Published: Between 2012 and 2015
The idea that ‘whatever can be will be’ is laid bare in The Long Earth series, torn down like the walls between universes. Because, throughout the Long Earth, a seemingly infinite series of parallel dimensions comparable to a single thread in a great ball of string, every possible permutation of history is unfolding, but without mankind.
The four books that make up The Long Earth series detail not one world but many. The parallel dimensions, called East and West for convenience’s sake, run at least as far as 200 million ‘steps’, as passing from one world to the next is called by humanity, following the events of Step Day, when the plans for a box that enables inter-dimensional travel are leaked over the internet. And so it is that protagonists Joshua Valienté, who does not need a box to step, and Lobsang, an artificial intelligence who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman, step out into the Long Earth, away from home dimension Datum Earth, and into worlds untouched by man.
This is the central premise of Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett’s collaboration. Humanity is no longer restricted by land and natural resources. Instead, it is set free, into worlds unknown and rich in resources and space. This blank canvas allows Baxter and Pratchett to run riot, creating whole races of human ancestors who broke off and left Datum Earth, testing scientific possibilities such as what would’ve happened if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had missed, or if something bigger obliterated the planet completely. Better yet are the races of animals that prosper in the absence of mankind: the dogs, the crustaceans, the living islands.
While the big ideas are arguably both Baxter and Pratchett’s domain, it is the late Discworld creator whose understanding of the common man shines through. The bromance between Valienté and Lobsang, who share a trip into the unknown in the first book and whose partnership survives cataclysmic nuclear blasts and Yellowstone eruptions, gives the series the humanity that is often missing from sci-fi of big ideas. Add to these characters mankind’s evolutionary cousins the Next, Sister Agnes, a Catholic nun who puts more faith in rock and roll than God, and the Trolls, the humanoids who can hold a tune, and the Long Earth is rich in mischief, misdeeds and more musical references than you can shake a stick at.
The Long Earth series struggles for pacing in places, particularly in sequel The Long War, which pits the USA against its own pioneers but never quite delivers, providing instead an instalment that turns away rather than draws in, particularly for a much better third book in The Long Mars. But The Long Earth series doesn’t misstep too far and it is a crying shame that a fifth and final book may not happen following the sad passing of Pratchett. Whether a fifth book was finished before Pratchett passed away, or it’s up to Baxter to end the series, The Long Earth is so ripe with imagination and complex characters that even if it’s left unfinished, readers are left with a universe(s) to rival most, and many more besides.
Rating: Turned On (Where Is The Extension Lead?!?)