Released: June 2015
This is the fourth collaboration from Messrs Pratchett and Baxter in the Long World series. If you haven’t read the previous books, as I hadn’t, you would do well to read some of their reviews for a brief history of how earth has multiplied in number leaving millions of earths for the human and other races to go forth and colonise using a helpfully designed ‘step’ machine which is powered by nothing more technical than the humble potato.
Many of these earths have been ruined already but now a group of colonisers have travelled further afield and found their own little slice of utopia where they can grow as many potatoes as they like enabling them to have a few exciting nights out. But this is a long Utopia. From the moment Agnes and her husband, Lobsang, arrive here hoping to live out a happy and peaceful retirement, with their adopted son, Ben, and artificial cat, Shi-Mi, Agnes realises something isn’t quite right. She can’t settle, can’t rest and can’t shake off the feeling that it has something to do with the world they are living in rather than her own sense of ageing that is responsible.
One of the drawbacks of ‘stepping’ is that metals cannot travel so Agnes has no watches or clocks, no way of proving she is correct until she confides in Shi-Mi, who agrees with her and helps Agnes to construct a time piece proving her theory is correct; all is not as it should be in this particular Utopia.
Meanwhile Agnes’ adoptive son, Ben, has been doing some exploring of his own, along with the other local children and has found a new life source which seem to have found their way into this Utopia from a distant universe. When Agnes discovers this the various and seemingly independent threads running through the story begin to interact and a real plot starts to emerge.
There are other equally interesting characters in the story who seem to have had the lion’s share of narrative in the previous books. Unfortunately, because I hadn’t read the previous three books, I found it difficult to see how they were relevant to the current story until the book was nearly at a close. That said I did find the book compelling and the end was a realistic and relevant one.
Whilst the previous books in the series have been criticised for having no real depth and being too scientific, I found this one to be genuinely sad and emotive. It wasn’t all bleak though; there were some really playful and light-hearted moments in there, reminiscent of the humour in the Discworld books.
Although a fifth book had been planned for the series I’m unsure whether that will be released without Terry Pratchett. If there is a new book, you’ll find me at the front of the queue in the bookshop on Datum Earth waiting for my copy.