The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

I heard about this book long before it appeared, and it sounded like it could be interesting. Many years ago, before the Discworld books became mind-bogglingly popular, Terry Pratchett wrote some books and stories that were more in the line of what you might call normal science fiction, even what’s known as hard sf. Having met Stephen Baxter, an author I’ve sort of lost touch of in the last mumble years, but who has written a lot of quite excellent hard sf, a plan was hatched. Using an early Pratchett story as a base, the two writers would collaborate on a novel, or more likely, a series of novels. Stephen has previous form in collaboration, having co-written with no less than Arthur C Clarke, and Terry once wrote a book with Neil Gaiman, so this Cunning Plan looked likely to work.

The world changes in 2015 when plans for a simple device called a stepper are released on the internet. Equipped with a stepper, most people can instantly travel into parallel Earths, one Earth at a time. It appears possible to travel in two directions, arbitrarily labelled East and West, and to keep going from one version of Earth to another, seemingly without end.

On all the Earths except ours, which becomes known as the Datum, there seems to be no intelligent life, no sign of civilisation. Earths “close” to one another are generally similar geologically and biologically, but as one moves further from home, it’s clear that evolution has taken different roads in some Earths.

Well, that’s the set-up. And well, there is a bit of a problem with this book, really. While much of its length is a reasonably entertaining travelogue as the principal characters go on a very long ride to Earths more than a million steps from the Datum, there really isn’t much of a plot. It feels like the beginning of a series, but while there’s an open ending which could well lead into the next book, there isn’t anything there to make the reader do the “Come on!!! Tell me what happens next!” or “What?? You’re leaving me on a cliffhanger, you git???” things.

So, while I’d be interested to read the next in the series, assuming it appears, I won’t actually be fretting over it.

Readable, good in parts, but far from vintage Pratchett.

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