It’s 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 have 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’s an understatement if ever there was one…
When I first heard about this one at the beginning of the year, I couldn’t tell you how excited I was about it! I’ve never read any of Stephen Baxter’s books before, but Pterry stepping out of the Discworld for something a bit different, and Sci-Fi at that? Yeah, excited.
To begin with, it lived up to my expectations. A great concept, what looked like interesting characters, and the nice line in humour I’ve come to expect from Terry Pratchett’s books. Here’s a couple of quotes to show what I mean:
“As a matter of fact, you’re wrong. We sometimes work for the government, but we’re certainly not the government.”
She smiled deprecatingly. “Lobsang found your mailbox code.”
“And who is Lobsang?”
“Me,” said the drinks machine.
“Well, yes. And maybe also because she is wanted by the FBI, which is why she doesn’t go out much and sleeps in the basement. Sister Agnes said that it was all a big misunderstanding, and in any case the bullet missed the senator by a mile. They don’t talk about it much.”
The idea of the Long Earth. Many earths, with each one branching out from the next, was explored pretty well I thought, subtle environmental differences on each earth, with each one developing differently according to those differences.
I also really liked the concept of ‘stepping’ and the way it worked, that it only worked if you made the box, and even then it had a physical effect on the user. Although for me, the potato as a power source just felt quirky for quirky’s sake. A cheap readily available solar cell (removed from a calculator etc) would have worked just as well.
I also really liked that Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter explored the social and economic ramifications of people being able to just step off the earth, to another one, who does the land on those earths belong to? What happens to the economy on the Datum earth (our earth) when people start to take themselves out of it? There’s lots to think about, as you would expect from Terry Pratchett and I suspect Stephen Baxter’s science fiction.
But in the end, it never quite takes off, for the most part the book felt like that bit in other books between the big attention grabbing start and the exciting endings where a lot of the important and interesting stuff takes place, but isn’t as exciting as the rest. You know it needs to be there, and in the end makes the book a better thing. Yeah, it’s a bit like that.
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