Author: Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett
Published: Out Now
RRP: £18.99 (Hardback) – £7.64 (Kindle)
The Western Front 1916, Private Percy Blakeney wakes up, he’s led on fresh grass, birds sing overhead. Confused he looks around, where has the mud gone, where has the sound of guns gone, where has no-mans-land gone? Madison, Wisconsin 2015, cop Monica Jansson explores a burned house and finds a curious device containing wiring, a 3-way switch and a potato. It is the prototype of a device that will change man’s view of the world forever.
Coupling a master of hard SF with the worldwide master of satirical fantasy isn’t the sort of thing many people would consider. But together Baxter and Pratchett make an interesting mix and the result is a fantastic tale of multiple Earth’s – The Long Earth as it is called – and the people who travel through them.
The core of the story is simple, you have our Earth – here referred to as the Datum Earth – and alongside it “the width of a thought away” you have possibly millions of alternatives. One day people discover they can step between these worlds, opening up a whole universe of possibilities, but also causing untold damage to relationships and economies worldwide. The story is based mainly in the US, where a new pioneer rush sees people heading off into the unknown, like their forebears in the Old West.
Don’t go into this expecting to travel to other Earth’s where your mirror self sports a nifty goatee. It’s not that sort of alternate Earth, it’s based of scientific fact/theory and portrays a myriad of might-have-been Earths. Might-have-been Earths where for some as yet unexplained reason, man only evolved on the Datum Earth. In their travels the characters come across exotic animals, exotic climates, and in some instances dead worlds.
There is no time wasted in trying to explain how or why people suddenly have the ability to step, various theories are put forward, but the story isn’t about the science, it’s more about the people. It’s a story of adventure, a story of widening your understanding of the world around you. The characters are full grown and three dimensional, they each have a tale to tell and a history tied up with the Long Earth. This could have so easily been about one set of characters – and yes a vast swathe of the book is all about Joshua and Lobsang – but it is written in such a way that everyone introduced gets their say.
This is the first in a series, and I can see it being a long and unending series, because with the possibility of millions of other Earths to explore, how could you ever run out of stories.