Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Long Earth

Go To
"To what purpose?"

A science fiction series co-written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. After the schematics for an easy-to-construct device called a Stepper, a key component of which being a potato, are leaked onto the internet, most of humanity gains the ability to "step" to parallel Earths. The issue being, nobody knew that was what a Stepper did that first day. "Step Day" involved a large number of teens vanishing into the next Earth in the line, many injuring themselves.

In Madison, Wisconsin, one boy named Joshua Valiente Steps along with the others, but unlike the rest does not experience nausea or disorientation. He gathers the other teens and helps them back to their Earth. On the same day, a single police officer also learns how to Step and becomes a sort of police liaison for Stepping-related crimes.

Skip forward a decade or so, and society has been rocked by the new ability to Step. There is now no limit to space or resources, and so the global economy, no longer able to base itself on the scarcity value of commodities like gold and food, is smashed. Colonization of "The Long Earth" is subsidized by many governments under an attempted "Aegis Law," but no one buys the idea that governments have control over the Long Earth equivalents of their lands — especially as no matter how far they attempt to extend their authority, an entire planet is never more than a Step away. As governments crumble and become useless, rules and patterns emerge:

  • The new economy is loose and favor-based, rather than using hard money between worlds.
  • Ferrous metals can't be brought between Earths in solid form, but chemical iron in blood will go.
  • Most people suffer nausea when they Step using a Stepper Box, but some "Natural Steppers" like Joshua can Step faster, without equipment or step-sickness.
  • Roughly a fifth of the population are "phobics" who cannot Step at all, and if someone brings them across worlds they get more violently ill than others, sometimes to the point of death.
  • You can't Step from world to world if you would be Stepping into a solid.
  • Aside from the "datum" Earth, none of the other worlds in the Long Earth appear to have any sign of Homo sapiens whatsoever.
  • Some worlds are "jokers" that aren't good candidates for colonisation for various reasons, such as the atmosphere being toxic or even completely absent, the land being an endless sea of lava or the world being a frozen hunk of rock, the biosphere being infested with lifeforms that are extremely dangerous... and in a few cases the planet isn't even there at all, only empty space remaining where the planet should be.

The Black Corporation, co-owned by a man named Black who does not appear until book 3 and an advanced AI who may be a reincarnated Tibetan repairman named Lobsang, leads the research into the Long Earth. Impossibly advanced and ahead of the game, Lobsang contacts Joshua about the farthest exploration into the "New Frontier" of The Long Earth ever made.

And behind it all, where only Joshua, born alone on another world when his mother accidentally Stepped during childbirth, can hear it, is the Silence.

Baxter has stated that five books were commissioned in all, with the first drafts for the final two books being completed in collaboration with Pratchett around eighteen months before the latter's death (Baxter also confirms that Pratchett will remain the first credited author on his posthumous books in the series). Titles in the series are, in order:

  • The Long Earth (2012)
  • The Long War (2013)
  • The Long Mars (2014)
  • The Long Utopia (2015)
  • The Long Cosmos (2016)

The series is based on a 1984 short story by Pratchett called The High Meggas, which can be found as part of A Blink of the Screen, a collection of Pratchett's shorter fiction. The original story concerns Larry Lynsey, a hermit who lives in one of the High Meggas — that is, more than a million Earths lie between him and Earth Prime. A pair of Steppers interrupt his solitude, each claiming that the other killed an entire base full of people.


