The Long Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by Doubleday
This much heralded collaboration between two of Britain’s finest science fantasy and science fiction writers proves that old axiom that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In an ever so slightly future Earth, a reclusive scientist devises a simple device with which to travel, or ‘Step’, between an infinite number of alternative Earths. When the schematics of the Stepper are posted online, millions of people begin their own personal journeys through this Long Earth. But while each version of our planet has differently evolved flora and fauna, indigenous humans do not seem present.
The story that follows is told from multiple perspectives, some of them brief, but most characters converging at some point in the narrative. Our main guides through the novel are Joshua Valient?, a mysterious young man with the ability to Step without a device, and Monica Jansson, an American cop investigating the reclusive scientist who becomes the voice of law within the multiple Earths.
Pratchett and Baxter have great fun with their cast of characters and the manifold questions that the concept of the Long Earth poses. If natural resources are available in abundance on alternate Earths, where does that leave the Green movement? What does this discovery say about religion? In worlds without technology, how can modern man survive? In lesser hands exploration of these questions may have become dry on the page, but the two writers ensure that characters and situations really come alive, with an underlying ‘arc plot’ gently pushing the story forwards.
By the book’s climax, one is put in mind of Baxter’s earlier collaborator, Arthur C Clarke, and there is an air of 2001’s mystery. There is also a clear line back to Pratchett’s Science of Discworld books with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. But Baxter and Pratchett have created a wholly original work, and one that ends with the promise of more scintillating volumes to come. After all, if Pratchett has mined over 30 novels from one world, how many could stem from multiple worlds?
Regardless of how many sequels do follow, The Long Earth is sure to become a science fiction classic.