Book One of the Long Earth
Published 2012 by HarperCollins
“Normally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the silence”
Greetings Brave Adventurers,
I found this book enjoyable, but a little, well, meh. It had some lovely writing, and I thought the premise was really interesting, but I often find with sci-fi, that if I have issues with the premise, then I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book, and I had issues with the premise, and the ponderous plot.
Imagine what would happen if you could step onto another world, another earth, devoid of people, untouched by pollution, with only a simple mechanism to help you. Now imagine what would happen if you could step to another earth, and another, and another. This is the premise of The Long Earth, that with nothing but a box and a potato you can step into an endless string of alternate realities. Or, if you know how, you can step with nothing at all.
My first big issue with the premise was the idea that populated cities would empty as people stepped away from civilization in their search for utopia. Pratchett and Baxter turned the Long Earth into a quasi-pioneering venture, where groups of people would dare the wilderness and build something from nothing. Now, I’ve seen those shows where people have to live like pioneers and build their homes with olden days equipment and compost their own toilets and grow their own food. Frankly, it always looks to me like that kind of life pretty much sucks. Any hypothesis that most people would willingly give up the joys of modern life in exchange for the wilderness frankly underestimates the value of plumbing, tampons, microwaves, disposable nappies, takeaway food, a working health/government/law-and-order system, to name but a few of the simple luxuries modern life affords.
Anyhoo, that’s rant number one over. Now lets get to the story. Joshua Valiente, a natural stepper, is recruited by near-omniscient AI Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Together they plan to travel to the ends of the Long Earth, a journey that will take them through millions of worlds. Lobsang is a quirky character at first, but grew a little tiresome for me, and as they float through the worlds in a giant airship, there was a distinct feeling that the story was going very quickly nowhere as multiple stories of random characters follow in an episodic blur, and I felt the humour lacked Terry Pratchett’s deft touch. Even the impending doom which the novel tries to build seemed too vague and, by the end, unrealised.
Worth a read just to see how this premise is explored.