Legendary authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter team up for a new series, beginning with The Long Earth. In The Long Earth, a schematic for a seemingly simple device called a “Stepper” is posted online. Within hours children the world over are building their own Steppers, and “Stepping” into other Earths, extraordinarily similar to our own, with one exception–they’re empty of people. As humanity struggles to deal with this new reality, of what becomes called the Long Earth, in which there’s infinite land and resources, pioneers begin spreading across all of the new worlds, ready to begin new lives and establish their own communities. Meanwhile, Joshua Valiente, the most famous Stepper, is called upon by an unusual entity named Lobsang to journey to the ends of the Long Earth, for there’s something strange going on within the Long Earth–one that threatens to overtake humanity as we know it…
The Long Earth begins with the depiction of several strange experiences: Private Percy finds himself suddenly in a quiet, empty forest, when just moments before, he was being shelled in France during World War II; Maria Valiente is struggling through childbirth when she finds herself transported somewhere else; and a mysterious organism becomes self aware, but for what reason? Quickly moving to the heart of the story, readers are introduced to Joshua Valiente, who is in turn introduced to Lobsang, a computer-based entity who claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman, and therefore human. After enlisting Joshua to join him in his airship, they set out across the Long Earth, to explore millions of different versions of the planet. The journey is well worth reading, and turns up some surprising and extraordinarily intriguing worlds.
It’s not entirely clear in The Long Earth which sections were written by which author. Certainly the plot has some very specific influences by both, but it’s not really possible to point to any particular section and claim to know who it was written by–a testament to the excellent writing by both of these master authors. The idea of alternate dimensions, in which Earth exists in various forms has been done before, but never like this. The Long Earth is an excellent book, wrapped around a story that’s both unique, and yet familiar. The story picks right up, and never really lets go.
Throughout The Long Earth, the story shifts from Joshua and Lobsang to other characters–such as the police officer who first found Joshua, the night people began Stepping, to a teenage girl whose family left everything behind–including their son–to move far out into the Long Earth and settle in a new place. The characters are well fleshed out, and have their own agendas, giving them further depth and rendering them more believable. The seemingly trivial events of one family end up having remarkable consequences by the end of the book, and set the stage for the followup novel, The Long War, due out later in 2013.
In The Long Earth, flashbacks across history also detail that Stepping has been happening long before Step Day, and reveals that there’s more going on than is initially apparent. It’s clear that Lobsang has a hidden agenda, and knowledge of things that he’s not willing to share with Joshua until absolutely necessary–or even afterward, when Joshua has barely escaped with his life. In many ways, this book is a collection of short stories, revealing both the events in the book, as well as those that led up to it. The character from the prologue, Private Percy, is revisited later in the book, as Lobsang reveals his ultimate fate. The stories serve to lend variety to the novel, and split up the action–sometimes frustratingly, other times not–into manageable chunks.
Most of the plot threads opened in the book are well-executed, and very little is left unsettled. Since this book is the first in a series, there is of course the cliffhanger ending, but it’s fitting, and comes completely out of left-field. For a collaboration novel, The Long Earth is a fine example of what two extremely talented authors can accomplish together, combining the best of both into a single volume of amazing fiction. It’s an excellent book on its own, and provides an addictive story that readers will be eagerly awaiting until the next novel comes out.
– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown