The Long Earth is a collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. My favourite Pratchett books are hands down some of the Discworld novels. My experience with an armful of Baxter books is that he tends to over write this science and tends to reuse similar characters. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mainly I was hoping for Pratchetty characters and an interesting story.
That’s pretty much what I got, but better. The whole novel flowed well so there was never any obvious breaks between writers (as one would hope) and front cover notwithstanding, the overall feel seemed more Pratchetty to me. I read in an interview somewhere that the idea of the Long Earth — a series of parallel worlds which followed different biological and cosmic evolutionary tracks to the world we know — was Pratchett’s idea from way back, but he didn’t feel he could do justice to it by himself. Perhaps this is why it feels like a Pratchetty world, although some of the ideas (of odd things encountered) seemed Baxtery.
The story follows a few characters with varying degrees of depth. There is Joshua, a natural stepper (between worlds) who was there, so to speak, on the day when the children of the world downloaded instructions to build their own stepping devices and suddenly disappeared. He is the most central character and, later on, we follow him and a Tibetan reincarnated as a computer across millions of Earths.
We also see many cameos of other characters, some only once, some reappearing several times. All of them play crucial parts in the unfolding of the Long Earth. I mention this because one of the characters on the blurb isn’t a very prominent character, so I thought it odd that he was included. I suspect it would have been a difficult book to write a blurb for.
Overall, The Long Earth is more philosophical than plot-driven, although there are some save-the-day type moments. That said, there was never a dull moment and a lot of the ideas explored were fascinating and, in my opinion, dwelt upon for just the right amount of time. The end, when it came was a little bit sudden but upon reflection I’ve decided I like it. They leave it open so that there could be more books (I don’t expect any, but the back cover of my copy says it’s the first book in an exciting new collaboration… so I don’t know. I’d read it, but I’m more keen for as many Discworld books as possible) but nothing is left hanging, except for, y’know,
the fate of all the worlds exactly what happens next.
I would recommend The Long Earth to anyone who enjoys science fiction or fantasy that is thoughtful, character-driven (especially if you count the Long Earth as a character) and immensely interesting.
4.5 / 5 stars