The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews The Long Earth, the result of a collaboration between Discworld author Terry Pratchett and sci-fi author Steven Baxter, published by Doubleday.
“An entertaining, imaginative idea that is unfortunatley flawed in its execution, but still shouldn’t be overlooked.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve never read anything by Terry Pratchett before, I’m going to start this review by saying that, despite owning the first Discworld book. That’s something I’ve now changed, however – with The Long Earth. However, it isn’t just Pratchett this time, not like Discworld. This has a bonus helping of Steven Baxter, who’s a sci-fi author that I, to be honest – had no knowledge of before reading The Long Earth. I understand Pratchett’s collaborated with people before, I believe he wrote something with Neil Gaiman – Good Omens, and as it’s Gaiman, I’ll be picking that up when I can. However, this review isn’t about Good Omens, it’s about The Long Earth. As I understand, according to The Guardian, it’s the first in a projected series. Will I be picking up the next installment? Maybe. I’ve got mixed feelings with The Long Earth, some parts of it I liked – others I didn’t.
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..
So the idea is certainly ambitious. I should also point out that It’s not as funny as I expected it from a Pratchett novel, as I’ve been informed that Pratchett is good at writing humorous fantasy books. So I’m guessing Baxter had some sort of say in that. The book’s also quite short as well, and you’ll find yourself breezing through it quite quickly. However, even though it’s short – there’s still a lot of information dumping, but rather than in the text it’s in the dialogue, as is pointed out by one of the main characters. This slows down the pace a bit, and it appears to be uneven in places. Maybe this is where Baxter and Pratchett switched writing?
The main protagonist in this novel is Joshua, and it’s through him that we follow the events of most of the story as he explores the other Earths, coming across several different worlds, some colonized, some not. Although the exploration is enjoyable to read I just didn’t feel as though I could connect to Joshua Valienté, the main character in this novel who is a rare person who can step without a device, and didn’t really get behind him as a character. The Long Earth is also more of a Utopian fiction than Dystopian, going against the trend that seems to be happening in fiction these days. However, it still manages to be an enjoyable enough read and does manage to keep you until the end.
The novel also lacks a strong plot, and is more of a “What if?” novel, asking questions like What will this new creation have on humanity? One of the things that The Long Earth could have really benefited from was a stronger plot, as well as stronger characters. The Idea is certainly good, and it’s worth reading if you enjoy “What if?” type novels, but The Long Earth‘s execution didn’t quite work for me though. However, that hasn’t put me off reading Pratchett though, as I still – to a certain extent, found the novel enjoyable, otherwise I would have given up on it halfway through. The world building of the New Earths is imaginative and creative, as well as enjoyable. The concept is interesting enough to keep you reading to find out more, and this is why I enjoyed it despite the issues that I had with it.
The cliffhanger ending will also leave you anticipating the next novel in the series, but I’m a bit hesitant about picking that up after the issues I had with this one. Maybe I think I’ll give Good Omens a try, or maybe The Colour of Magic, the other Pratchett book that I own, before going back to Pratchett and Baxter.