The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
I originally wasn’t going to pick The Long Earth up; though it is by Pratchett it is by Pratchett and, and my experiences with collaborations involving favourite authors have not always been good (:cough:AndreNorton:cough:). But I picked up A Blink Of The Screen, Pratchett’s collection of short stories, one of which was “the High Megas”, the story on which Long Earth was based. I rather liked the story, so I decided to give the book a chance.
To be honest, I liked the story better than the book. Both have a different “voice” than Pratchett’s usual; the former perhaps because it was written at around the same time as The Colour of Magic and certainly before it broke big (and thus before that voice had properly emerged); the latter because it’s based on the former and maybe because of Baxter’s influence. Very little of the short remains in the novel; at most a few sentences and they seem wrongly used: whereas the protagonist of the story is a pathological loner, the protagonist of the novel is not and thus to use the same words to describe both men doesn’t fit.
Essentially: Joshua Valiente is an orphan, raised by unconventional nuns in an orphanage in Madison, Wisconsin. Someone uploads plans for something called a “stepper” to the internet; the device is easy enough to make that kids all over the world proceed to make them and are as a consequence dumped, unprepared, into a parallel world. It is devoid of humans, so the area of, say, Madison, is an untravelled forest, suddenly full of panicking kids. Fortunately for them, Joshua doesn’t panic, and he manages to get them all home before voluntarily vanishing into the other worlds.
He’s only the first person to do that (or is he?); there is what seems to be an infinite chain of Earths, only the one (named “Datum Earth”) started out with humans on it and, except for a few people, anyone can travel to the new worlds, so why not go? Humanity starts spreading out.
The main hold-ups are that you must build your own stepper, you can take only what you can carry, and you can’t take any ferrous metals with you. But these can be worked around, though they mean that all travel must be afoot (you couldn’t even take a horse with you since the horse cannot make its own stepper).
Joshua is eventually summoned back to Datum Earth by the transEarth Institute, which wants him to accompany one of its researchers on a journey into the Long Earth (as the composite parallels are called). Said researcher, known only as Lobsang, is either a Tibetan bicycle repairman reincarnated in a computer, or else a very cunning AI that has found a way to get itself safely granted human rights. Either way, Lobsang has built its own stepper, and installed both stepper and its intelligence (or a copy thereof?) in an airship, planning to avoid most of the problems caused by sticking to the surface. He intends to see just how far he can go, and what the worlds in the farther reaches of the Long Earth are like. He wants Joshua along for company, and so that if something goes wrong with the ship someone can haul his computer core back. So they set out and what they find out there is spectacularly boring.
Which is the main problem with the novel. The story, being short, had a tense plot involving a mystery of sorts; the novel seems more like a travelogue, albeit one without the tension of, say, Around the World In Eighty Days. Nothing really happens, and our heroes are never in any real danger, though Lobsang sometimes allows dangerous things to almost happen to Joshua only to rescue him in time.
I was unimpressed. Pick up A Blink Of The Screen, by all means, but I wouldn’t waste my time on this one. The short earth is much better.
Mildly not recommended.
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Re-read. First written about here. My opinion is unchanged. Highly recommended.