The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The possibilites are endless. Just be careful what you wish for….)

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. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of no-man’s-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Police officer Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive–some said mad, others allege dangerous–scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson finds a curious gadget: a box containing some rudimentary wiring, a three-way switch, and…a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way humankind views the world forever.”

Baxter and Pratchett have certainly come up with an interesting concept.  They explore the various ways in which our world could be different from the way that it actually is.  Clusters of worlds exhibit ice ages, or droughts, or massive forestation.  It reminds me of Pratchett’s statement that every bell curve has its far ends—along with the more “common” variations, there are worlds where things have gone awry and strange conditions rule.  Many of these places are described in vivid detail.

The authors also address the issues that would arise if humanity suddenly had endless space and resources.  What would happen if poverty vanished—along with the poor?  What would life be like in a world that had lower technology than ours, but had access to such luxuries?  And what would happen to those unlucky few who could not leave our world for greener pastures?

However, I think the authors were too enamored of their creation.  While there is indeed a plot in this novel, it progress extremely slowly.  It’s hard to even work out what the plot is until very close to the book’s conclusion.  Most of the pages are taken up with the main character, Joshua, and the AI intelligence Lobsang exploring the length of the Long Earth and talking about what they find.  There are hints of something wrong in the deep places of the worlds, but the reveal comes almost at the story’s end.

For me, what kept the novel moving was the secondary characters that the authors introduce.  While they have little or no impact on the plot, they provide a human viewpoint on the infinite earths.  If they story had stuck with Joshua and Lobsang, there would have been little depth to the novel and only rambling conversations between the two to move the plot.  I especially liked Monica Jansson, the Madison police officer who closely follows the Long Earth phenomenon and those who seem involved with it the most.  She’s not in the novel much, but she strikes me as a solid, down to earth character that I’d like to see more from.

In the end, this book has a great deal of description, a thin plot, and a sudden ending that seemed to come from nowhere.  While I often found enjoyment in reading this novel, there are many ways in which it could have been improved.  I expect a sequel is in the works, and I have enough interest in the tale to pick up the next one, when and if it is published.  The Long Earth has much to recommend it with interesting concepts and intriguing ideas, but I would have liked to have seen more forward momentum in the story.

This review was originally posted on July 30, 2012.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.

(Description nicked from

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