Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Long Earth

by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
(The Long Earth series #1)

You can do a lot with a potato. You can mash it, bake it (once or twice), broil it, turn it into french fries, potato chips, etc. If you're Dan Quayle, the "potatoe" was a source of never-ending torment and ridicule. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter use it to power a device that allows people to "step" across to alternate versions of planet earth.

See, the earth isn't a single planet, it's merely one in a series of planets that have existed linearly since the universe began. When this long chain of earths began, they were essentially identical, but as eons passed, they became wildly divergent. The things that happened on and shaped the world we live on, didn't happen on all the other earths. On some, the meteor strike that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs never took place. On some, life never made its way out of the oceans. Life on each planet, if it was able to, evolved along an independent path.

In the first quarter of the 21st century, this earth saw the invention of the "stepper." The stepper was essentially a box, simple enough that almost anyone could build. Throw in some wires, a spring or two, and a potato to power it, and it enabled a person to step to the next earth in either direction. The inventor of the stepper put the instructions for building it online to ensure that the ability to step was available to anyone who wanted it. And many did.

Inner cities started to empty as people sought a better life on supposedly uninhabited planet earths. Those burdened with debts sought a fresh start. Adventurers now had an unlimited number of places to explore and gradually the diffusion of humans across the Long Earth grew.

But there are some people who don't require a stepper to step. It's realized that some people can do it naturally and it's discovered that the ability to step has been around for thousands of years, and not every stepper is human.

I'll read anything with Terry Pratchett's name on it. He's one of my favorite authors and it will be a sad day for me if and when he looses his battle with a form of Alzheimer's. I had however, never read anything before by Stephen Baxter. I had heard about him and seen his name on books coauthored with Arthur C. Clarke, so I assumed he was pretty good as well. Turns out, he is.

For me though, The Long Earth took awhile to get going. For most of the book I felt like the plot was conspicuously missing. The premise of the story was great, and the description of the different worlds was wonderful, but I wanted a compelling plotline to follow too. This book also showed a different side of Terry Pratchett. It's humorous, but not anything like his Discworld series.

I shouldn't make it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, because I definitely did. It's incredibly creative and I look forward to follow-up books to be written. But I do feel like it took a little too long to get to the plot, and the pace of the story was a little too uniform. Hopefully that's just because it's the first in a new series and the authors wanted to take the time necessary to set the stage for things to come. Because the Long Earth offers an unlimited supply of future stories.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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