Paperback now available – sequel out June 20
For all his staggering success, Terry Pratchett’s a writer who benefits from a partner in prose, if only to rein in his relentless mirth making. The Long Earth, a novel with ‘hard’ SF author Stephen Baxter about a chain of parallel Earths, is not as knockabout as Discworld and yet it has one of Pratchett’s most hilarious characters. Douglas Adams would have been proud to have created Lobsang, the artificial intelligence who claims to have been reincarnated from a Tibetan motorcyle repairman.
The multiverse premise is built around a pleasingly humdrum piece of technology, a potato-powered device called a Stepper, which enables anyone to take the leap into another uninhabited, skewed version of Earth and then keep going. It makes for a powerful, expansive science fiction novel, full of possibility, wonder and a certain amount of peril, which would suit young and adult readers alike. The co-writing between Pratchett and Baxter feels smooth as the authors adroitly handle quantum theory while focusing on individual families as they seek out new frontiers. The impact is also being felt on the original Earth – now known as Datum Earth – as people leave or step back into places they shouldn’t. No doubt certain newspapers would bemoan the effect on house prices.
While the authors enjoy creating these parallel worlds and exploring the consequences, they don’t forget to create an engaging hero. Joshua Valiente, a seasoned Stepper who was born on a parallel Earth, joins Lobsang on an exploratory mission in a high-tech airship as part of a colonising operation. If the ending to this inventive, witty novel feels a little rushed, the good news is that the sequel, The Long War, is out on June 20.