    open/close all folders 

    The Long Earth 

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: "Step Day" occurs in 2015, three years after the first novel's publication date. The rest of The Long Earth takes place in the 2020s, and The Long War is set in the 2040s.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Trolls in this setting are peaceful, ape-like creatures who only use violence when provoked, can perfectly sing any song they hear, use songs to communicate with one another and can step.
  • Alternate History: Each stepwise world is this on a geological and evolutionary scale.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The elves. Having developed stepping strategies that give them a supreme advantage over any wild animals, rather than develop any kind of culture, they just became as cruel as possible, killing unnecessarily in the knowledge that there are always more prey on other worlds. They show no sign of empathy whatsoever, even for their own kind.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Lobsang speculates that a great deal of human mythology originated from misinterpreted encounters with trolls and elves.
  • Apocalypse How: City scale: the book ends with a nuke exploding in Datum Madison.
  • Bad Future: While never directly mentioned, it's hinted that the world has suffered badly from overpopulation in the books' near-future setting. Also the various 'Joker' Earths where there is no life at all. Or Earth.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The trolls and elves, to a minor extent, and First Person Singular to a major extent. She doesn't know she's hurting anybody by absorbing them into herself, she likely doesn't even know what hurt is. It's just what she does.
  • Celibate Hero:
    • Monica Jansson is celibate by twenty-nine, after her marriage fails.
    • Joshua doesn't seem to have much experience around the opposite sex either.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Rod Green, the Green family's phobic (non-Stepper) son who is forced to remain on the Datum Earth while his family goes to colonizes another Earth. He eventually becomes involved in a conspiracy to use a nuclear bomb to destroy Madison, Wisconsin.
  • The Chosen One: Joshua. Although it is clear he is special from the beginning, in the end he turns out to be a "dipole" to First Person Singular, having felt her presence through millions of parallel worlds.
  • Cold Iron: In a sort of inversion, iron, for reasons unknown, can't be carried when stepping, making it less useful for most purposes than any other metal. There is mention of the idea that an iron cage could hold a stepper prisoner.
  • Cool Airship: The Mark Twain.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: Mild, downplayed version. While Pratchett and Baxter get the US right for the most part, little bits of narration and dialog use British construction over American (things like, "I must have done," instead of "I must have," or "Now she knew this..." instead of "Now that she knew this...").
  • Death by Childbirth: Joshua's mother
  • Dimensional Traveler: Anyone with a stepper box can move to an alternate world at will, and natural steppers can do it without any device. Several hominid species have evolved that naturally have this ability.
  • Downer Ending: Sort of. The novel ends with Lobsang entering diplomatic negotiations with First Person Singular with a possibly sinister outcome, the discussion of the possibility of a conspiracy/experiment behind Happy Landings and, finally, Madison being nuked by terrorists.
  • Enforced Technology Levels:
    • Two factors govern Stepping;
    1. No iron can be Stepped unless it's bound up in an organic molecule — blood of course, but even rust will go, as it's bound with oxygen and hydrogen. This leaves a lot of tools on Datum Earth.
    2. To Step an object, a Stepping person must carry it. Thus, no vehicles until Lobsang installs himself on an airship. This results in the somewhat humorous sight of people team-hefting logs only to team-Step them and lay them on a flatbed truck in Datum.
    • Taken together, Datum Earth is the only advanced civilization, and Low Earths are Steampunk at best. Beyond that, it's for all intents and purposes the Stone Age, albeit with small amounts of specially designed ironless technology that the colonists brought with them from the Datum.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • First Person Singular, a sentient biosphere intent on expanding to every Earth, consuming everything living on those Earths. She doesn't mean any harm, though.
    • Joshua is more troubled by Happy Landings, the cheerful and utopian colony to which natural steppers have drifted for millenia.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: The Long Australia is revealed to be exceedingly violent. The first group of steppers vanished, leaving behind only a large splash of blood in their place.
  • The Fair Folk: Elves in this setting are said to be the inspiration for these portrayals of elves.
  • Fantastic Racism: The leader of Humanity First claims steppers aren't really human.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Zig-Zagged. It takes decades for guns to proliferate through the Long Earth; as they tend to be made from iron and iron alloys, they must be built from local materials. A lot of the first Steppers are unpleasantly surprised by just how many modern tools and conveniences use iron. But by the time the first book begins in earnest, plastic guns are common and guns made from brass-like materials are being sold.
  • For Want Of A Nail:
    • Apparently whatever particular mutation allowed the evolution of early hominids into humans only occurred on Datum Earth. Hominids in all other earths seem to have either evolved into human-like stepping species or gone extinct.
    • Jokers are Earths that, due to some chain reaction caused by the minor fluctuation that originally distinguished Earths from one another, are vastly different from other Earths, resulting in worlds that are covered in a vast ocean, are missing major landmasses, or have no moon. Or where, in one critical case, there is no Earth at all.
  • The Greys: The elves inspired these legends too.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: Jansson's boss can't resist bringing this up on her behalf. Possibly justified in that she's a Celibate Hero following her failed (gay) marriage and doesn't talk about her personal life at all, to the extent that she even has one. Sort of flies in the face of The Law of Conservation of Detail, all the same.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Lobsang is incredibly arrogant, but he does consider Joshua to be his friend.
