Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter


   2012; 418 pages.  New Author? : No, and no.    Genre : Science Fiction.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Ah, multiverses!  A Quantum Physics offshoot that hypothesizes that an alternate world is created every time the cosmos comes to a significant crossroad of possibilities.  Such as the dinosaur-killing asteroid missing our planet.  Interesting, but irrelevant, since it’s impossible to “step” into that parallel universe.

    But what if we could?  By using a remarkable little device (with the integral part being an ordinary potato) called a “stepper”.  An infinite number of other dimensions await those willing to step.  With infinite resources, and a dazzling variety of strange creatures, due to evolutionary variance.

    But you don’t jump geographically.  You may be stepping onto another planet earth, but you will always "land" in the exact same spot on the planet(s).  Care is required.  For instance, if the ocean covers the whole planet in a parallel world, your stepping there could have dire consequences.

    But there are ways to leapfrog that risk.

What’s To Like...
     The two authors’ collaborative efforts are seamless and outstanding.  You get Terry Pratchett’s wit combined with Stephen Baxter’s Science Fiction.  The book’s structure is very similar to Baxter’s Evolution, but here he is free to be more imaginative in his world-building.

    The three main characters are Joshua, Sally, and Lobsang, and the main plotline is their endeavor to keep stepping from world to world until they reach “the end”, whatever that may turn out to be.  You are also introduced to a bunch more characters, many of which aren’t seen again.  But The Long Earth is just the first book in a proposed new series, so I presume these “extras” will play bigger parts as the story progresses.  Likewise for a couple of subplots that remain little more than embryonic at the end of the book.

    The “mood” of the book is light for the most part, thanks to Terry Pratchett’s input.  But there is a hint of serious topics to come, particularly with the rise of the “Anti-Stepping Movement” back on the Home Earth.

    The ending feels a bit rushed, but our heroes’ odyssey is brought to a conclusion, and the groundwork is laid for Book 2, The Long War, which is already available.  So you have a satisfactory resolution to the immediate story-within-a-story, and a teaser of things to come.

Kewlest New Phrase. . .
Turing Test (n.)  :  a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

    “Joshua, always remember, you have not travelled back in time, or forward.  You have travelled far across the contingency tree of the possible, on a planet where dramatic but quasi-random extinction events periodically obliterate much of the family of life, leaving room for evolutionary innovstion.  On each Earth, however, the outcomes will differ, by a little or a lot.”  (pg. 263)

    “Look at the trolls.  Yes, the trolls are friendly and helpful, and I would not wish any harm to come to them.  They are happy, and I could envy that.  But they don’t build, they do not make, they take the world for what it is.  Humans start with the world as it is and try to make it different.  And that’s what makes them interesting.  In all these worlds we are rushing over, the most precious thing that we can find is another human being.”  (pg. 344)

 “It all seems such a waste, doesn’t it?  All these worlds.  What’s the point, without mind?”  (pg. 333)
    Genre-wise, The Long Earth reminds me of both a James B. Hogan “hard” science fiction tale, and an Andre Norton “other world” story.  So this is a “food for thought” tale, not a hack-&-slash, save-the galaxy adventure.  If the names Hogan and Norton don’t ring any bells, and your Sci-Fi tastes are limited to Star Wars fan books, you might be disappointed by the lack of bloodletting.

    Terry Pratchett is my favorite Fantasy author, and Evolution has made me  a fan of Stephen Baxter.  And as much as I like to read classic sci-fi by Norton and Hogan, Pratchett and Baxter frankly do it better.

    My only question (Warning!  Minor Spoiler Alert ahead!) is why, given all the other beasts encountered on the parallel earths, no humans (other than steppers from the Home Earth) are ever found.  Perhaps this is addressed in a forthcoming book.  9 Stars.  Barnes & Noble didn’t have the sequel in stock when I bought this, but I’m pretty sure I’ll buy it when I find it, and end up getting hooked on the series.

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