What if the Earth wasn’t the only one? What if there were millions more Earths beyond ours, formed every time in that history went one way or the other while moving along the trousers of time? What if ours was the only one where homo sapiens developed, leaving the others empty, unspoilt and there for the taking? What if all you needed to do to reach one was step to the side?
Parallel universes are nothing new to Science Fiction, but the idea is given a wonderful new spin in The Long Earth, a collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.
(Please note: there are some minor spoilers to follow, but I won’t reveal any major plot points.)
Before burning down his house and disappearing forever, Willis Linsay posts blueprints online for a device called a Stepper. That evening millions of people, mostly children, step to an alternate Earth for the first time and the world is changed forever. As endless new possibilities open up in the form of an infinite number of Earths, people quit their jobs and head out into the Long Earth, pioneers going out to settle their own Earths free from politics and strife. Back on our Earth, called Datum Earth, the economy is left crippled by the exodus which just adds to the growing resentment in the phobics, the people who are unable to step, even with steppers.
The main plot of the novel revolves around Joshua Valienté, a natural stepper (someone born with the ability) from Madison, Wisconsin and one of the first to be identified, giving him a kind of celebrity status. Joshua teams up with Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle mechanic who reincarnated into a supercomputer. Together they set out on a journey beyond a million Earths out. Lobsang claims the purpose of the journey is for scientific discovery, but Joshua soon learns there is some threat out in the Long Earth. Something is driving a migration of other humanoid life-forms towards Datum Earth and they must find out what it is.
A second storyline focuses on Madison police officer, Monica Jansson. One of the first people to step on Step Day she becomes an obvious choice to take responsibility for the inter-Earth police force of the Madison PD. We follow her as she starts to track the movement calling themselves Humanity First, made up of phobics and people who suffered economic loss due to the stepping phenomenon.
There are several more subplots woven into the story, focusing on various individuals and how they deal with stepping and exploring and exploiting the new Earths. Chief among these is Sally Linsay, daughter of the man who started it all, who joins up with Joshua and Lobsang to unravel the mystery of The Long Earth.
(Find my opinion on the book on page 2)