    • Sally. She has an almost-insufferably proprietary attitude toward stepping, resenting that anyone else has access to the Long Earth. She also looks down on everyone else for not being natural steppers. She is often outright insulting, especially in the sequel when she insults Joshua's wife Helen to his face. She still has a soft spot for trolls, though.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Lobsang's assertion that he is a reincarnated human. He claims very sincerely to believe that he is truly the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman, and demonstrated by discussing what should be private details with his previous incarnation's old friends. The "gel" that makes up most of his computing power is sufficiently brain-like that he believes it could store a human soul. But as of The Long War he's shown a somewhat worrisome ability to get into any automated system sufficient that he may have found and raided somebody's computer or other records to get the information he needed to imitate the fortuitously-deceased previous Lobsang, before coming out with this gambit.
  • Mechanical Animals: The AI Lobsang designs a robotic cat to be in charge of pest control aboard his dirgible as he and his friends make their trek across the Long Earth. Being the reincarnation of a Buddhist, Lobsang also designs it to nonlethally capture any rodents so they can be released later.
  • Muggle Power: The Humanity First group, made up of non-steppers who hate the Long Earth, for reasons from resenting the government support given to colonists to being left behind by stepping families.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing to a villain in the story is First Person Singular, who has been causing unrest across the Long Earth without realizing it.
  • Nun Too Holy: Downplayed — the nuns at the nursing home that reared Joshua are a bunch of irreverent Cool Old Ladies, several of whom have mysterious or rebellious pasts. Sister Agnes is a Badass Biker who plays music too loud for her sisters' liking, and one of them may be hiding from the FBI.
  • Once More, with Clarity: After being told who First Person Singular is at the end of the first chapter, the 47th chapter is just the introduction repeated, after we've actually seen what she is.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Long Earth elves don't quite fit the usual mold: they are semihuman missing link creatures, have violent tempers, cannot communicate with humans and are predators who use stepping to ambush their prey.
  • Our Kobolds Are Different: Kobolds are introduced as a subspecies of elves in the second book. Neither as xenophobic as elves or as welcoming as trolls, kobolds are still regarded as dangerous, but have learned human languages and are willing to trade with other species. This makes them one of the few sources of information on how the Long Earth is doing in relation to the other alien species.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: The US President, shortly after Step Day, is mentioned in passing to be a woman. She's also President Target to some extent.
  • Parental Abandonment: When the rest of the Green family decided to try and find a new life out in the higher Earth's rather than having to go between the new frontier and Datum for money, they left their Phobic son Ron behind to live with his aunt Meryl permanently. They never see him again and only sent a few letters to him afterward. Jack feels guilty about leaving his son behind and didn't want to do so but was convinced by his wife Tilda, who he notes seems to have stopped seeing Ron as their son when talking about their children.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Happy Landings is a Close-Knit Community with no real problems. It's so apparently perfect that it gives Joshua the creeps.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Jansson.
    • And in the second book, Captain Maggie Kauffman and Admiral Davidson.
  • Reincarnated as a Non-Humanoid: Lobsang the Artificial Intelligence claims quite sincerely to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman who died the moment he was activated and has been accepted by the United Nations as such. In his opinion, the gel that houses most of his computing power is sufficiently brain-like to have attracted a human soul.
  • Robbing the Dead: Joshua takes a ring off a corpse he finds in Rectangles, the only artifact he's able to safely encounter.
  • Separated by a Common Language: A minor example, but someone raised in Wisconsin saying soda instead of pop is rather conspicuous, at least to a native of the Midwest. Also, the text is peppered with minor British style speech, such as saying "must do" instead of "must".
  • Straight Gay: Jansson's sexuality is only mentioned twice. By the same person. For no apparent reason. Becomes a minor plot point in the sequel, when Jansson is romantically pursued by a man who doesn't initially realize that she's gay. He takes the news of their incompatibility well and they end up enjoying a brief spell as Platonic Life-Partners before she dies. Still not terribly relevant to the main plot, however.
  • Suicide Attack:
    • These are now a legitimate problem, as people can just step around security measures in the Datum. Fortunately, most people aren't good enough orienting themselves towards their targets to be particularly effective. People also figure out pretty quickly that you can't get around security measures if you're underground in the Datum, and start holding important meetings in cellars and the like.
    • A suicide attack also turns out to be Humanity First's plan to destroy Madison.
  • Thin Dimensional Barrier: Places like this allow people with natural Stepping abilities to cross from one Earth to one several Steps down the line without crossing through the intervening Earth, which is ordinarily impossible. This only works for people with the natural ability to move between worlds without a Stepper box. Everyone else must take them one at a time.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Lobsang, being a devout Buddhist, is a pacifist.
  • Turing Test: It's mentioned that passing the Turing Test wasn't enough for advanced artificial intelligences to be recognised as deserving protection; Lobsang was the first to come up with the idea of declaring himself the reincarnation of a human who died at the exact moment he was switched on, thereby getting human rights. It's also mentioned that Lobsang passes Sally and Joshua's personal Turing tests through such human behaviours as choosing to dress as Indiana Jones when exploring an ancient monument, and deliberately pissing someone off to see how they react.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks:
    • Precious metals and minerals such as gold and diamonds quickly lose their value once their supply becomes effectively unlimited, with only their usefulness defining their value. Some guys don't get this early on and step out to regions with known gold deposits in the hopes of making their fortune, only to be greeted by mocking crowds who realized what the real effect of vast untapped gold resources would be.
    • Conversely, iron (or rather, things made of it) becomes quite a valuable resource because it can't be stepped, therefore you have to go through the rigmarole of mining, refining, smelting and forging it on every Earth you step to.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The Mark Twain in the first book, and the twains in the second. Technically, the zeppelins are from Earth Datum, but it's a still a story about parallel universes and zeppelins.

