The Long Utopia
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by Harper Audio
Read by Michael Fenton Stevens
This series started out well enough, but somewhere along the line it lost something. The “world” of the “Long Earth” series truly is infinite in scope with the people able to “step” from one version of Earth to the next with nothing more than a simple bit of circuitry powered by a potato. Indeed, it sounds like a Jr. High School science fair project… the one that lost out to the baking soda volcano. There are some people who can step naturally from world to world and, one of them, Joshua Valiente, is the glue that holds this series together albeit with increasingly less ability as the story progresses.
The Long Utopia is the fourth book of a five-book series, but I cannot help but wonder why the authors (although I suspect this work is more Baxter than Pratchett) seem to be running out of room on their infinite world for story ideas. This first became apparent in the third book, The Long Mars, in which our heroes got “stepping” across the different versions of Mars, which for some reason do not match up with those of Earth. I’m not sure I believe that alternative timelines would vary from world to world in both nature and number, but, it is an interesting concept even if it does rely on Time and Space being only vaguely connected to each other.
Actually, the story concurrent with Joshua has some interesting features and is not really a bad story at all, but sprinkled in between the current action are a series of flashbacks to one of Joshua’s forefathers, also a natural stepper at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. It might have been a good story too but I felt it lacked depth and was not really all that necessary to the rest of the book, so while some readers might want to know where the orphaned Joshua came from, if could have remained an untold story and nothing would have been lost, save a bunch of pages that were, essentially, filler.
The main story was a tapestry woven with characters from previous books of the series and some new ones, including Joshua, Lobsang (an artificial intelligence who thinks he is a reincarnated Tibetan mechanic) Sister Agnes (one of the nuns who raised Joshua and now in a robotic body), and Sally Lindsay, another natural stepper and the daughter of the inventor of the Stepper Box, the device I mentioned that runs on a potato.
In all, however, it is difficult to detect Terry Pratchett’s hand in this story and like a few other reviewers I find myself wondering just what he did contribute. Well, the potato thing might be one of his, and Lobsang as well, but the writing seems to have more Baxter than Pratchett in it.
And, sadly, like the other books of this series so far, the story does not so much conclude as just pause at the very end, leaving the reader, or maybe just me, left waiting for a denouement that never comes. I can only hope the fifth and final book of the series has a satisfying conclusion.
Michael Fenton Stevens does the same fairly even reading he has in previous volumes of this series. For the most part he reads well, but every so often he makes the mistake of trying to read a character in a funny voice or an outrageous accent. Very few readers can pull that off and not be annoying and Mister Stevens is not one of them. That may be why I have not listened to a volume of this series in over two years, although, looking back at my review of The Long Mars, I had complaints both for the story and Mister Steven’s reading. This time I think he did better, but then there were fewer talking nonhumans floating around in this story.
So, while the story has some interestingly thought-provoking concepts, it falls flat much of the time, possibly in an attempt to remain at novel length, but the reading is good enough that I was not in pain to listen to it. If you have read the rest of this series, now might be a good time to continue on.