The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

If you visit this blog regularly (and I don’t dare to presume that you all do) then you might be surprised to see me writing about Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s first collaborative novel ‘The Long Earth’ because I don’t really read much in the way of science fiction at all, if anything really. However if you listen to the podcast The Readers which I co-host with Gavin of Gav Reads, my having read this book may be less of a surprise as you will know that we had the honour of interviewing Sir Terry and Stephen for a special episode, which if all has gone well should have gone live today (I am on holiday though so can’t quite guarantee it), and so I threw myself into the novel and the genre in advance.

Doubleday, hardback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have to admit that I might struggle to summarise the premise of ‘The Long Earth’ because it is rather complex. This actually concerned me before I had even started the book that I was going to get very, very lost by it. You see ‘The Long Earth’ is centred around the idea that as well as our earth, or Datum Earth as it is known in 2015 in this book, there are infinite parallel earths. Most people up until 2015 haven’t been aware of them, however on a single day the design for a Stepper leaks, a device which can transport you to them all one at a time and can be made using items easily found around the house. So children start stepping and disappearing. Yet there are people how can naturally ‘step’, and we discover there have been for decades and even centuries. One such natural stepper, Joshua Valienté, attracts attention when the other kids at the children’s home he lives in start vanishing and he saves them and brings them back. Police and big corporations want access and guides to ‘The Long Earth’ and so from here we follow Joshua’s journey and discover with him as he goes.

I admit writing that made my head hurt a little, so therefore reading it might have done, yet it isn’t as complex as it sounds. There is also much more too it as really I have only described the setting up of the story, much more happens from here on in. Yet at the same time it doesn’t… Let me explain. You see my other initial concern, after how would my head cope with all these earths, was that with endless versions of earths ahead this book might become a little repetitive and dull, yet it never quite did. There was a small moment at one or two points where I thought ‘come on, where is this going’ but they were brief.

Pratchett and Baxter create a really interesting Datum Earth, they also create many possible back stories with characters like Private Percy Blakeney who we meet ‘stepping’ during the war in 1916. There is a real sense of humour to the novel, one of the characters initial appears as a vending machine to which there were some giggles from me when he ‘lets a can go’ as it were, there is also the side effects of stepping too. It also looks at big subjects affecting earth now. There is a strand to the story which is about divides, some people simply can’t step even with the machine, and so the debate about ‘difference’ is part of the book as is human nature. As soon as new planets are found some people go to find their own private Idaho, yet some go to pillage and consume, other want to control.

My only slight qualm with the book was that it did feel like the first in a series. The fact the book does rather slowly, if with moments of adventure and discovery, trawl through each parallel earth made me think ‘this isn’t nearly the whole story’ and also the ending very clearly suggests there will be more. I should state that I knew beforehand there were more books coming so that could have been in the subconscious part of my brain but if I am doing a fair and honest review (which is always my aim) I sensed it throughout, I could feel things were being slightly reined in for the future and the bigger picture.

That small quibble aside I was rather surprised how much I enjoyed ‘The Long Earth’ being as it is not my normal reading fare at all. I lost myself in the world/worlds that were created for me and had a bit of an adventure along the way. I can’t say I will be throwing myself into science fiction from now on but I will certainly read the follow up to this and will definitely be trying some of both Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s other solo novels in the future.

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9 Comments

Filed under Doubleday Publishers, Review, Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett

9 responses to “The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

  1. Though I did enjoy it, I thought that it did not come up to the mark set years back with his NightWatch subset in the Discworld sceries, or indeed his Good Omens which was (I think the first) cowritten. I have enjoyed his work since the early 90s and am grateful he is still writing. Thank you for the review, having read something, it is good to see another perspective.

    • Oh that is interesting. Having not read any Terry (I know shame on me) before now and none of his collaborations I can’t compare the two, but I thought this was a good novel, oddly all the more so as I am not its intended audience.

      • I would commend the books to you for the humour and the characters. The best fantasy and sci-fi, as with other genres – historic, etc., just use the times as a backdrop and have the story at the front. I am usually reluctant to suggest (or buy as presents) books for or to others because it is so hit and miss. It depends on the persons situation when they first pick up the book so much. If you do, I hope you enjoy.

      • I will definitely give Terry another whirl at some point. I have Wyrd Sisters in the TBR.

  2. Do you mind if I ask why you won’t be reading more SF after this? And I mean that in the spirit of curiosity, there is no fan-tone there :P It’s just that I’m trying to work out as many reasons as possible why, after reading one book of some kind that is a bit outside their usual remit and enjoyed it, people might not then go on to explore stuff in the same vein.

    • Ooh hang on let us clarify this. I won’t be rushing to read anymore sci-fi, this hasn’t put me off its just not a genre I tend to go for. I have read some sci-fi books I have utterly loved, like ‘Flowers for Algernon’, but they come few and far between. I will still keep dabbling now and again.

  3. I was really looking forward to this, have been a fan of Sir Terry for a long time, but I just didn’t like it. I’ve read all of his Discworld books, but this… this was all Baxter. No legendary humour, apart from the potato maybe…it just left me disappointed. :(

    • I have to admit if I had any expectations I expected more humour, though the vending machine suddenly vending made me howl with laughter, sad Simon and toilet humour, early on. Yet considering I am so un-sci-fi this book was enjoyable for me and I didn’t get lost.

  4. Got to be honest — I like both these writers individual work — but The Long Earth just felt like a pale imitation of both of them. Yes there’s some humour, but its not very funny. Yes there’s some intriguing sci-fi ideas but they’re not really explored. And all the dropped side characters was irritating. I’m not usually one for being negative about books at all, I rarely don’t enjoy a novel in one way or another, and I think my dissatisfaction is just a case of ‘not living up to the hype’ of two great writers. At best, I could say it was amiable and readable. Mind you, it’s roughly a third the length of one of Stephen Baxter’s usual books, so perhaps by the time we’ve had three books it’ll feel like a full story.

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