    The Long War 
  • Apocalypse How: Continental scale: the book ends with the Yellowstone volcano erupting, plunging half of Earth into the equivalent of a nuclear winter.
  • Battle Trophy: Beagles keep parts of respected enemies on their walls, preferably their heads. This is the fate of Joshua's hand.
  • Blood Knight: Due to the Beagles' reproductive cycle of population boom followed by destructive war, the entire Beagle race lives for war.
  • Brain Uploading: Lobsang does this with Sister Agnes, after her death.
    • He also arranges for 4900 Tibetan Buddhist monks to spend 49 days on 49 mountaintops in various iterations of Tibet chanting from the Tibetan Book of the Dead - as he puts it, to cover all his bases, though now he doesn't know which actually "worked" to produce the new Agnes since this was his first brain upload. It does a neat trick in continuing to obfuscate the question of whether he truly reincarnated or not, of course.
  • Bury Your Gays: Jansson is strongly implied to have succumbed to her illness on the last page of the book. The Long Mars confirms it.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The "Beagles", which are basically a race of Wolf Men, making it an incredibly obtuse and unintuitive name.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ring Joshua found in Rectangles.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Rectangles ring moves of its own accord in order to find and unlock an entrance to a hidden chamber. Sally reasons that there are a lot of technological ways to achieve this, but the device is clearly designed to seem magical to a primitive.
  • Emotionless Girl: Roberta
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Thanks to the none-to-bright pioneers that first visited the Beagle homeworld.
  • Foreshadowing: Starting in the previous book, there are mentions of how Yellowstone is due to erupt soon. Then in this book, abnormal geological activity happens throughout the story until it winds up being Chekhov's Volcano.
  • Hypocrite: Petra expresses a disdain and disgust for the human race for domesticating dogs and making pets of them... while in the same room as a domesticated Datum dog that she uses as a glorified sex toy.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Jansson and Wood.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The beagles are basically upright wolves with larger brains. Their society is built around lupine values, with cultural peculiarities such as matriarchy and frequent clan wars stemming from their high birth rates.
  • Left Hanging: As of the end of book 2, we still don't know:
    • What happened with First Person Singular?
    • What's the deal with the idyllic but vaguely sinister Happy Landings?
    • Where's Sally's dad, Willis Linsay?
    • Two of those are resolved in The Long Mars, but that has unresolved plot points of its own.
  • Mama Bear: Mary the Troll. Helen.
  • Matriarchy: Beagle society is universally ruled by females. This seems to be merely a quirk of their species.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: As with his own reincarnation, Lobsang applies this principle to Agnes' institution to an artificial body; as before, this is to occlude any legal issues.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-universe, Mary the Troll's "I will not" hand signal has been adopted by the U.S. colonies as a revolutionary slogan.
  • Modern Stasis: It's now the mid-21st century, yet, aside from the return of airship technology, Lobsang, and the Stepper boxes themselves, there seems to have been no technological change at all. In some areas, like space travel, there has actually been regression. This is justified and explored: Because humanity now has access to the literally infinite resources of the Long Earth, there is no more incentive to develop better technology. It is implied that this may be the reason why technological civilizations are so rare across the Long Earth: Only intelligent species that cannot step have any reason to advance beyond the hunter-gatherer stage.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Beagles. Partly because of their The Unpronounceable status and partly because of their disdain for humans.
  • Planet of Hats: Averted. A major plot-point hangs on characters being reminded that each Earth is a full and unique planet as opposed to featuring one theme throughout.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Davidson and Captain Maggie Kauffman of the US Aegis expedition. Their level heads help keep the conflict between the Datum government and distant settlements from escalating.
  • Ring of Power: Sally is annoyed that this is how the key to the Rectangle building appears to work.
  • Scavenger World: The Beagles are highly intelligent, but lack opposable thumbs and have a self-destructive tendency, which limits their technological growth. As such, they get their most useful resources from kobolds, who trade them bits and pieces of humanity, but especially leftovers from the Rectangles civilization.
  • Shout-Out: In-universe: the humans choose the name "Ham" for the troll child they're going to send into space for an experiment.
    • The airship Gold Dust has a crewman named Higgs. Doubles as a shout out to the LHC, as he's a bosun. (At least, this is the name he gives to Daniel. Helen doesn't believe it for a moment.)
    • Sally Linsay has a field day with Star Trek references when talking with Maggie Kauffman. Then again, Kauffman's crew and mission are almost an Expy of the Enterprise, down to the sarcastic ship's doctor with a name beginning with Mac.
    • It's possible that the reason the Beagles are called Beagles when they're nothing like beagles is because intelligent canines who can shift from quadrupedal to bipedal at will reminded whoever discovered them of Snoopy.
  • Take a Third Option: When the Beagles are hunting Joshua. If he stays then they'll catch and kill him, but if he steps then the crossbow will kill him. Luckily, Li-Li and Snowy have another idea: bring back his severed hand as proof that they killed him, while actually letting him escape.
  • What Does He See In Her?: Sally wonders why Joshua is married to Helen.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Cruelty to trolls and other Long Earth natives has become a problem in recent years, most notably with Mary and her cub.
  • Wolf Man: The Beagles are anthropomorphic wolves.

