Richmond West 10’s only bookseller exulted with every sale he made to the would-be pioneers who passed through here. Books, printed on paper, every one of them! Dead tree technology! Information that, if carefully stored, would last for millennia! And no batteries required. It ought to be on an ad hoarding, he thought.
The instructions appeared online in 2015; anonymously posted but guaranteed to be followed by thousands of inquisitive children. That day is now known as Step Day. One by one, children disappeared, stepping into the next world. The children were scared and helpless except for orphaned Joshua. For once, her felt strangely at peace and he led the lost back to their earth. From that day onwards, it was known that there were other earths, with different evolutionary paths. Pioneers set out to colonise these new worlds leaving behind the rich and the poor and those who can’t step.
Joshua is happy by himself but when he is approached by the Black Corporation and introduced to Lobsang, the first computer to prove its humanity, he embarks on a mission to step to the ends of the Long Earth.
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter need little introduction and their first collaboration has been eagerly awaited by fans. I haven’t read any Baxter but it’s easy to identify the humour and observations we have grown to know and love from Pratchett. However it’s very different in style to Discworld which I can only assume is Baxter’s influence.
It’s a little slow to get going with so many characters seemingly on different versions of earth. The chapters concerning the modern day pioneers felt a little disjointed and didn’t contribute much to the plot. I can understand their relevance as back story but the characters weren’t really engaging enough and they got in the way of the real story. However I did really enjoy the bits about Private Percy in 1916 when he first encountered what he thought were the French or possibly Russians but were actually steppers from another earth. They added to the whole story of the primates, our possible evolutionary cousins from other dimensions (or legs of the trousers of time).
Who were they? What were they? The looked a little bit like bears, but not with bear faces, or a bit like monkeys, only fatter. And they were just watching him placidly. Surely they couldn’t be French?
He tried French anyway. “Parley buffon say?”
They stared at him blankly.
Lobsang is an excellent character, a computer that has managed to prove in a court of law that he is human. His story is that he’s a reincarnated Tibetan monk and when Joshua first meets him, he’s encased in a vending machine. He is the ultimate super computer yet becomes a character you come to feel for. He enforces a daily film, of which it is always relevant to an event or comment. He might infuriate Joshua but I think they might even manage to become friends along the way.
Whilst we don’t get to spend much time in each version of earth I loved the passing worlds and their strange but oddly familiar creatures. It’s an exploration of what the earth could be like if Homo sapiens hadn’t taken over the place. Yet what is the future of the Long Earth is humans start all over again and what will happen to those left behind? All this sort of makes up for the lack of flowing plot in the first half of the book and I look forward to seeing what happens next.
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