I am a huge fan of both Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. So imagine my excitement when I first heard about this book. Here is the premise.
A mad scientist / quirky genius posts the blueprints for a really simple device on the internet. This device, powered by a potato, allows people to step into a parallel world. It turns out there are millions of parallel worlds – possibly even an infinite number. They are all slightly different. Some have other human or apelike lifeforms, some have dinosaurs, some don’t have a moon, and so on. You know the idea.
This immediately changes humanity. Suddenly we are a pioneering species again with unlimited land. There are no longer any worries about natural resources. Humans quickly spread across the parallel Earths. Or the Long Earths as they come to be known.
Into this setting we are introduced to two main characters. One is an Artificial Intelligence called Lobsang, who is the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. The other is a slightly strange fellow called Joshua Valiente who doesn’t need a device to ‘step’ between the parallel worlds, he is a natural. They also have a cool robotic cat. These three set off on an epic journey across the parallel worlds (or long Earths).
So it sounds pretty cool right? Like Sliders but written by Pratchett and Baxter!
I should stress that this is only part one of a trilogy. So don’t be too put off when I say that sadly, this didn’t fully do it for me. It is different from the stuff either author writes and in some ways that is good. This is a ‘bigger’ story than Pratchett usually writes – he tends to focus on characters and situations. Conversely the characters are a bit more memorable and likeable than Baxter normally goes for.
But it just didn’t quite work. Why? The characters were good but you never feel like you fully know them and they are consequently hard to relate to or care about. My favorite character was the robot cat (definitely a touch of Pratchett humour there).
I know this is part of a trilogy but about halfway through the book I was quite looking forward to something happening. There are too many Earths that are the same. Hundreds of thousands are just ‘forest-like’. I was not necessarily hoping for Sliders or Heinlein’s Job or similar, but a bit more variety would have been fun. There are some more interesting worlds, with dinosaurs or covered in water or whatever, but they are so far apart the rest is a bit slow. Then, when they are found, not much happens.
So, sorry to say, The Long Earth didn’t grip me the way I hoped given Pratchett and Baxter being the writers. There were some great moments and some funny scenes (thanks Mr Pratchett) and there is a superb science fiction premise whose ramifications are really well explored (thanks Mr Baxter), but the characters and action left me underwhelmed.
But still, give it a go. You might like it. I have sounded quite negative in this review but keep one thing in mind: I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. So it can’t be all bad. This is Pratchett and Baxter for Christ’s sake!
To buy in the US: The Long Earth Paperback
To buy in the UK: The Long Earth Paperback