    The Long Mars 
  • Aborted Arc:
    • Phobics effectively vanish from the narrative in this book. One is shown briefly at the very beginning of the novel, and their antics in The Long Earth and The Long War are mentioned, but they don't seem to be a force in the Long Earth any longer. This is arguably a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome as a a ramification of Yellowstone; most phobics were either forced to step away from the Datum, died from the fallout, or were left stranded on a world whose relevance had dropped precipitously. It may have also been a choice to focus on the Next to the exclusion of the other differently-abled human population.
    • Captain Maggie Kaufman's two military Twains push well past the Gap, but there is no sign of First Person Singular.
  • Apocalypse How: The Long Mars illustrates a common trend of Class 4s as a result of Mars' position in the solar system. Most Mars are lifeless, with the standouts being Gap Mars and a relatively small number of jokers. Gap Mars cheated, getting life as a result of being seeded by unwitting natural steppers coming in from either side, with some of their stomach bacteria managing to make it to the red planet. The jokers exist in ages of, "volcanic summer," where a supervolcano released huge amounts of heat and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, making what is otherwise a tundra capable of supporting life...but only for so long. Many Mars have life, but even more had life but no longer do. The climax of Willis and Sally's arc occurs in a world that is (mostly) dead, where the vanished Martians built a Space Elevator as their world died.
  • Beware the Superman: The Next have nigh-superhuman intelligence, a knack for seeing through peoples' inner motivations, and (in some cases) the ability to talk you into almost anything. This is a source of some concern for humanity, especially once they get a glimpse of how that power can be abused.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Sally goes through a very calm, subdued version of this near the end.
  • Clash of Evolutionary Levels: With the introduction of the Next, this becomes a prevalent theme through the rest of the series. Unlike other examples, the series goes into detail of how the Next could show up in the first place. It's mainly due to the soft places letting natural steppers and intelligent people to fall towards Happy Landings which was a genetic bottleneck that allowed the Next to emerge.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The humans quickly figured out that the Beagles' civilisation was at a dead end because of their extremely high birth rates, so they decided to experiment with artificially reducing the size of their litters chemically without telling them. Unsurprisingly, regardless of the scientists' intentions, the Beagles viewed the results as this trope.
  • Fantastic Slur: The Next call regular humans "dim-bulbs".
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: Joshua's investigation of the Next, the Lindsays' trip through the Long Mars, and the Neil Armstrong's trip through the Long Earth are all presented as equally important and rarely given more than a chapter before we move to one of the others.
  • Genocide Backfire: Joshua's final point in the debate on what to do with the Next. However dangerous they might potentially be, trying to exterminate them would only lead to the survivors going into hiding and plotting revenge.
  • Human Subspecies: The Next. Paul says that the definition of "species" is always a bit hazy, but they definitely do not see themselves as the same as regular humans.
  • Idiot Ball: Despite being hyper-intelligent, evolutionarily superior savants, the Next of Happy Landings seem surprised that the regular humans will not willingly give the Next control of the settlement. Doubly stupid is that there doesn't seem to be any social constructs that would prevent the Next from attaining leadership through merit.
    • Willis Lindsay, for all of his brilliance, has shown to be a very poor judge of character, and have both high-minded opinions of himself and low opinions of others that have almost gotten him killed. He not only gave humanity access to the Long Earth, but gives a race of sapient crustaceans access to the Long Mars, purely to further his own agenda. The latter proceeds to bite him in the ass as a "prince" of the crustaceans, humiliated by Willis during his explanation of how Stepper technology works, seeks to kill Willis and his friends by chasing them across the Long Mars, eventually destroying one of their two gliders, damaging the other, and killing Frank Wood.
