We travel from Victorian London to the ends of an Earth as Deanne Sheldon-Collins returns to the podcast to face the consequences of three books’ worth of bad decisions in the fourth Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter Long Earth novel, The Long Utopia.
It’s 2052. Datum Earth is dying a slow death in the wake of the Yellowstone eruption. The Earths next door are building space elevators, while a new way of living emerges in the high meggers. Lobsang has died, Maggie Kaufman has retired, Sally Linsay is off helping settlers, and the Next are covertly recruiting more of their kind to join them in their “utopia”. Joshua Valienté – now fifty and further estranged from his ex-wife and son – says yes when Nelson Azikiwe offers to track down the father he never knew. But Joshua is also having another one of his headaches, which can only mean trouble is brewing in the Long Earth. Sure enough, in the high meggers settlement of New Springfield, fresh pioneers “George” and Agnes discover something is deeply wrong with their new planet. The solution might have long-reaching consequences for all of humanity – and especially for Sally…
The first of Pratchett’s novels to be published after his death, The Long Utopia feels different to the ones that came before it. (If you need a recap, see “The Long Footnote” bonus episode.) The action takes place mostly on just a few worlds – there’s no picaresque travelogue of weird new Earths. One plot thread goes further back in time than we’ve been before to fill in backstory for one of our main characters, while another stars someone we’ve never met (and won’t meet again). The biggest plot starts like a horror film, but shifts gears into old-school big concept science fiction.
Was this what you came to the Long Earth for? Did it feel like a fitting end for…certain characters? Was Pratchett’s voice in there for you, or was something perhaps lost as he moved on quickly to other work he wanted to finish? And if stepping could join up different universes, which of Pratchett’s fictional worlds would you like to talk to one another – and how would stepping change the Disc? Let us know! You can use the hashtag #Pratchat69 on social media.
Guest Deanne Sheldon-Collins (she/her) is an editor, writer and a fixture in Australia’s speculative fiction scene, working for Aurealis magazine, Writer’s Victoria, the National Young Writer’s Festival, and co-directing Speculate, the Victorian Speculative Fiction Writers Festival. Deanne didn’t have anything to spruik, but she did recommend – as have many of you! – Martha Wells’ series The Murderbot Diaries, which begin with the 2017 novella All Systems Red. The seventh book, System Collapse, will be published this year.
As usual, you can find notes and errata for this episode on our website.
We’re getting back on track in August with #Pratchat68, our delayed episode discussing Pratchett’s proto-Discworld novel, Strata, with guest EJ Mann. In September we return to the Disc proper with the short story “Theatre of Cruelty”, which we’ll discuss with UK author C. K. McDonnell. Get your questions in for “Theatre of Cruelty” via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat70, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.