Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review 2012 #5 - Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: June 19th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Everything changed on "Step Day." One day there was one Earth. Overcrowded and dying slowly. Then innumerable Earths opened up just a step away. Pure, untouched, Earth as it once was or could have been, yet completely uninhabited, save for animals and insects. Each Earth different and another step away. All because of a simple device whose instructions where placed online. A machine powered by a potato, that could lead you to these infinite worlds, only one after the other in sequence though. Yet there was Joshua. Joshua didn't need a stepper. He was a natural. Unbeknownst to him, so was his mother. At the time of his birth, Joshua's mother accidentally stepped and Joshua was born and left for a moment on an Earth all his own. That was when he first became aware of the silence.

On Step Day Joshua inadvertently became a hero because due to his natural stepping ability, he was able to go from one Earth to the next without having the debilitating nausea that most people experienced. That night he rescued countless children from Earth 1 and brought them back to Datum Earth, or so they would come to be known as. Joshua became something of a folk hero then, because he was more comfortable out exploring the Long Earth as it came to be called, than back in the Home on Allied Drive.

Yet in a world that was changing so fast, taxes and policing having new definitions, with people abandoning their lives, with precious metals becoming worthless, with iron becoming precious because of it's inability to be taken on a step, one corporation stands tall. The Black Corporation. They summon Joshua to their headquarters for a special mission. Lobsang is a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman who now resides as an AI in a computer. Yet he is definitely human, in that he proved it in a court of law. Lobsang wants Joshua to take him to the end of the Long Earth. They will journey to worlds end in a flying dirigible.

Lobsang has theories about what he will find and Joshua is his fail safe. Joshua can bring him back if anything where to go wrong. Also, Joshua won't get sick on the journey. The two of them set forth, jumping from world to world in the blink of an eye. The way they travel, watching movies at night and eating fine cuisine, makes Joshua a little jaded, and even wish for the way he used to travel. Yet, in all his travels he has never seen the mysterious creatures that are known as Trolls and Elves till now. Soon he realizes that there is more to the Long Earth than anyone could have ever imagined. And that's what scares people the most back on Datum Earth.

This book had two very good reasons for going straight to the top of my "to be read" pile, well, actually three, in that I've been waiting for it to come out for a year... The first reason is my undying love of Terry Pratchett. He is just the most amazing writer out there able to combine hard truths with laugh out loud humor. The second reason is that a fair amount of this book takes place in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin! Ok, so, it's not really a weird coincidence that it takes place in Madison, seeing as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter used last years North American Discworld Convention that was here in Madison as a research trip and therefore thought setting a good chunk of the book in Madison was handy. At the convention they had a panel where the two of them discussed basically the structure of how the "Long Earth" works, so I had some foreknowledge as to how stepping worked. The idea fascinated me. It's not really an original hypothesis, versions of this theory have existed, even in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials books, we have worlds upon worlds stacked on top of each other only a slim knife's cut away. But here the lack of humanity is intriguing. Also the idea that all the Earths are what could have been possible had something happened differently is fascinating.

At times though, the book does get bogged down in the science of the hows, whys and wherefores. As the authors said, this first book in the series, is more just an introduction to the concept of the Long Earth. A travelogue wherein we familiarize ourselves with how things work. This of course brought to mind the writing style of Douglas Adams, with his Hitchhiker's Trilogy. If you think about those books, nothing much happens, yet you are travelling with these people through space. I think this book owes a lot to Adams, Doctor Who, and Mark Twain. The airship after all is named the Mark Twain, and it very much reminded me of a movie I watched once which I believe was a dramatization of Tom Sawyer Abroad,  a novel by Mark Twain featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in a parody of a Jules Verne-esque adventure story. I distinctly remember the hot air balloon knocking the nose off of the sphinx. So, I can see the validity of people who claimed that this book was thin on plot. Though everything else made up for that loose, and, really, it's the first book, we have to see where it's going.

What really intrigued me though was all the things that would fall under the category of "that's so Pratchett." How the "other" creatures they encounter would account for an actual basis in mythology of Trolls and Elves. The "iron" that the fae feared being the only metal unable to step. His love of the word susurrus. His humor, dear lord, his dead on humor. It was subtler than in some of his other books, but still, to have the AI Lobsang, who I kept picturing as Jude Law from AI, constantly being unclear in his loyalties yet encouraging movie night wherein they would watch 2001. Or where he would say how he had originally created his appearance and demeanor based on the replicants from Bladerunner. To have Lobsang not just have these overtones, but then have Lobsang himself with a nudge and a wink then reference them himself was priceless. I particularly liked when he started to take on his "British Butler" persona, seeing as if there is a true flaw in the book, it's that the authors being British using turns of phrase that Americans would never use, so therefore the Butler kind of made up the language gap. I really think that David from Prometheus has a thing or three to learn from Lobsang.

In the end, I will say that this is yet another series of Terry Pratchett's that I will eagerly await the next book. Even if my heart will forever remain in Discworld, I was happy to say that I really enjoyed this book, far far more than his other stand alone, Nation, but that is another story all together, not just the "book" by my dislike of that book... he should have so stopped before the afterword... ok, I said I wasn't going to get into it, so I won't. Pratchett is wonderful, Baxter worked well with him, but again, like Gaiman and Good Omens, I think it's Pratchett's voice that comes out the clearest.


Newer Post Older Post Home