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October 1, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Review – The Long Earth

Novel by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long Earth has been a long time coming: Terry Pratchett first began work on the novel back in 1986, before the Discworld series took off and consumed the next thirty years of his life.

It’s a collaborative piece by Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, inspired largely by quantum theory. A scientist discovers a way to ‘Step’ between parallel versions of Earth; a method that is so simple almost anyone can do it, and when the schematics for the ‘Stepper’ are put online the human race begins a mass exodus to new worlds. Each world is originally uninhabited by sentient life, and there is no limit to how far a person can step. Policing becomes virtually impossible and whole civilisations disappear off the radar over a few months.

This is a plot built on ideas explored, to a lesser extent, in Pratchett’s other novels—Sam Vimes’s dis-organizer in Jingo similarly crosses the boundaries between potential alternate universes—but the influence of Steven Baxter, whose science fiction writing is slightly harder than the average diamond, is apparent in The Long Earth, providing a much-needed element of scientific explanation to the novel.

The action of the novel occurs on two parallel planes, depicting both the effects of the Stepping craze on Earth itself, or “Datum” as it is here called, and the exploration of the new worlds by a remarkable boy named Joshua Valienté. The two settings are each as fascinating as the other—reading about the emotional trauma of a ‘non-stepper’, or someone who is naturally unable to step between the worlds, whose family decides to leave him to start a new life on the Long Earth, is equally interesting (if not more so) as Joshua’s discovery of new and strange worlds.

Good Omens proved that Pratchett’s collaborations tend to turn to gold, and here the authors’ differing styles result in a book that is both more whimsical than the standard Baxter fare, and more overtly scientific than most of Pratchett’s work. It’s an odd combination, but I think that it works, provided one does not mind the combination of whimsy and realistic science.

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