The novel “The Long Earth” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter was published for the first time in 2012. It’s the first book of The Long Earth series.
When the instructions to build a Stepper, a device that allows to move to a parallel universe, are made public on the Internet, a new frontier opens up for humanity. Anyone can do it and there seem to be infinite parallel universes where the Earth is similar but with some differences, hence the expression “Long Earth” and in none of them human beings evolved.
When human being move to a parallel universe they feel nausea but Joshua Valienté is an exception. He gets hired to participate in a an expedition to explore the Long Earth along with a truly unique companion, Lobsang, an artificial intelligence who claims to be the reincarnation of a human being.
In the 1980s, Terry Pratchett wrote the novelette “The High Meggas”, which laid the foundations for the The Long Earth series but soon his novel “The Color of Magic” was published and was successful. This prompted the author to focus his efforts on the Discworld series. Only after many years a series of circumstances led him to reprise that idea and develop it not alone but with his fellow writer Stephen Baxter.
“The Long Earth” is based on the classic concept of parallel universes in which there are versions of the Earth a bit different from ours. Stepping from one universe to another is easy but becomes normal only when someone publishes on the Internet the instructions to build a simple device that requires only an adequate concentration to be assembled.
The novel tells the consequences of opening this new frontier in the course of the next years but it’s above all the story of Joshua Valienté and his journey through the Long Earth together with Lobsang. This journey leads to the discovery not only of many other Earths but also of a lot of information that shows a situation more complex than what seemed at the beginning.
This is a journey in all the senses because during the novel Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter expand not only the knowledge of the Long Earth but at the same time offer new information on Joshua Valienté’s story and the consequences that the opening of the new frontier has on Datum Earth, humans’ original Earth.
At the beginning of the novel the circumstances Joshua Valienté’s birth are told, which help to understand why he has special stepping skills. Even for normal people, stepping is easy but involves some nausea. A small part of the population, however, reveals a phobia and they see in an increasingly negative way those who go looking for luck in other Earths.
In “The Long Earth” the journey is definitely more important than the destination and in fact you can say that there’s no real destination. Joshua Valienté and Lobsang keep on moving from Earth to Earth but the only humans they meet are originally from Datum Earth. In some Earths other species have evolved to reach some levels of intelligence.
At the same time, a lot of other humans decide to settle on one of the parallel Earths. This has a number of social and political consequences for those who decide not to emigrate or suffer from phobia and must stay on Datum Earth. After a few years those consequences begin to be really profound and the ideas connected to these phenomena are developed in one of the subplots.
I found “The Long Earth” very intriguing for the many ideas developed starting from the classic concept of parallel universes. Not necessarily a collaboration between two great writers gives good results but in my opinion this is a successful case where both of them add something to the story.
When I discovered the existence of this series I wondered what would come out from the collaboration of a writer such as Terry Pratchett, especially famous in the fantasy field, and Stephen Baxter, one of the most important hard science fiction writers. Reading “The Long Earth” I sometimes had the feeling of reading a story with fantasy tones that, however, contains scientific and technological elements.
Precisely because the journey, in all its meanings, is at the center of the story there are many descriptions. It’s not an action novel even though there are some very intense events but often those are meetings with many dialogues among various characters. Often there are dialogues between Joshua and Lobsang, who seems to know many secrets and slowly reveals them.
This style chosen by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter to develop the story may not please those who seek other types of faster-paced and more intense stories. Personally, the often slow pace didn’t bother me, especially because the progressive discoveries intrigued me. “The Long Earth” is very much based on its ideas and their developments, while the characters are often developed quickly through some well-chosen details. Joshua Valienté is definitely the most developed while Lobsang tends to remain mysterious.
“The Long Earth” ends with an important event that’s far from an end. This novel offers the first developments of the various ideas contained in the series, which will continue in its sequels. If these ideas intrigue you I recommend reading this novel.