Discworld creator Terry Pratchett and science fiction writer Stephen Baxter join forces for this tale of unexplored worlds.
A few years from now, anybody with a ‘stepper’ can travel through the Long Earth, a chain of (mostly empty) parallel worlds. And travel they do, as resources are soon being exploited and small pioneer settlements founded. Joshua Valienté is one of the few who are able to step between worlds unaided and unafflicted by nausea; he’s hired to escort Lobsang, a rather human supercomputer, on a journey to the far reaches of the Long Earth, where threats and wonders await.
The Long Earth is first in a projected sequence, and it reads a little too much like a protracted beginning; there’s a sense of pieces being moved into place for the rest of the series. Joshua may be the chauffeur, but it’s the vast mind of Lobsang which drives the novel, so the protagonist’s main job is more to witness than act; and the subplots don’t carry enough weight in the book as a whole.
But the heart of Pratchett’s and Baxter’s novel is a fantasy of other worlds played against scientific grounding – it’s not an outlandish voyage for their travellers, but a trudge through mostly empty minor variations on our world. Analogues of elves and trolls appear, but are firmly rationalised in context; and there’s some interesting speculation over different paths terrestrial life might have taken, and how modern humans might respond to vast new wildernesses. It will be intriguing to see where the series goes next.