      • Furthermore, his daughter Sally prepared for an occasion that the expedition she, Willis, and Frank are on gets threatened by stowing away crossbows adapted for use in the low Martian atmosphere and gravity, but Willis threw them away, claiming they don't need weapons, and that weapons are usually utilized by idiots. Willis fails to comprehend that, since both of his traveling companions thought the emergency weapons were a good idea, he just called them BOTH idiots.
  • Immortality Seeker: Douglas Black.
  • Informed Attribute: The Next are repeatedly claimed to be superintelligent and highly able to understand and manipulate human thinking. We see the results of their machinations in a few places. However, none of them are ever seen successfully manipulating a human or otherwise getting the better of them, and ultimately their impact on the plot is more of an existential threat.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: As Mars only supports life in brief windows, the explorers find the ruins of civilization more often than active ones.
  • Make Way for the New Villains: The Next are built up as the sudden emerging threat, more dangerous than anything from the previous books, although their status as 'villains' is partially subverted in the end.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Willis giving the Martian whalers stepper technology leads to a disgraced Martian prince stalking the party across the many Marses in pursuit of revenge. Resulting in Frank's death.
  • Once-Green Mars: The vast majority of Marses are either dead or dying, with a rare few having undergone a brief period of volcanic-induced warming.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Methane-spewing Martian land whales.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: Selection pressure from being spread among countless alternate Earths and interacting with sapient but very alien nonhumans creates a hyperintelligent Human Subspecies, and the government orders their largest concentration nuked. As the setting lacks an inter-dimensional communication system, the officer-in-charge has to decide whether or not to carry out the order. The Hero gives them a damned good reason to do no such thing:
    I guess my final point is a practical one. You can't get them all, here today. Doctor, you say you can hunt the rest down. I doubt it. They're too smart. They'll find ways to evade us we haven't even thought of. You won't kill them all. But they'll remember you tried.
  • The Resenter: Tod Green deeply resented his mother after she essentially abandoned him for the rest of his life since he was phobic. Enough that when he aided in setting off the Madison nuke his only regret was that she was safe from the blast on another Earth.
  • Sadistic Choice: Near the end, Willis has to choose between saving his daughter, Sally, or astronaut Frank Wood. He saves Sally, who later realizes that Willis made an entirely cold-blooded choice based on her ability to get him home through the soft places.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Elevator: The whole point of Willis Linsay's expedition across the Long Mars turns out to be finding one of these - based entirely on his conviction that it logically had to exist somewhere in the chain. He was right.
  • Starfish Aliens:
    • The farther up you go in the chain of Earths, the more divergent things get; about a hundred and sixty million Earths away from the Datum, Earth is populated by organisms who use hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide as the primary building blocks of life.
    • Surprisingly averted by the sentients on display. The Beagles and many iterations of Martian crustaceans have similar emotional drives and social orders as humans do. This is an important bit of Foreshadowing as Willis' gift of Steppers to some Martians leads to, "the Prince," being humiliated and following Willis across many, many steps to get revenge.
  • The Unfettered:
    • Willis Linsay is determined to change the course of his species. Everything else is secondary.
    • The Next are a dark counterpart to Willis, viewing themselves as the next stage of human evolution and destined to take control of human society. As a result, they have very few qualms about treating "dim-bulbs," as subhuman.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Played with. As the Martian prince attacks the Long Mars expedition, Sally asks her father Willis why they can't just kill him. Willis instead determines that they can simply outrun him. Sally then reveals that she packed crossbows modified for the Martian climate, but Willis threw out the crossbows, stating they didn't need weapons, and even claiming that weapons are usually used by idiots. Cue Willis being shot at by an organic missile and having his glider damaged.

