As I read this collaboration between Pratchett and Baxter I found myself drawing comparison with the marvelous “Eon” by Greg Bear and anything written by S M Stirling. Both of these authors produced excellent novels, the former dealing with the now-fairly-common theme of multiple human worlds/time threads being on a linear “corridor”, the latter writing the finest alternative earth stories on the market. What Pratchett and Baxter present here is a diluted form of those and any reader who enjoys this novel should venture to read Bear and Stirling both of whom are masters at the respective science fiction genres. I also found myself reading this trying to work out when Pratchett was authoring, when Baxter was. Both have quite different styles and it is fairly straightforward to pick out their individual ingredients in this mixture.
The story is apocryphal in nature, the jacket focus on potatoes somewhat irrelevant given the lack of time the narration gives to the tuber. It is the story of one Joshua Valiente, orphan born to his mother on a world that is one step away from the earth we all know – or the Datum Earth as it comes to be known in the thoughts of humanity after `Step Day’. In the novel Joshua is coerced by the Tibetan turned computer, Lobsang – who also appears in Pratchett’s Thief of Time, not that you need to have read it to appreciate the character in this novel – to go on a trip with him. Stepping over two million earths to the West (I imagine East will factor in future novels) it is a journey akin to a Star Trek film where subtle tweaks in Earth’s history give rise to very different Earths with climate, geography, zoology, biology et al being a variant on a theme. In it we find creatures who are fleeing a great “noise”, creatures who explain the Datum Earth histories of the faerie. Part way we meet Sally, who joins the crew of the `Mark Twain’ as we rush head long in this Long Earth opener to understand what Joshua is all about.
It is a good opener and, with all alternative Earth stories, has capacity for the authors to go wherever they like, even away from the Discworld Conventions of Madison to the lands of other fans. I think it best to say it is a summary” novel, a precis if you will of those great trail blazing novels from the likes of Bear, Stirling and others. If you like this, then read those authors as well. You won’t be disappointed.
Categories: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter