This is the inevitable sequel to the Long Earth, which I reviewed last year.

In case you have forgotten, in the first novel a multiverse of parallel earths – the Long Earth – is discovered, along with the ability for humans to travel quickly and simply along a sequential series of earths. Its not quite clear how people “step”, nor why a process in Book 1 which is restricted to the movement of a small amount of material can now in Book 2 be accomplished at speed in great airships.

The novel charts a series of voyages across the Long Earth in search of various goals. And there’s the first of many issues – the different journeys recorded here are not clearly linked. The narrative switches between them at frequent intervals but the process of drawing them together, both thematically and in terms of their eventual outcomes, is pretty tortuous. The novel also struggles to find a theme – is it the relationship between humans and the other sentient species it discovers? (Strangely man has never evolved other than on Datum (the original earth) even though the novel is insistent that each earth is very similar to its neighbour save for small deviations, which over time lead to more significant changes (e.g. sentient dogs).) Or is it a rerun of the colonisation of North America, where the settlers gradually asserted their independence from the tax levying home country? Other weighty themes, on mortality and the uniqueness of the self are introduced but not pursued with any determination. The Long War promised in the title, a war across the parallel universes between man and trolls or settlers and state fizzles out with a shot being fired, thereby acting as a neat metaphor for the novel itself.

When you think of a typical terry Pratchett novel what do you envisage? A well developed, in fact a probably very cleverly thought out, plot, inventiveness in language, ideas, characters and plot development, well written fun to read prose, and above all else, wit. Witty turns of phrase, characters, plots. Characters that having been developed over several novels have come to have a life of their own, be it Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, or Lord Veterinari, all the way through to the minor characters such as Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. None of which can be found here. No humour, no wit, no inventiveness, just more and more “stepping” and minor variations on the world before.

Clearly there is very little Pratchett here, or at least I hope so, and his name has been leased to build sales. Cynical but understandable. What worries me most is how many more volumes of this endlessly recyclable stuff is stored away for future publications, eventually becoming “based on an idea by”. The Tolkien estate is still generating apparently new content under the JRR brand decades after his death, so I can only assume the same will happen here. Which is a pity, a real pity.