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Bookends: There are worlds waiting out there January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction.
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Bookends: There are worlds waiting out there

By Dan Davidsonthe-long-earth

January 27, 2016

– 805 words –


The Long Earth

By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Corgi Books

424 pages



The late Terry Pratchett was known for his whimsical fantasies, especially for the 39 volumes of his Discworld series. Stephen Baxter is better known for what is generally called “hard science fiction”. In 2010, three years after Pratchett announced he was beginning to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s, the two friends began an unlikely collaboration that led to the four volume Long Earth series, of which this is the first book.

As both authors had experience in collaborating with other writers, working together wasn’t a new thing for either of them, but their previous collaborations has been with authors who were doing work similar to their own solo endeavors, and so that made this series unusual.

One is tempted to think that Baxter provided the pseudo-science and Pratchett the humorous human touches.

This first novel is somewhat of a travel piece. Had Jules Verne written it, it might have been titled Across the Worlds in 80 Days. The notion is that there are many parallel dimensions and that they are accessible to humanity in s variety of ways.

The concept of the multiverse will not be news to those who read comic books. The world of DC comics features 52 alternate universes, while the somewhat more ambitious Marvel group has them numbering in at least the hundreds. The Flash television show has been working with Earths 1 and 2 most of this season and the Fringe series likewise played with the concept for much of its five year run.

Some people, the theory goes, have the inborn ability to “step” between worlds. They can simply do it. Others need the artificial assistance of a placebo device called a “stepper”. It was invented by Willis Linsey, and the plans freely distributed via the internet.

Stepping gave access to an infinite number of worlds, just a step away to the “east” or “west”, worlds full of resources and absolutely uninhabited by humans. They contain animals, minerals, everything that our world contains, but there’s mostly nobody home.

Stepping changed the world. Lots of disaffected people, folks like those liberating militia folks in Oregon, for instance, simply up and left, although they soon found that the nations back in the home world (called Datum Earth) laid claim to all their contiguous iterations, where ever they might be.

It’s easy to leave, though you do have to make your own stepper, and the motion sickness stepping causes makes you not want to do it too often. The only caveat is that you can’t take anything containing iron with you. There’s iron ore in every dimension, sure enough, and you can develop it wherever you go, but it can’t step with you.

Not every dimension is at the same stage in the planet’s development. There are ice ages, prehistoric ages, ages when there are inland seas and ages when the continents aren’t quite where they are now.

There are other intelligent life forms of a sort. Some of them are natural steppers, and their occasional arrival in our plane of existence (and this feels like Terry) may account for many of our legends and fables of little people and faerie people.

This is largely the story of Joshua Valienté, one of the natural steppers. He needs no device and he doesn’t get sick. After years of travelling the worlds helping people cope, he is recruited by an artificial intelligence named Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnated spirit of a Tibetan monk.

(Google Lobsang Rampa to see where they dug this this idea up.)

Lobsang, in the employ of the transnational Black Corporation, wants to explore the multiverse, and wants Joshua as a companion in his immense airship, the Mark Twain. Much of the book is taken up with their travels, the transplanted societies that they meet and the even stranger variant humanoid creatures that have evolved in places where humanity didn’t.

There is a second strand of narrative dealing with the life of Monica Jansson, a cop in Madison Wisconsin, the place where stepping first began. Much of this is connected with the radical organization of humans, a distinct minority, who are unable to step at all, and resent those who can come and go.

Other, smaller, strands follow some of the stepper families as they set up new societies in the various alternative planets of what has come to be known as the Long Earth.

All in all, it’s a fascinating book, full of adventure and humour and the occasional philosophical debate. The developing relationship between Lobsang and Joshua is a big part of the appeal, but this is a vast new playground the authors have created and I certainly don’t blame them for wanting to use it more than once.








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