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So I don't think there is any better feeling than wondering when a new Terry Pratchett book will appear, and then realizing it's ALREADY OUT. It's like Hogswatch Christmas come early!

Technically, The Long Earth isn't JUST a Pterry book -- he co-wrote it with Stephen Baxter, and I think the writing style really shows that (probably because Baxter did most of the physical writing, I'm guessing. Poor Pterry). Baxter has a much sparer style, but it still blends well with Pterry's plotting style and your average Pratchettian observation; that combined with the fact that this is Pterry's first straight sci-fi since before the Discworld meant that the I didn't find the changes in reading experience particularly jarring (unlike the lack of commas in the first quarter of Snuff, which really weirded me out.)

The title refers to the discovery in the not-too-distant future of millions of parallel universes, accessible one at a time for most people by a simple machine powered by a potato (let's guess who's responsible for THAT detail :D) that allows you to step across dimensions, taking only what you can carry (as long as there's no iron in it). Each parallel Earth is slightly different, the results of minute deviations from our own history, but they all have one thing in common: ours is the only one with humans. But not, as it turns out, the only one with intelligent life.

The most plotty portions of the book follow the adventures of Joshua Valienté, a Long Earth mountain-man type and a natural stepper who doesn't need a potato box, and Lobsang, the first AI to be legally recognized as human because he claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Lobsang is the co-founder of the mysterious and probably sinister Black Corporation, and he's on a mission to explore as many Earths as possible and, like almost everyone, find out why: Why are we only discovering the Long Earth now? Why are we the only humans? Why aren't we the only steppers? And why is everything fleeing towards our Earth?

The rest of the book is more vignette-y, touching on various characters' viewpoints during the early days of dealing with the Long Earth, and usually following up on them later on. I really enjoyed the mix of exploration, pioneering, technological advances/retreats, and social commentary -- I don't know if this would count as hard sci-fi, but Pterry and Baxter definitely include a pretty wide-spread contemplation of how exactly access to infinite worlds would effect both individuals, organizations, and countries, and what kind of tensions would arise, or even dissipate.

However, the book does have one major problem, which is the random cliff-hanger ending. Throughout the book, there's a nice undercurrent of horror, which nicely complements any exploration of the unknown (as well as the Donner Party factors of some of the pioneers), but even that doesn't quite match up with the ending. Instead, it's kind of like if 2001: A Space Odyssey jumped from Dave's journey through the star gate back to earth, where Heywood Floyd is in the middle of a Cold War showdown with the Russians. It reads like a blatant sequel-hook, which is annoying because this just wasn't a sequel-hook kind of story (AND the thought of potential sequels without Pterry just makes me sad). (However, I guess that does explain why there were a few random plot-lines that were set up and didn't seem to go anywhere; presumably, they're going to go in some future book. Or maybe a parallel one, who knows.) There's definitely room for more books about this set-up, but 99% of this one felt self-contained, and to not get much resolution is really frustrating.

On the other hand, Joshua was raised by motorcycling nuns. Not gonna lie, nearly every SFF book would be improved by that addition.


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December 2012

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