15 January 2013

The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Blurb1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone? 

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one... 

...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently. 

But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun..

So, a new Pratchett collaboration. I'm a self confessed Discworld nut, so of course I wanted to read it. I've never read Mr. Baxter's work, but I've heard good things about his work.

First off the bat. This isn't Discworld. Nor was it aiming to be. The multiverse suddenly opens up and we have infinte worlds to play with. The possibilities are almost endless. Humans can step sideways, onto new, virgin copies of earth. I say almost, seeing as you need a stepper box that you constructed yourself, a potato, you can't take any metal across worlds and you throw up violently after each step. So there are some real boundaries attached to the stepping. To most people. 

Joshua Valiente isn't most people. He can step without a box and without getting sick, so he can explore further and deeper than normal. He's an interesting guy. Josjua attracts the wrong kind of attention and then he meets Lobsang, a brilliant AI computer who swears to help Joshua if he agrees to accompany Lobsang into the Long earth.

Up to here the book was pretty good. An interesting premise has been created, there are main characters that's been introduced and who have grown, the AI is a cool touch. Then nothing much of anything happens.

They explore the earth. Slowly, disjointedly, confusingly. The book really starts to splutter along from here.There are too many improbabilities and weird decisions made to really make sense other than to drive the plot. I understand that the book was written as a collaboration over quite a long time, but it should have been polished better. I know this isn't Discworld, but Pratchett's touch seemed mostly absent from the book. The sharp wit and pregnant pause that made his work amazing is sadly missing from The Long Earth. 

It was a real promising premise that failed to engage me, and that makes me quite depressed.


1 comment:

  1. I feel ya with this one. The concept Pratchett and Baxter present is fascinating, if unexplained, and has a lot of potential. But the final execution, well, left me not totally satisfied.

    One thing I noticed was the similarities in it with some of Twain's stories, especially "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven." I wonder if they were attempting to imitate, or if the semblance is just coincidental.