I've been looking forward to reading this novel for quite a while now. Such a collaboration between such disparate authors as Baxter and Pratchett made me curious and I was wondering what they could possibly come up with. For as the premise implied, there appeared to be no limits as to where they could take this story. Not since Tad Williams' Otherland series have I come across a book/series whose potential for originality seemed so vast.
Unfortunately, though it is a good read, The Long Earth is essentially a somewhat short introduction to a much bigger tale. Baxter and Pratchett introduce us to the main protagonists and the concepts, but the book offers nothing in terms of resolution at the end. Hence, I found the "to be continued" sort of ending to be a bit off-putting.
Here's the blurb:
1916: the Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man's Land gone? 2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive (some said mad, others dangerous) scientist when she finds a curious gadget - a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever. And that is an understatement if ever there was one...
The worldbuilding was probably my favorite facet of this book, for it is essentially limitless. In that regard, Baxter and Pratchett can basically let their imaginations run wild. And given their respective literary creations, it appears that the sky is indeed the limit regarding that particular aspect. With the seemingly countless variations of Earth available for those who can use Steppers and explore these other "dimensions," I am persuaded that we have seen nothing yet. Of course, multi-dimensional travel is an old science fiction trope and is nothing new. But the way the authors approached the concept, with the potato-powered Stepper device and its repercussions in our world, known as Datum Earth after Step Day, is sort of refreshing. I also liked how they incorporated various myths, such as elves and trolls into the tale.
The characterization was well-done for the most part. And yet, I would have liked to learn more about these characters. But since The Long Earth works more as an introduction than as a self-contained story, the protagonists are not as fleshed out as I felt they should have been. The potential is there, mind you, but again it's the "read and find out" thing. At the heart of the tale lies Joshua Valienté, one of the rare natural Steppers. He is hired by the rich and influential Lobsang, who may or may not be human, to explore the Long Earth all the way to its end. The better part of the novel has to do with their voyage aboard the airship Mark Twain. Along the way, they'll meet up with Sally Linsay, daughter of the man who invented the Stepper device and disappeared afterward. On Datum Earth, we follow Officer Monica Jansson's POV as the discovery of the Long Earth and the fact that a great proportion of mankind cannot access it have important consequences on the world as we know it.
The pace was fluid throughout the book. The chapters are seldom long, keeping the rhythm moving as we jump from one point of view to the next. The witty narrative is a joy to read and the author's fertile imaginations keep things interesting from start to finish.
As I mentioned earlier, overall The Long Earth is a good read. It's just that I felt that a novel which works as sort of a brief introduction, especially coming from two talented authors such as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, wasn't quite enough. Having said that, I really want to know what happens next and I'll be reading the upcoming sequel for sure! It's just that with such a promising premise and the fact that it was written by two genre giants, I felt that The Long Earth didn't deliver as much as it could/should have. True, the expectations were high, and that's as it should be. Yet they could easily have made the novel a bit longer, which would have given them the opportunity to flesh out both the characters and all those concepts they came up with.