Tag Archives: Stephen Baxter

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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One of the Best Bookish Days Ever…

I have been meaning to write about a wonderful bookish day out in London I had recently for ages, however with Gran (who has moved hospital but sadly still has no feeling in her left side at all) and other shenanigans going on I simply hadn’t gotten around to it. Well, better late than never as they say, so I thought I would today as it all happened on a wonderful Wednesday and the time seemed right. I think as a day revolving around books could go this might be the best bookish day I have ever had… so far.

The day started early as I left Liverpool with the larks, okay so it wasn’t quite dark or anything but it was early, to make my way to the station to catch a train to London. I have to say the first train from any northern UK city to London is a dubious affair, will you get a seat. They are always fully booked and so you fear you may end up standing however in this case it seemed half the people who booked their seats didn’t even show up! I was amazed, tickets aren’t cheap after all. Regardless it meant I had a table to myself so I wasn’t complaining as I had some serious reading to do. I normally like to spend a train journey looking out the window, even though I pack about five books ‘just in case’, but I needed to get ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon read as guess who I was having coffee with when I arrived in Euston…

Me & Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Yes, the author himself!! I had managed to wangle an interview with him for a future episode of The Readers and initially I was super excited but the closer I got the more and more nervous I felt. I mean in terms of books ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ is one of my favourite but also a cult novel with readers and anyone who loves books (with a ‘Forgotten Cemetery of Books’ how could you not?) it has reminded me I need to catch up with more of his books too. Well… he was really, really lovely. He called me an ‘angel of books’ and if you don’t believe me I have proof…

“Angel of Books”

I am not sure what the dinosaur was about, but apparently he doesn’t do them for everybody and so I was thrilled naturally. Anyway, one I had calmed down I headed into the depths of the London Underground and on my way to meet Gavin, my co-host and weekly book based banter chum on The Readers, in Trafalgar Square before we were recording a special episode of The Readers, its specialness had something to do with these giant earth that people were throwing around (I witness tourist concussion ha, ha) when we met up…

Earths in Trafalgar Square

Now if you are a regular listener of The Readers you will know that despite Gavin and I speaking on the phone for a few hours a week and having a lovely time, we have never met for more than ten minutes in the flesh before. So I was a bit nervous, would we get on in the real world? Of course we did! We popped to two bookshops and wandered and nattered before popping for a coffee and brainstorming questions for the special guest we were soon to meet…

Plotting and planning

Time whizzed by (with more plotting about future changes for the podcast, all exciting) and suddenly we realised we needed to dash to Random House HQ, we did get very lost at one point…

Gav and Simon… Lost

But then we found it and both got even more excited and even more nervous…

Random House HQ

Before we had the headline event of the day, we did get to meet lots of the publicists that we have had email relationships with for years and we chatted about what we have all been reading and what exciting books Random House have coming out in the next few months. It was so lovely to meet all these wonderful women (not being sexist, just truthful) who I felt like I knew anyway but put faces to them and just natter. We also got some goodie bags which were very exciting (Gav bought me the Foyle’s bag, isn’t it ace?) but we didn’t have time to open them before we were called up for the main event of the day…

Goodie bags…

Interviewing Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter…

Gavin, Terry, Stephen and I

It was brilliant, we ended up watching them discussing and creating the next novel to follow ‘The Long Earth’ (review coming soon, me reading sci-fi who would have thought it) and they were both just lovely. Really, really lovely. Afterwards Gavin had the most brilliant hyper/high/fan boy meltdown moment afterwards. Which was interesting as weirdly after a train ride across London I did the same when I went to meet the Green Carnation Judges for 2012 for a pint or two which included Catherine Hall (whose last book you all know I loved)…

Green Carnation Prize Judges 2012

We had a lovely chat in the sunshine and all got on really well, though it’s already apparent we have quite different tastes, but that is all I can say for now. All too soon 9pm came upon us and I had to catch a train back to Liverpool and the Wirral where the sadness of such a wonderful day being over was mildly placated (I think that is the right word) by the books in my goodie bags…

A mixture of books…

It seems I have some wonderful reading to come over the next few weeks between Green Carnation submissions (including, but not shown as it is in the postal system, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ which everyone is talking about – in fact The Beard’s mother asked me if I could get her a copy over dinner the other day when the Beard and his dad had left the room – ha!). It was just the best day ever; it is going to take quite some beating to be honest isn’t it?

