Review: The Long Earth
The Long Earth Review
by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
When I heard that Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter were collaborating on a novel about parallel universes, I became very excited. Pratchett is one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time, and Baxter certainly holds his own in the realm of science fiction, so seeing these two greats work together on a project was almost a dream come true.
The result, The Long Earth, is a novel based on an interesting premise. This is a theme that runs through most of Baxter’s novels: the interesting technological invention or paradigm shift. Most often, he uses that plot element to explore the possible reactions of people, both on a societal and a personal level. Pratchett has also demonstrated a firm grasp of human nature, although generally in a more warmly satirical way. With these two elements combined, the book succeeds greatly.
Mankind has learned how to “step” from one Earth to the next. The universe, you see, exists in a possibly infinite string of parallel realities. “Stepping” is a shockingly simple method of moving from one world to the next. Some people are even “natural steppers,” who do not need any technological assistance at all. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the parallel Earths is that they are nearly all empty. Finally, there is enough room for everyone and nearly infinite resources can put an end to scarcity, crime, and overpopulation.
The novel primarily follows the adventures of Joshua Valienté on his adventure across the Long Earth, as the chain of parallel worlds is now called, with Lobsang, a computer that claims to be a reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Together, they see things neither of them could possibly expect, and discover a danger that may yet become a disaster to all the Earths.
Along with the primary story of Joshua and Lobsang, Pratchett and Baxter offer glimpses into the lives of characters that otherwise tie loosely into the story, providing a look at just how people are reacting to the discovery of the Long Earth. Some people relish the possibility of escape, some people rejoice in the end of want, and some people hate and fear what will become of humanity as it flees its home earth. Governments react in ways that seem fairly typical, attempting to stretch their territories across the Long Earth until it becomes impractical. Some people will do anything to put an end to what they see as the end of humanity.
Where the book falls a bit flat, sadly, is in actual story. It’s an “idea novel” more than a narrative, exploring an idea and its effects, comparable in some ways to Olaf Stapledon’s classic Star Maker. There is not much in the way of conflict, and the climax is hardly noteworthy or satisfying. However, the book is sure to fire off your imagination, as it opens up just as many questions as it answers.
The Long Earth is available from HarperCollins Publishers in hardcover, paperback, and e-book format for the Kindle and Nook.
About Steven Baxter:
Stephen Baxter (born 13 November 1957 in Liverpool, England) is a prolific British hard science fiction author. He has degrees in mathematics and engineering.
About Terry Pratchett:
Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels.