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)
10 thoughts on “KokkieH Reviews The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter”
Just went and bought this; I love stories with novel concepts, and this one sounds about as novel as they come. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve read a Pratchett novel – too much of a while, even.
Also, I really want to read Men at Arms (and by extension, Guards! Guards!) now, too. I came across this review after reading that one, so…yeah 😀
The Long Earth is a bit different from his usual stuff, but the idea, as you say, is unique. The third one in this series came out a couple of months ago, but I’m still waiting for the paperback edition of the second one to become affordable 😀
You really should read the Sam Vimes novels in order. It’s amazing to see how this character changes over time. Not all of them are equally good, but all of them have very good bits in them.
I am a long-time fan of Stephen Baxter and although I have to agree with Stephen Wright above, I thoroughly enjoy Baxter’s stories. If only he offered a ray of hope at the end. He did try in Titan, (which I thought was an amazing experience btw) but most of his works invariably leave me gloomy, wondering ‘where’s the hope?’ Along with Titan, I loved Evolution. Space and Time were forgettable gloom-inducing rehashes of each other, so avoid them unless you are going for the full Baxter set. I think, if Pratchett has tempered Baxter somewhat, I may try The Long Earth.
At this stage I just want to sample a couple of his novels to get a feel for his work. If I then like him I will of course have to get the complete set, which would mean another bookshelf which will have to go in front of a window as we’re out of wall space…
I wouldn’t call The Long Earth gloomy, but it’s definitely not rainbows and unicorns. In fact, I’d say it distinctly leans over to the dark side, but then the story’s not finished yet.
The book that got me following Baxter was The Time Ships – an authorised sequel to H G Wells’ The Time Machine. Loved it. Good place to start and it doesn’t leave you depressed. Evolution is interesting if a slightly disjointed. It’s a series of stories set in different points in Earth’s history and (fictionally) documents life of the first mammal, several evolutions of human and ends (I think) 500 million years in the future.
Third recommendation is The Light of Other Days, a collaboration with Arthur C Clarke and a reworking of Bob Shaw’s Other Days, Other Eyes. Not gloomy at all IMHO.
Thanks. He’s apparently another author no bookshop in SA has ever heard about (joining the ranks of Jim Butcher, John Green and Neil Gaiman), so once my budget allows it’s off to Amazon I go 😉
I’ve got this book. It;’s been sitting in the “read this now” pile since Christmas! Must get on to it. I always enjoy Pratchett’s stuff – for me, though, Baxter’s work is inevitably depressing. Realistic in every sense, but depressing, which I guess is why I haven’t tackled it yet.
Now that you mention it, the novel does have a very healthy dose of realism (as far as you can have that in SF) which is not normal fare as far as Pratchett is concerned. I won’t necessarily use “depressing”, but it is rather subdued and does touch on issues like extinction, overpopulation, exploitation of resources and political issues which can become depressing. I think it’s fair to say (not having sampled pure Baxter, of course) that the two authors temper each other in this collaboration.
Is there a particular Baxter novel you would recommend? I really want to try at least one.
I quite enjoyed ‘Voyage’, an alternate history scenario about a NASA Mars mission circa 1975 using Apollo hardware. Pretty much what they were intending had the money not run out. “Anti-Ice” is a wonderful steampunk romp – a great pastiche of nineteenth century Verne-style SF. I’d avoid “Titan”, which – for me at least – didn’t deliver the emotional journey I’d look for in a novel. Far too depressing.
Thanks. I’ll see if I can find one of those two. Recently my faith in South African book retailers have taken a knock – they simply haven’t heard of so many authors who are highly popular in the US and Europe. Even the online retailers don’t stock them. But through Amazon the postage is murder (and I stubbornly refuse to buy ebooks – free Kindle classics are okay, but I feel guilty about every one I download).
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