Friday, 12 September 2014

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What we thought: For the last thirty years, Terry Pratchett has imagined how the introduction of new technology will affect the quasi-medieval society of the Discworld, and used that to hold a satirical mirror up to our own world. Now, in the company of science fiction writer Stephen Baxter he imagines instead how a step change in technology could affect modern-day Earth.

The Long Earth hypothesises that not only is the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics literally true, but that humanity has found a way of ‘stepping’ between those worlds.

A small proportion of humanity are ‘natural steppers’, able to step easily between worlds, and have done so, in secret, down through the centuries. The majority are given the power on Step Day, the day when the simple, home-made technology is made available to everyone. And another small proportion are stuck on ‘Datum Earth,’ unable to step even with the help of technology.

The Long Earth is straight science fiction story. The idea for the book was originally Pratchett’s and when he decided to develop it, he thought ‘who do I know who really understands quantum?’ and decided to approach Baxter. That the book was launched at the Royal Institution is an indication of how seriously the two authors took the science behind it. But if it lacks the humour and satire of a Discworld novel, it’s missing none of Pratchett’s warmth and humanity.

Arguably, the plot is quite thin and in other hands, could have become dry and repetitive. Pratchett makes it feel more as if David Attenborough were taking us on this voyage across the many worlds of the Long Earth – far out into the ‘high meggers’, millions of steps away from Datum Earth –gently illuminating what we are seeing and helping us to understand its implications.

This is a Utopia, but one that humanity has the potential to muck up.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Dan Simmons’ Endymion, Frederick Pohl’s Beyond the Blue Event Horizon

Avoid if you’re expecting trademark Pratchett fantasy and absurdity

Ideal Accompaniments: Grilled fish, a light salad and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

Genre: Science Fiction

Available from Amazon

You can read my account of Terry Pratchett’s return to Beaconsfield Library in summer 2013 here:

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