    The Long Utopia 

  • Apocalypse How: Planetary scale: the book ends with the complete (and very graphic) destruction of Earth West 1,217,756.
  • Apocalypse Wow: The final hours of Earth West 1,217,756 (New Springfield), witnessed by Lobsang from orbit, are described in minute details.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joshua and Sally, through Nelson, discover that a group of natural steppers were gathered together by Prince Albert, the Royal Consort to Queen Victoria. Some of these natural steppers then help operations along the Underground Railroad due to their unique abilities.
  • Big Dumb Object: The planet-spanning "viaducts" built by the Assemblers to wrap and encircle New Springfield, which are revealed to be the components for a Dyson Motor that will speed up the rotation of New Springfield to destroy it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Long Earth is saved from the Assemblers, but at the cost of Sally Linsay's and Stan Berg's lives. The most advanced iteration of Lobsang is also lost in a unreachable universe.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Assemblers. While they look like strange human-sized beetles with odd humanoid faces, they also integrate metal haphazardly into their bodies, making it difficult to tell where the machinery ends and the actual organic parts begin. They do not possess organs, but instead a green, spongy material inside of their exoskeleton that doesn't seem to have individual components within. Finally, they possess manipulator appendages so fine that they can change the molecular composition of anything they come into contact with.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: While mostly speculation, it seems the Assemblers, while exhibiting individualistic traits and the capacity to play with other sapients, regard other sapients as threats to their capacity to expand and propagate, and therefore will go to extreme measures to eliminate them, such as destroy an entire planet simply because a small community of humans exists on it.
  • The Bus Came Back: Lobsang's original mobile platform that was left with First Person Singular returns after two books of absence.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Lobsang really wants to be, or at least act like, he's retired. But he ends up in the middle of events anyway. Because it's happening within a mile of where he settled down. And it's unintentional on Lobsang's part.
  • Divergent Character Evolution: The two Lobsangs, "George" and the unit left with First Person Singular.
  • First-Contact Math: Attempted between a team of researchers and the alien Assemblers. They just ignore it and continue on with what they came there to do.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Lobsang and Agnes; this fits more under the 'letter' than the 'spirit' of the trope, since they are (arguably) immortal androids instead of immortal humans, but Agnus started off as a human and Lobsang is treated the same way by custom. They eventually end up adopting a young boy.
  • Meaningful Name: The loyal best friend of the Messianic Archetype who reluctantly "betrays" him is called Rocky.
  • Messianic Archetype: Stan Berg, a Next who distrusts his fellow Next and attracts regular human followers for his message of understanding and trying to do the right thing. And who sacrifices himself to save the Long Earth.
  • New Neo City: Earth West 1,217,756, aka "New Springfield", where much of the book takes place.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Towards the end of the book, Joshua, Sally, Lobsang, Agnes, the other Lobsang and Roberta are all gathered together. Agnes compares it to a The Traveling Wilburys reunion.
  • Recursive Creators: The Assemblers are theorized to be Von Neumann Machines, or a biomechanical variant, designed to spread themselves across other worlds. Due to special manipulator arms that have a fractal design reaching down to the molecular level, it is speculated that they can manipulate matter on an unprecedented scale, even creating more of themselves from virtually any substance.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Stan quotes St Bernard's Commentary on the Song of Songs - "You cannot love what you do not know" - while explaining his First Rule of Thumb, "Apprehend". Someone in the crowd shouts "I grok you!", and Stan acknowledges that as a simpler way of saying the same thing, as is Oasis's "Be Here Now".
    • Joshua says he expected the Next to be like Vulcans.
    • In a Call-Back to the first book, Joshua and Lobsang continue to riff off The Blues Brothers.
    • Sally continues with the Star Trek references when interacting with the Navy, calling one crewman "Ensign Wesley".
    • Sally also compares Lobsang to Daneel Olivaw.
  • Super Breeding Program: The flashback story reveals that a society of natural steppers set up an informal version generations ago. Sally and Joshua are among the results.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Sally freely admits that she has killed in self-defence, but refuses to ever do so in a premeditated fashion. She doesn't trust what she'd become if she started.
  • Wham Episode: Sally Linsay dies, as does the most advanced iteration of Lobsang, while his original iteration returns. It is also revealed that some evolved human (or Next) minds can alter the structure of the Long Earth.

