The Long Earth follows the premise that there are an infinite number of alternative dimensions, all existing within one great "Multiverse", each universe containing a slightly different version of the Earth. A few years in the future and a device powered by the humble potato (it will make sense, trust me) has been invented that allows people to "step" into these alternative Earths (either westward in one direction or eastward in another), each of which offer an unspoiled wilderness devoid of humanities heavy hand.
A new Pratchett novel that isn't based on the Discworld and his first foray into science fiction since Strata way back in 1981 and he's teamed up with one of the real visionaries of the genre. Like many of the very best science fiction novels, The Long Earth concentrates on one big idea and builds an incredible journey around it, populated by believable and enigmatic characters.
It's very interesting that the authors have decided that all the other Earths are unpopulated by humans, providing an argument that we as a race are fairly unique and while there are hints of other sentient beings humanity have been the only ones to use technology. They are also the only ones to damage the planet too and the authors provide a very effective if somewhat light-hearted argument over the use of the worlds natural resources, although to be fair this is more just a reflection of the unspoiled earths rather than a considered attempt.
Its still a sobering thought though, even after all these years, the chances are that many of us would still go out there into that unspoiled beauty, that majesty of nature and decide how we could strip those resources for our own gain. More than that though the book postulates the theory that humanity must do this in order to survive, needing wood and stone for buildings and iron for tools. The authors manage to capture that essence and feeling of the "frontier settlers" which must have been present when America was first colonised and I can understand the reasoning behind using the USA rather than the UK as a setting.
The story never takes itself too seriously and maintains a light and cheerful air, which does of course permeat all of Pratchett's writing. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter make an interesting team, Baxter is pretty much unmatched when writing about big ideas and Pratchett is pretty much unmatched full stop. Collaborating on this book gives a very distinct voice, with the descriptive and visionary prose of Baxter with the eloquence, intelligence and sheer charisma of Pratchett, it really does work very well and a better team you would be hard pressed to find.
There is even a great little nod to a certain tree climbing creature in one of Pratchett's other novels, if you've read Nation you'll know what I mean and it was a laugh out loud moment when I discovered it. The book is a more serious novel than his Discworld series - although the last few have been more focused and directed than previously - however its still got the same easy reading prose that manages to avoid being too clever and stays fresh. I think the authors do compliment each other perfectly, Baxter's novels can tend to be a bit dry at times and Pratchett's influence makes a big difference. The plot itself is not only far reaching (as you might expect) but also very well structured, it never loses momentum or diverts off topic with a perfect pace.
The quality of the story is matched only by the characters, they are little more restrained than many of Pratchett's previous creations which fits perfectly here and helps to create the all important ambiance. There is however no getting away from the fact that this a bit of a divergence than most of Pratchett's novels, although in my opinion its every bit as good I can see that some fans may not appreciate the more serious tone and science fiction undertones. The ending though really is something quite special, its one of those big moments that leaves you breathless. I personally loved every second and I really do hope that they continue the series long into the future.
Written on Wednesday 11th July 2012 by Antony Jones.
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