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Jointly written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, the Long Earth is the first in a trilogy about modern day mankind being able to step sideways into past alternative planet earths, with the help of a home made machine called a stepper.
Some of you my have heard of Mr Pratchett - he's responsible for the hugely successful Discworld Series of books about an alternate earth called the Discworld, and Stephen Baxter is a science fiction writer who has also written some non fiction books. I'm a bit precious over "my" Pratchett, I like his brilliance to be his only and have always been wary of his collaborations. However, I've yet to actually be disappointed by one of his joint ventures and the Long Earth is no exception.
The main character is Joshua Valiente, a boy who built a stepper and was one of the first to move across into an alternative planet earth. It turns out that he has a special talent for being able to step without a stepper, and also without feeling the severe nausea that most people do when stepping, which means that he can step across the worlds very quickly. He is recruited by a soft drinks vending machine with a conscience (it went to court, "Lobsang" has been granted human status - it's very "Pratchett", just go with it!) to see how far back they can step to and the rest is just brilliant - I'll give my opinions about it all below.
Firstly, the whole idea of alternative planet earths without people, buildings, technology etc absolutely appeals to and fascinates me. Imagine if such a thing existed? It would be like space travel and time travel all rolled into one - every nerd's dream! Some stories come to life in a very graphic way due to the way the environment or scenes within the book are described, this book was as visual to read as watching a film in my opinion. Very well done Mr B and Mr P for bringing the Long Earth to life. I'd love to pay a visit myself!
I liked the way that as people get the hang of stepping, there are large movements of people who travel the earths as pioneers, homesteading and going back to a way of life where craft skills, woodsmanship and agriculture were king, as opposed to the world we live in where everything stops if the computers at work decide to "say no". I found this another appealing factor to the book. The flip side of this is that a welcome dose of realism is added to that concept - the lands of plenty were starting to be stripped of their resources and police forces had to work out a way of dealing with crimes in those other worlds, a point well made by the authors that humankind as a species never seems to learn how not to destroy things or how to look after the planet we have already been gifted.
I'd recommend this to Pratchett fans who like / love his style but yearn for a setting other than Discworld. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and can't wait to read the next book in this series. Five stars, thanks for reading.
RRP £18.99 (hardback)
The long earth is a joint novel by British fantasy writers Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter and it explores the dimensions of alternate Earths.
Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld novels and is one of my favourite novelists, Stephen Baxter is best known for his time traveller series.
The Long Earth tells on the surface a simple tale, what would happen if suddenly mankind could step from one version of Earth to another, and again and again. All the versions of Earth other than the main one are free from the evolution of humans so humans encounter the Earth as it would have been if mankind hadn't influenced the land. Each step either East or West takes the stepper 50 years backwards into an untouched world, however, the further the stepper goes back the more chance there is for evolution on Earth to have moved in different directions to the one on the first Earth. In this world we encounter natural steppers (Joshua) and his movement through the Long Earth through the many hundreds of thousands of possible worlds and what happens to him, the people he meets and the ship he's in.
This book is a strange story in some ways, it tells of an Earth where suddenly everyone can move away from the central version of Earth and step into a virgin world where Mankind's influences never took place. One oddity about the stepping is that iron can't move between worlds but everything else can, this is explained in a bit of pseudo-science but at least gives the authors a chance to discuss how mankind would set up a new world without bringing heavy machinery between worlds.
As we move through the novel and the parallel Earths Joshua slowly realises that there are sentient humanoid creatures moving through the step worlds, he also realises that these peaceful creatures are moving away from something and is determined to find out what that is.
This novel feels like one man's voyage through the infinite Earths, it has a more academic approach to the colonisation of these alternates rather than a humanities next step, the author's don't really the myriad possibilities such a mass movement of humanity would cause. There are vague suggestions off governments collapsing, terrorism being simple as the terrorist just moves back a world gets into position and then steps into the version on the main Earth, there is also the realisation that humanity would change if given infinite opportunities for expansion but this isn't explored in depth. There are lovely touches probably coming from Terry Pratchett such as the original stepper box being powered by a potato but in truth this feels like a Stephen Baxter in all but name. Stephen Baxter books tend to be heavy on technology, possibilities and complexities all apparent in this novel.
I thought the book could have had more scope, a little more humour the main character Joshua is a little androgynous and a bit boring at times, also the spirit of adventure is missing in some of the narrative which surely a slow movement through the many possible Earths would give the explorer.
There is a sequel, the Long War and the book ends with mankind splitting between those who can step and those who can't and also the menace which Joshua detected is still around. I enjoyed this novel, and hope that the Long War explores new angles of humanities movement and the possibilities caused by mass transit from a stable world into all these chaotic interesting worlds.