Completion Date: May 13, 2012
Reason for Reading: Received review copy/New Terry Pratchett/Buddy read with Ana.
1916: the Western Front, France. 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 has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone?
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one...
...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.
But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun..Ana, from things mean a lot, and I were both lucky to get ARC of The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. This lead to us deciding to read the book together and then answer questions. This book is being marketed as Terry Pratchett's first science-fiction novel in 30 years. I was intrigued by the concept and think that overall this is a promising start to a new series. Ana and I each came up with 4 questions and then answered all 8 of them. My answers are below and you can read hers at her blog.
Ana: I'll start with a slightly unimaginative question - how do you think this book compares to the rest of Terry Pratchett's work? (I won't ask about Stephen Baxter, because I think that like me you hadn't read him before. Do you want to now, though?)
Compared to you, I have hardly read Pratchett. I am so far behind in Discworld that it seems like an overwhelming task to catch-up. This is actually why I jumped at the chance to read this book. I really enjoy Pratchett and this is the start of something new. It seemed a better way to read something by him without worrying about reading order. And, from what I have read of him, you could see Pratchett in this book. The humour was there like always. It was different, but at the same time it was the same. You could tell that he had his hand in it. As for Stephen Baxter, no, I have not read him before but he has always been on my list to get to one day. I guess now I sort of have, but I still want to read something else by him.
Did you think this book worked as a standalone, or did you finish wanting more?
I actually thought this book was a standalone until I got to the ending. Then I wondered if it was just a bad ending, but people are saying it is a series... I would have been happy if the ending was not so abrupt to have this be a standalone. I think standalones once in a while are a good thing. I get tired of keeping track of trilogies and series and stressing about how many I have on the go. Sometimes I just want to read a book and then move on. Sadly, that doesn't happen very often. I will interested to see how this series progresses, though. Don't get me wrong! If I had to start another series, I am glad it is a Pratchett one.
Ana: What was your favourite thing about the concept of The Long Earth? Was there anything about all those possible worlds that you found particularly exciting?
From the very beginning I liked how this book was a 'what if' book. Each time a new place was discovered, it would be a different level of evolution. There would be different plant life or animal life. Something minor would have happened and set this place off on an entirely different path than the one the people were coming from. I thought this was a great idea because it gave them a chance to invent new creatures, climates, and experiences without being implausible. And, I find that exciting. I like the idea of being able to explore the earth in an entirely different way than thought possible and find something entirely new.
If you had never read Pratchett before, would you consider this a good starting point?
Good question. My very first Pratchett was Good Omens. He wrote it with Neil Gaiman and it was a standalone. Discworld just seemed so big because it had been going for years and I was late getting around to wanting to read them. If anyone pays attention, though, I went about Discworld in manageable small doses. I read the Tiffany Aching books. Technically part of the overall series, but can be read just as a small quartet. Then, I read The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. Again, part of the overall series, but can be read alone. Now I have started to dip into the bigger series, but it still seems huge. This is all to say that while this is not the best book by Pratchett, it is a good introduction to what to expect and might be more manageable for people not sure if they want to tackle a big series.
Ana: Did the consequences of the discovery of the "stepper" ring true to you? Do you think that's how human beings would react if they were given the opportunity to explore other worlds?
Yes, I believe that everything was handled in a way that wasn't far-fetched. For example, the ability to 'step' is discovered and the population of the earth is almost too high, so people start leaving for better chances and opportunities. As our population predictions from the future hint at too many people for our resources, it was a believable idea. It is also believable that too many people leave for new opportunities and then the 'real' earth starts suffering. I can imagine all that actually happening. And, yes, I do think people would leave if given the chance. At this point there are many people looking out at the stars and hoping for a chance to inhabit another planet. This is just something that is closer to home.
What did you think of the characters? Did any stand out for you? Did any bother you?
I think the characters have potential. There are just too many of them to be able to say with any certainty which ones. I guess I should have known this was a series in the very beginning because there are way too many people to explore to just have one book. I think this book was basically about introducing the characters and setting up the world. I am hopeful the later books will deal with the specifics.
Ana: What did you think about the ties Pratchett and Baxter established between scientific concepts and world mythologies? I'm not alone in finding that kind of thing incredibly cool, right?No, you are not alone! It was a very cool idea. I love mythology and folklore and science fiction. Making all three of those work together was an excellent idea! I think it was my favourite part of the book, actually. And, they make things their own. I like when authors take what could be an old idea and add something to make it even slightly different.
Do you think the ‘real’ world and the ‘stepper’ world combined well? What did you think of the mention of things like WWI? Did it make it seem more or less legitimate?
I really liked the addition of 'read' world history like WWI. I was not sure what to think when the book starts with WWI, but once the story gets going and you get more context I thought it was a great idea. They also remember to include the rest of his story later. I don't like loose ends and would have been left wondering.