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What Would You Ask Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter?

The other day I asked you where I should start with reading Terry Pratchett, I also mentioned there was a reason. Well the very same reason I asked is why I am asking you what you would ask both him and Stephen Baxter… because (and I feel there should be some kind of drum roll here) on Wednesday afternoon Gavin of Gav Reads and I will be interviewing them for a special on The Readers and we would love to be able to ask questions on your behalf.

If you have a burning question you have always wanted to ask either author then simply leave a comment below, or if you have a question for both of them about ‘The Long Earth’ which is the first in what appears to be a series that they are writing together and which I am reading and am rather gripped by so have almost finished. After all the recommendations I have had from you, thank you all again by the way, I also plan on reading ‘Wyrd Sisters’ before I meet him too. Alas I don’t have a Stephen Baxter to hand, though I have heard he is quite hardcore sci-fi, is this true?

Anyway, if you have any questions for Sir Terry, Stephen or both of them then do let me know in the comments below and I will ask on your behalf.

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Books by the Bedside #3

I am at my mothers this weekend after a rather bonkers week and so I thought rather than go silent I would let you all know what I have on my reading periphery and then hopefully you can all let me know what you are reading, mainly because I am nosey.

Currently my bedside table looks like this…

20120617-111445.jpg

The next of the Manchester Book Club titles is ‘The Master & Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov as chosen by fellow member Alex. I have to say I am oddly excited (whilst being slightly daunted) by this novel, I know it’s meant to be quite bonkers and brilliant but also it’s my first real foray into Russian literature, mainly because I have always been worried I am not clever enough for it – we will see.

Next up is ‘Absolution’ by Patrick Flanery which I have been meaning to read for ages. When I visited Atlantic Books HQ earlier in the year everyone was saying how good it was and I do want to read more novels set in South Africa.

Finally are two novels which I am both reading for The Readers, though aren’t part of the Summer Book Club. This is because, and I feel there should be a drum roll here, on Wednesday coming myself and Gavin will be interviewing Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter for an hour long special of the podcast. Gavin is so excited, I am now seriously Pratchett prepping. I will also be interviewing Carlos Ruiz Zafon this week and so I’m getting ready for that too by reading his latest.

Oh and I should mention the books I have taken away with me! I packed ‘Wyrd Sisters’, which lots of you said I should read as my way into Discworld, and I also packed ‘Filthy Lucre’ which is the shortest of Beryl Bainbridge’s novels (apparently she wrote it as a child) as next week it’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week over at Gaskella! I plan on picking another Bainbridge up too if I have time as Annabel kindly introduced me to her with ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’.

Phew, that’s a lot of bookish bedside chatter, though not quite enough… I would love your thoughts on what I’m reading and about to read PLUS find out what you are reading right now/next, as I said I’m very nosey and besides I can never hear enough about books. Over to you…

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Where Should I Start With Terry Pratchett?

For various reasons, one of which is very exciting but I don’t want to jinx it yet, I have decided it is high time that I read some Terry Pratchett. The thing is… where does someone start with his books? It all seems rather complicated and so I thought that I would ask all of you.

You see, the easiest option would be to start at the start of his career but I went off to do some research and couldn’t really work out what his first book was. ‘The Colour of Magic’ kept coming up, and I know that is the first Discworld book more on that shortly, then I heard that actually he wrote some other books before that. I think ‘The Carpet People’ was the very first wasn’t it? This leaves me puzzled. Should I simply be heading straight to the Discworld series? However that doesn’t seem simple either.

I generally like to start a series at the beginning, in this case it would be with the aforementioned ‘The Colour of Magic’ yet every single fan I have encountered, mainly on twitter yesterday, said ‘oh no, don’t start with that one’. Ok, then where should I start? The lovely Gavin, my co-host on The Readers, has said that I should start with ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ (and he is the fountain of all Terry Pratchett novels to my mind) is he right? Or would you start elsewhere and if so why? I should add here I did get ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ from the library last Christmas and then someone ordered it before I had gotten round to it so I have been contemplating finally reading Pratchett for a while.

I do actually own a Terry Pratchett book already, so this throws another twist into the mix. It is one of his collaborations ‘The Long Earth’ which he has written with acclaimed science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. Should I simply start with that, or head to ‘Good Omens’ which he wrote with Neil Gaiman?

It is all so confusing, can you help?

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