GeekPlanetOnline Event Reports

A report on Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett's recent talk.


GeekPlanetOnline Report: Talk on The Long War


The Long War is the sequel to last year’s multiverse stepping sci fi collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. The Long Earth was a huge success - so huge, in fact, that The Long War is the second in what will become a series. For their only UK-based event the authors appeared at The Institution of Engineering and Technology in London to talk about it. Our intrepid book correspondent Michaela Gray therefore braved the horrors of personal space invasion on the tube -  and of course getting lost because she can’t read a map to save her life - for you – yes, you!


OK, also for me as well.

In all seriousness, I was honoured to be in the same room. I’m a massive Pratchett fangirl, and have been ever since my oldest brother introduced me to Mort when I was a teenager. I only discovered Stephen Baxter’s work in the last few years but for me The Long Earth combined the best of both authors, so I was incredibly excited to have been able to attend.

Terry and Stephen were interviewed by Terry’s assistant, Rob Wilkins, who then took some questions from the audience. Here are a few of my highlights.


Asked about how The Long Earth came about, it seems it’s been a long time in the making:

Terry: “I had the idea just after I sent the first Discworld book to the publisher. In those days I was more for science fiction than fantasy. But the publisher bought the book and that was it; I became a fantasy writer. But in my drawer many years later I found these notes on Long Earth…and I thought, that’s a damn good idea! But it’s so vast, I thought I need to do this with someone who knows about quantum bollocks. And I knew that Stephen does!”

Stephen: “We’ve known each other for over twenty years and for about ten years we went to this annual dinner party and Terry would ask 'what’s new with quantum then?' And I’d go all Brian Cox for about an hour. Anyway we played with this idea, and our agents facilitated this and that…”

Terry: “…as agents do!”

Stephen: “Yeah! But the basic idea is simple…a really good SF idea is simple enough to describe in a sentence but which has far reaching implications, socially and ecologically. The hardest thing was picking out a coherent outline from all these ideas.”

Terry: “We are going to have to know how to stop it. There are lots of ways to just keep it going…”

Stephen: “I think we have a destination in mind. The idea of a multiverse is all over SF. We were interviewed by Simon Mayo this afternoon, and we talked about how there’s this faint patch of light which has been spotted in the sky, and the theory is it’s another universe colliding with ours. So our story is very current. It explains a lot to me and I think it’s very believable.”


Next they were asked what they could tell us about The Long War:

Stephen: “It’s about ten years on from Step Day. Things are changing. There is war, there are movements of colonies with new values. It’s hard to avoid the American theme really. The ecology is changing, which is symbolised by the trolls. The war with the colonies was my idea, the trolls were Terry’s...there’s not a tension between us when we collaborate, just a different take. I’m all about the cosmic, big stuff and Terry follows the people.”

Terry: “I do follow the people. Tiffany Aching created herself. She just shot into my head.”


Asked about the collaborative process, they replied:

Stephen: “We hashed out a lot over the phone…we write different chunks and then read through them together.”

Terry: “It’s like when I was working with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens. We both decided you do this piece and I do that piece and then get together and mix it up.”


Terry and Stephen then took a few questions from the floor. Not from me though, because I might have dissolved in a puddle of squee if they both looked at me.


Why did you choose to have a material you can’t step with?

Terry: “Because it makes it more difficult!”

Stephen: “Yes, we didn’t want people driving over with tanks or anything! And it’s important to have rules and be consistent with them.”


Isn’t this world, “Daturm” Earth, the ultimate “joker”?

Stephen: “Yes! Because of the emergence of humanity as a one off.”

Terry: “I suppose there might be something a little bit like humanity much further on.”

Rob: “So they would have evolved further than us?”

Terry: “Good luck to them!”


The Long Earth is very America-centric – is the UK mentioned in The Long War?

Stephen: “My view is we would be slower off the mark than the US. It’s very much an American dream. But ten years on we’re recovering and exploring.”

Terry: “Possibly without the government. Which these days I think would be a vast improvement.”


How would stepping affect people in other cultures and countries?

Terry: “On one occasion I was in Australia, and I spoke to some Aboriginals. I told them what I was doing and they were very interested. I asked them what would you do, and they said if there is an Australia here, there is an Australia there and it is still Australia. They seemed pretty OK with it!”


Sadly I wasn’t one of the lucky chosen few to get my copy of The Long War signed, but I really can’t complain; it was a wonderful evening and I’m so glad I was there. And I managed to make it back to the tube station without getting lost once.


Our thanks to Michaela for taking the time to report on this wonderful event for GeekPlanetOnline. Verity Hayer reviews The Long Earth here and the The Long War here.