Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Not sure when, how or why I stumbled on The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter but at some point I put it on the wish list.  Anticipating some long car trips for work, I recently downloaded it via Overdrive and listened to it on audio book while traveling around Ohio.

Gut reaction: interesting but sort of meandering; a giant thought experiment with some intriguing characters and a good hook but that never quite gets beyond a desultory pace or energy. Despite the “bombshell” at the end, not sure I have the energy to tackle the second book.

I should perhaps offer the caveat that I don’t believe I had read any of the author’s previous works and that science fiction is not something I read a lot of or seek out.  I enjoy imaginative and speculative fiction, however, and felt like this was in that ballpark.

FWIW, Adam Roberts seems to think there is more Baxter than Pratchett:

The Long Earth reads much more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett one. It’s not very funny, for one thing – discounting some wry dialogue and one not-very-successful stab at a comic character (a deceased Tibetan monk who has been reincarnated as a superintelligent drinks dispenser). Instead our hero, Joshua, explores stepwise for a million earths or so, the whole journey rendered with a characteristically Baxteresque mix of big-scale imagination and scientific rigour. The resulting novel is a surprisingly gentle piece of work. Something Wicked, or at least Something Worrying, is sweeping in from the further reaches of the long earth, driving frightened steppers before it like refugees; but it’s a long time before we become aware of this, and not much is made of it. Otherwise human settlement upon the alternate earths is rural and low-tech (steppers cannot carry iron with them, for unexplained reasons) and almost entirely free of crime, rapine and nastiness. Lacking the pressures of overpopulation and with infinite natural resources to draw on, people just seem to get along with one another. Indeed, I’m tempted to call The Long Earth an exercise in utopian writing; an unfashionable mode nowadays, when grim-and-gritty dystopias rule the publishing roost.

I am not big on dystopian fiction so I too enjoyed the style.  The set-up and concept (Stepping, tech driven and “natural”, across worlds, etc.) was fascinating and sucked you in.  The philosophical questions raised are interesting to think about.

But once Joshua and Lobsang embark on their adventure it fell into a lot of dialog and slow moving plot.  Even the interesting bits about natural steppers and what might be causing the “trolls” and “elves” to flee too often get caught up in slow moving discussing between characters.  At the end the tension ratcheted up and things got interesting but I guess I just expected a little more heft or depth.

The AV Club review gets at this:

The story is filled with dozens of huge philosophical, scientific, and social questions, but it ends up short on answers. It lacks a strong plot, and asks, “What does it all mean?” and “What’s going to happen to humanity?” several times over its course, then ends with a promise of sequels. That promise is welcome, but The Long Earth suffers slightly from its own overpacked potential: It promises a satisfying meal, and delivers a tasty appetizer.

It was interesting but after over 11 hours of listening I thought I would be further along or come away with more.  Instead I was left wondering whether it would be worth continuing the series.

The Long Earth Book Cover The Long Earth
The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter,
Fiction
Harper
June 19, 2012
Audio
352

The possibilities are endless. Just be careful what you wish for....

The Western Front, 1916. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong and the wind in the leaves. Where have the mud, blood, and blasted landscape of no-man's-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone?

Madison, Wisconsin, 2015. Police officer Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive - some say mad, others allege dangerous - scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson find a curious gadget: a box containing some rudimentary wiring, a three-way switch, and . . . a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way humankind views the world forever.

The first novel in an exciting new collaboration between Discworld creator Terry Pratchett and the acclaimed SF writer Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth transports readers to the ends of the earth - and far beyond. All it takes is a single step. .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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