The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Terry Pratchett is the sort of writer who, in a sensible world, would be made immortal as a national treasure and human storehouse of eccentric wisdom. As it is, he’s only been knighted for services to literature, won numerous awards and had his books translated into nearly forty languages. He has collaborated before, creating Good Omens with Neil Gaiman in 1990, while Stephen Baxter co-wrote a science fiction trilogy with Arthur C. Clarke, but this is Pratchett and Baxter’s first project together.
In the not so distant future, a new craze is sweeping the world. Children everywhere are building ‘Steppers’, simple devices that look more like a practical joke than anything else. But then the children start disappearing. Because the Steppers are not a joke. They are the gateway to another world, another Earth – a chain of Earths, an endless concertina of worlds untouched by the rise of humanity. For an overcrowded, under-resourced planet, it is like a gift from the gods, one that does not go long unclaimed. Fifteen years after that historic first ‘step’, while waves of pioneers are spreading out across the Long Earth and the planet they leave behind reels in the aftermath of change, an expedition sets off to push the limits of interdimensional exploration. Lobsang, the first machine to convince a court he is a human, and Joshua Valienté, the man who can step without a Stepper, are looking for the end of the world. What could possibly go wrong…
The master of compassionate cynicism, Pratchett’s touch is evident in The Long Earth, from the omnipresent Tibetan robot Lobsang to the long-suffering police attempting to maintain law and order in unexpectedly extended jurisdictions. I’m unfamiliar with Stephen Baxter’s other work – something I do intend to rectify – but his style has meshed seamlessly with Pratchett’s, creating a consistent tone throughout. Towards the end the story slowed down with a puzzling denouement, then picked up speed again in an astonishing ending that practically demands a second book. ‘Stepping’ is an extraordinary idea that is expertly explored, with potential that is as endless as the Long Earth itself. If you’re a Discworld fan already, you have to read it. If you’ve never read anything by Pratchett before, start now.