    The Long Cosmos 
  • Book Ends: The last chapter of the series mostly copies lines from the first chapter of the first book.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Zigzagged with. The Next do present a lot of the usual traits associated with this trope (sexual liberation, preposterously advanced intelligence, perfectly logical, almost perfectly utopian society, outward condescension to regular humans), are implied to be on the path to completely replace humanity in the future, and with regular humans routinely talking up their superiority. However, there are also examples of deliberately flawed Next, the Humble, and the condescension toward regular humans is not particularly presented as a good thing and actually discussed in-universe. It is actually interesting to note that the most intelligent Next (the Lollipops and Indra) are the ones showing the most respect to regular humans.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Nelson's trip to a 'living island' out at "Earth West 700,000, or thereabouts."
    • Joshua keeps his wife Helen's diary as a keepsake.
      • And her Phobic brother Rod is mentioned.
    • Monica Jansson shows up in a flashback.
    • Near the end, Sancho the troll is humming "Pack Up Your Troubles", a song the trolls learned from a World War I soldier in the prologue of the first book.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Joshua names one of the trolls Sally. His granddaughter is named Helen after his wife.
  • Matter Replicator: The Next have developed 3-D printers of various types, including one for food. They're still limited to small-scale projects, though.
    Roberta: "[...]It may not be possible to progress the Invitation project for some time — not until we Next have developed large-scale manufacturing facilities, presumably robotic..."
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: "Johnny Shakespeare", an English teacher who decided to spread the good word about Shakespeare using a matter printer to create a complete anthology of the bard's work using resources on the stepwise Earths he lands on. This all goes swimmingly... Until his copies start "breeding" on a farming world and allegedly turning the entire world into a giant swarm of Shakespeare anthologies. As "Johnny" laments, all he wanted to do was teach!
  • My Brain Is Big: The "lollipop" Next.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Humble ... aren't. Many of the Next come across as Smug Supers, but they're the worst. They take their name from Stan Berg's "Be humble in the face of the universe", but they mean "dim-bulbs" should be humble in the face of them.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: The "Humble" pose as concerned for collective humanity and Next wellbeing, but Indra explicitly calls them out as being more concerned that they'll be supplanted by whatever sent out The Invitation.
  • Riddle for the Ages: While mentioned at the beginning of the book, the fate of Maggie's crewmembers who disappeared on the Earth-Moon is left unknown as she has to abort the mission for finding them early on.
  • Shout-Out: Many, including-
  • Theme Naming: The first of a new design of "super twain" is named the Samuel L. Clemens, as reference to Lobsang and Joshua's original Mark Twain.

Alternative Title(s): The Long War, The Long Mars