The Long Mars was harder to get in to than the first book and about as difficult as the second. Hopefully The Long Utopia will have less endless exploration of endless planets being endlessly unending. Pratchett and Baxter really try to flex their creative muscles designing lifeforms for limitless worlds, but it has started dragging. The Long Mars seesaws between two expeditions of discovery and while I found them mildly interesting, after two 300+ page installments of The Voyage of the Beagle circa 2040 I’m ready to put in to port. As well, the authors keep teasing me with exciting developments that never wind up developing. New creatures which only exist for a chapter. Dramatic events completely ignored after the first 50 pages. But the airship expedition went really far! What’s the linguistic equivalent of a sad trumpet noise?
It is nice that the number of significant female characters has stayed steady. There’s some flex in who’s a major player in each novel, but TP and SB have evidently made a point that their female characters wouldn’t fall below a specific number. For the most part all the characters manage to be recognizeable and nuanced without turning into stereotypes, although I’ve got some doubts about Willis Linsay. He oozes single-mindedness from every pore and is about as nuanced as a two by four. Then again, the real world has people like that. I guess it’s only fair that he be included here.
Another quibble: Sister John. Yes, you read that right. On page 21 we visit Joshua Valiente while he’s having tea at the Home with Sister John, who was born Sarah Ann Coates. (Fellow readers may remember her from The Long Earth and The Long War). She is now running the relocated Home on Madison West 5. You read that right too, although she’s changed her name from Sarah Ann to John, the text continues to use feminine pronouns. Now, if we were discussing an actual human being I’d be saying that it was their choice to use whichever pronouns they pleased. But we’re not. We’re talking about a created character. With that in mind I feel it would be more supportive of people who’ve transitioned in real life to have had John’s pronouns adjusted along with her name (and I’m assuming her gender?). I made a note to see how this unfolds when I originally read it, but it doesn’t unfold any further in this book. This is the one and only mention of Sister John. Although it’s possible she’ll show up in The Long Utopia. It just would have been nice to have it all explained now.
Three books down, one to go!