The Long Earth by Pratchett and Baxter – Book Review

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The Long War is out! To celebrate this release we thought we would help get you excited with a review of The Long Earth.

For those who don’t know, The Long War is the much-anticipated sequel to The Long Earth which is the first in a series of collaborations between Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

The combo of Baxter and Pratchett is the ultimately pairing. Two powerhouses of the literary world coming together; one author bringing an unrivalled warmth and humour and the other bringing an incredible sci-fi imagination. What’s not to love!

I can’t admit to knowing much of Baxter’s work (having only read… which was excellent by the way) but I certainly know a thing or two about Sir Terry as I have, and have read, every one of his Discworld novels (and there’s a bloody lot of ‘em). I’ve even read the Johnny series (don’t snigger), the Bromeliad books and even the recent The Book of Poo.

Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett

So what’s it all about?

One random day people all over the world received a set of blueprints. No one knows where they came from but these blueprints explained how to create a boxed device with a switch on top that is powered by a potato.
This device then allows a person to ‘step’ either left or right in to a parallel version of our Earth which leads to millions of people simply blinking out of this world. This effectively throws things on ‘our’ Earth (known as Datum Earth) in to turmoil but for those who have stepped away in to the great unknown it’s a frontier adventure where world after world is untouched by greedy human fingers and ripe for discovery.

Stepping causes people to vomit horribly though. A kind of stepping sickness and everyone is afflicted. Everyone except a chap called Joshua. In fact Joshua doesn’t even need a potato powered box to ‘step’ either, he simply can.

Stepper-Diagram

A diagram of a Stepper

This in itself is odd enough but then he meets a talking vending machine called Lobsang who asks him to join in on an adventure through the Long Earth and find out what secrets it has.

What follows is a journey through the clouds, across hundreds of thousands of worlds. Some worlds hotter than ours, some colder, some more dangerous than Jurassic Park during a storm and some pure paradise. They encounter world stepping elves and trolls which are nothing like you’ve been brainwashed to imagine them Tolkien. And that’s just where it starts to get weird.

The Good

First and foremost, if The long Earth is anything it’s fascinating. At times it feels more like a philosophy text than it does a sci-fi adventure romp. This isn’t to say that it’s filled with philosophical references, quite the opposite in fact (the most blatantly references it’s riddled with are to classic movies).

13147230No, The Long Earth is in many ways a perfect sci-fi novel as it mixes furturism and adventure while asking that philosophical and human question of ‘what if?’
It asks it regularly too, with every ‘step’ Joshua and Co take in to a new Earth a new question arises. What if this Earth was a little hotter than ours? What if this Earth was hit by a barrage of enormous asteroids long ago?

What I loved the most about this book is that it is totally human at the core. Us humans are strange creatures and react to everything in incredibly odd ways but Baxter and Pratchett really approach this nicely. Humans are adventure seeking beings, so what happens when they’re given a potentially infinite amount of Earths to explore? But then we get that almost forgotten question of what about those humans who cannot ‘Step’ at all?

If it is anything, The Long Earth is a story of democracy. New and exciting worlds aren’t open to just the wealthy, the military and the such. The ability to step doesn’t seem to discriminate whether you’re good or bad, old or young, rich or poor, clever or dumb.  But to get around the inevitable cluster of Wild West style problems this throws up, the story focuses almost exclusively on Joshua and Lobsang. That isn’t to say that these political and human problems are forgotten, they merely continue behind the scenes.

The Ugly

long-warThe Long Earth isn’t without its problems. For every two clever or fascinating blows it lands, it follows up with a sharp poke that is not only annoying but also leaves you sore. For example, The Long Earth could probably be a fair amount shorter as it seems to meander unnecessarily far too often. This in turn makes the story much slower than it should have been as even a too-long book can go off point but still be riveting and entertaining. The Long Earth isn’t this kind of book though. In places it is simply boring.

As I have never read anything by Baxter I can’t tell you if The Long Earth is at all Baxter-esque but I do know that it didn’t feel very  Pratchetty. I don’t mean ‘Hey this ain’t a Discworld novel!’ because anyone who says that (and I’ve heard it be said by the way) is a doughnut and should go back to their box of crayons. What I mean is that it didn’t fizz and bubble with the wonderful wit, pace and human stupidity of usual Pratchett fare. It wasn’t riddled with larger than life characters (Vending Machine Android doesn’t stay that way for very long) and the subtle but perfect political commentary Pratchett is famous for is all but an afterthought which seems odd given the scope of the subject.

Despite these moans, I still loved the book and the potential, the possibilities that the sequel could contain are too enticing for me not to pick up The Long War.

The Bottom Line

The Long Earth isn’t a perfect book. On one hand it’s a fascinating look at humanity and what it means to be human. It’s a simple idea that in many ways is grander than any spaceship or world that any science fiction author has ever come up with. On the other hand, It doesn’t work perfectly, there are too many missed opportunities and slow meandering sections which in some ways makes The Long Earth feel more like a second draft than a finished novel.
However, if you are happy to push through the difficulties, The Long Earth is a novel that will make you smile, will make you realise just how glorious Sci-Fi can still be without laser guns and most importantly it will make you wonder just what the role of human beings is on this planet of ours.

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