended to be five novels long, The Long Cosmos being its last. But the loss of Terry Pratchett in 2015 has added such a sadness and a finality to its closure. Much of The Long Cosmos was completed before Terry’s death but Stephen Baxter is to be warmly thanked for his dedication in bringing it to this finished, polished state, thereby concluding a series that I have adored for the last four years. As soon as I read The Long Earth on its publication in 2012, such a beautiful hardback on the outside let alone on the inside, I knew that we were in for something very special indeed. Here we are, five books on, and the story is as stunning and original as ever, the only difference being that now I have fallen deeply for each of these characters and now it’s time to say goodbye.
There would be no point at all in reading The Long Cosmos without having read its four predecessors and the review below assumes that this is what you’ve done. Having said that, I do my best not to give anything away.
Time has moved on for our intrepid stepper, Joshua Valienté. It is almost 60 years since Step Day when Joshua, a natural stepper, was able to step into the Long Earth, the parallel Earths stretching westwards and eastwards in infinite number, and rescue the children stranded there after they had made the discovery that a simple stepping device needed little more than a humble potato. Joshua has explored many millions of the Long Earths, on his own or in good company, notably with the astonishingly wise and powerful AI Lobsang, who, he maintained, was the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repair man. There hadn’t been a Turing Test invented that Lobsang couldn’t beat. But Lobsang too has changed. Like Joshua, Lobsang has endured grief, pain, tiredness, and now he has withdrawn into a virtual game where he really can live as a Tibetan novice monk. But he can’t stay there. Joshua can’t do what he wants either. Because across the Long Earths has come a transmission, calling not only to humans but to all intelligent life forms, including the trolls who step from Earth to Earth, singing as they go. The call is simple: ‘Join us’.
Joshua, Lobsang, the extraordinary Next – unusual (to say the least) individuals who represent the next step in human evolution – and an equally extraordinary troll Sancho, each have a part to play in deciphering the message and responding to its meaning. The ramifications of this are enormous. Once more, Joshua must undergo another gargantuan journey across the Meggers, the most distant Earths, to solve the puzzle.
But this isn’t just the story of the enigmatic message, it also continues the personal stories of our leading characters, people that we have become so deeply attached to over the previous novels that have presented decades of their lives. This is a novel about relationships, discovering what truly matters, taking that extra step to understand the people you love and love you, to make some peace. It is a wise, wise novel and I hung on to every word.
I’ve been trying so hard to think about what it is that makes me love this series so deeply. The story itself is built on a brilliant premise and it is supported by so many fantastic ideas and objects, some of them very funny and others astonishing, making me marvel at the imaginations that created them. We are taken to so many different worlds, which range from the incredibly odd (with wildlife to match) to the tragically afflicted. Some are even off-planet – as we enjoyed in The Long Mars. But there’s more to the series that even this. Its vision is so richly humane, warm, witty, compassionate. At times there is deep melancholy, it can certainly be quirky, but above all – and I’ve said this before – it’s wise. But not in a preaching way, in a kind way.
The wonders of this series are immense, the appeal of the characters is limitless, the imagination behind its creativity is glorious, and its wit and compassion are marvellous. I couldn’t even attempt to give you a review worthy of this series’ achievement, which concludes so well here in The Long Earth, with everything brought together. I can’t even hint at some of the people you’ll meet inside the pages – and not just the people – how I adore the trolls. I don’t want to say goodbye to the trolls and I’d love to know so much more about the great Traversers, and the Beagles. Joshua and Lobsang have been fine companions and guides. But time has passed. All things must end. But I can thank my lucky stars for this series of five books, each with its magnificent dust jacket (what a stunning series this is), and know that at any time I can pick them up and begin the story all over again.