The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Having seen Terry Pratchett being interviewed and talking about this book at the Hay Festival a couple of years ago, I was very pleased to receive it as a birthday gift. Pratchett talked about the process of writing this book, and said that there had been very few instances where either author had “thrown their toys out of the pram”, so this boded well for the finished article.

And so it proved. The original idea was Pratchett’s. Certainly, the characters feel like Pratchett’s, though their places in the plot, their roles and their actions often feel like Baxter’s. (I’m not one of these people who subscribe to the idea that Baxter can’t write characters, by the way.) The working out of the science is almost certainly Baxter; the action, and the events, and the general plot development is, I feel, fully collaborative.

The idea is not unlike Robert Reed’s “Down the bright way”, but I feel this is better done, despite that novel being a stand-alone story and this being touted very much as the first in a series. Above all else, this is a serious book; the implications of the Long Earth and the situations people find themselves in are no laughing matter. There is humour; but the overall theme is that something is Going On and the fact that we don’t entirely know what it is, is a bit worrying.

The fact that this is projected as the first in a series makes me wonder how things will develop when Pratchett can’t write any more. There were plenty of characters introduced who will certainly crop up later; there are enough worlds to have any sort of story you want. The political situation on “our” Earth (“Datum Earth”) would allow for a lot more exploration of that theme alone. There’s a colonised settlement called ‘Happy Landings’ where humans and a non-human race that sings interact; it sounds like a utopia, but there’s something definitely Stepfordian about it. And there’s a world where a sentient reptilian race discovered low-technology nuclear energy, and it killed them all (perhaps). And that’s just the beginning.

Might I suggest that the publishers and authors allow other authors to play in their universe? After all, there’s enough room for everyone…

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