Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Long Earth Review

The Long Earth
Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett

Publisher: DoubleDay

1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone? 
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one... 

...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently. 
But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun...

When a series of alternative Earths with all the same natural resources but no humans are discovered, it’s a new era for humanity as trailblazers and opportunists head out into the Long Earth, and discover what awaits out there. The Long Earth is packed full of huge ideas of parallel worlds and witty observations of humanity as you would expect from two giants of British literature like Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett and this pulls you in like an explorer yourself to see what universe they have created.  

Joshua is a natural stepper – meaning he can move between different Earths without the technology or sickness that most people suffer. As such he is recruited by the TransEarth corporation on an adventure to the end of the Long Earth, to see if there is an end and what is really awaiting humanity if they carry on stepping out from home. Joshua is a basically good man but with a need for peace and has spent much of the time since Step-Day, when the multiple world’s first opened up, on his own in worlds were humans have not made an impact and accepting the differences. His travel companion Lobsang is either a Tibetian reincarnated in AI form or very intelligent AI and seems to represent humanities need to catalogue and note the differences in each world. The developing friendship between this two characters is great fun and the different worlds are fascinating.

While Joshua is the central character, some chapters take little diversions from different points in time (and different worlds) to explore what is happening in the wider tide of humanity. Despite all this going on, the overall plot of the books is quite slow and unfolds like a flower, when you suddenly realise quite how many petals the bud has. Despite the exploration theme, there just isn’t much urgency to their trip and feels more like a pleasure cruise at times. In total this is a glorious exploration into ‘what-if’ territory with ideas and hidden humour pull you along rather than the characters actions.

Recommended for fans of Arthur C Clarke and Tom Holt. 8 out of 10


  1. Right, this one. You make me curious now

  2. Oh can I go to an alternate earth? This sounds like fun and I do like what if books. I am curious about those worlds.

  3. Sounds like of like a literary versions of "Sliders." Which, I admit, is enough to draw me in and make me interested in reading the novel! Thanks for the review; I think I'll have to check this one out.