The Long Earth (Long Earth Series #1)

The Long Earth (Long Earth Series #1)

3.8 138
by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

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The possibilities 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 have the mud, blood, and blasted landscape of no-man's-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone?

2015: Madison,

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The possibilities 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 have 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 say mad, others allege dangerous—scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson find 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.

The first novel in an exciting new collaboration between Discworld creator Terry Pratchett and the acclaimed SF writer Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth transports readers to the ends of the earth—and far beyond. All it takes is a single step. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this thought-provoking collaboration, Pratchett (the Discworld series) and Baxter (Stone Spring) create an infinity of worlds to explore. A revolutionary process known as Stepping has allowed humanity access to an unlimited number of parallel Earths, all devoid of human life. The further one travels, the stranger the variant worlds become. Joshua Valiente, one of a rare breed who can Step without external help, is hired by the transEarth Institute to travel by airship across the Long Earth, exploring as far as possible. Accompanied by Lobsang, a Tibetan reincarnated as an artificial intelligence, he journeys across millions of Earths, discovering just what sort of bizarre secrets lurk in the farthest reaches. The slow-burning plot plays second fiddle to the fascinating premise, and the authors seem to have more fun developing backstory and concepts than any real tension. An abrupt conclusion comes as an unwelcome end to this tale of exploration. (July)
“Stay tuned for the next episode of a very old-fashioned sf quest yarn (think Jules Verne and 2001) that, since Pratchett is involved, is crammed with scientifically informed amusement.”
“The writing is elegant and witty...The worlds of the Long Earth are all richly rendered, and even the walk-on characters are deftly imagined…and the potential seems endless not just for the characters, but for Pratchett and Baxter as well.”
Kirkus Reviews
Pratchett, author of the esteemed Discworld yarns (Snuff, 2011, etc.), and collaborator Baxter (Stone Spring, 2011, etc.) venture into alternate worlds. Eccentric, reclusive genius Willis Linsay of Madison, Wis., publishes on the web instructions for building a strange device consisting of a handful of common components, some wires, a three-way control and a potato. A flick of the switch ("west" or "east") sends the builder into an alternate Earth--one of a possibly infinite sequence--where there are no humans at all, though there are other creatures descended from hominid stock. Some people are natural "steppers," able to step into the Long Earth without any device. Another minority are phobics, unable to step at all. Steppers can take with them only what they can carry, while iron in any form doesn't cross. Thanks to the strange circumstances of his birth, Joshua Valienté is a natural. The transEarth Institute, a wing of the huge Black Corporation, offers him a job exploring and reporting on the new worlds. His partner in the enterprise will be a zeppelin inhabited by Lobsang, a distributed artificial intelligence whose human component was once a humble Tibetan. Meanwhile, back on Datum, the original Earth, officer Monica Jansson grows increasingly concerned about the anti-stepping rants of powerful demagogue Brian Cowley. Thousands of steps from home, Joshua runs into another independent-minded stepper, Sally, who turns out to be Willis' daughter. They visit a community, Happy Landings, founded thousands of years ago by natural steppers and trolls, gentle hominids who communicate via music. But both trolls and their viciously homicidal cousins, elves, are step-fleeing toward Datum from something very scary indeed. This often intriguing development of a science fiction trope takes a scattershot approach and could have used more of Pratchett's trademark satire and Puckish humor. Still, the authors have plenty of fresh insights to offer, and fans of either will want to tag along and see where it all leads.

At first blush, a more unlikely pair of collaborators than Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter seems awfully distant, hovering like a mirage out there on some far-fetched, counterfactual literary horizon. Pratchett built his reputation mainly with his Discworld books, comic, slapstick fantasies; Baxter, with his Xeelee cycle, hard-edged, physics-saluting science fiction. Both are British, and both have indeed collaborated in the past with others, but only "like to like": Baxter with Arthur C. Clarke, Pratchett with Neil Gaiman. So this series — projected at first as a duology — might initially strike their separate fan bases as an awkward mismatch of talents.

Luckily, nothing could be farther from the truth. The two books — The Long Earth and The Long War — combine Baxter's and Pratchett's separate strengths into an organic hybrid: humor with real speculative vigor, or speculation laced with witty humor.

Surprisingly enough for a series that tips towards the SF end of the spectrum, the origin of the project lies with Pratchett. In 1986, before Discworld had decisively achieved fame and prominence in his catalogue, Pratchett wrote the seed from which the current project sprouted, a short story about interdimensional travel titled "The High Meggas."

Now, interdimensional travel — or visits to parallel worlds or voyaging across the multiverse — is one of the essential tropes of science fiction. First handled rigorously (and non-magically) in the 1930s, the theme has been developed by such giants of the field, past and present, as Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, Keith Laumer, Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Paul Melko, Ian McDonald, Steven Gould, and Neal Stephenson. Michael Moorcock, who brought the word multiverse into common parlance (after its obscure coinage in the philosophy of William James), has created an immense mythos concerning the interrelationships among sheaves of fictional timelines. So when we come to The Long Earth, we bring with us some expectations for new riffs on the theme. And indeed, our authors don't let us down.

The two distinctive hallmarks of Pratchett-Baxter cross- continua travel are 1) all the parallel Earths, as far as humanity can travel, one tedious jump at a time, are bare of humans; and 2) the gadget for leaping off from the ground zero of "Datum Earth" — the Stepper — is so simple it can be made from Radio Shack components, and its blueprints instantly go viral, prompting a mass exodus from our overburdened planet. (This uncontrolled proliferation of dangerous tech finds previous expression in Baxter and Clarke's The Light of Other Days, about the dangers of rogue time-viewers.)

Two other technical flourishes also shape the story: no ferrous metals can be carried across the reality barrier (goodbye guns, computers, cars, etc.), and each Earth — in the polar directions of "East" and "West" — differs slightly across an unfathomable "contingency tree." Travel far enough, and things start to get weird. Oh, one last feature, probably courtesy of Pratchett: jumping across wordlines makes one violently sick in the stomach. Thus we have bold explorers uncontrollably vomiting before they can even utter, "One small step for man?"

From the two simple main ground rules and their codicils, Baxter and Pratchett construct an adventure that constantly surprises. It confers the mind-expanding feeling that Victorian readers must have experienced when encountering Wells's The Time Machine. The Long Earth starts the adventure rolling by following a number of protagonists in a deftly whipsawing, multivector fashion. We have our main hero, Joshua Valienté, a young fellow who can Step without machinery, thanks to the strange circumstances of his birth. Valienté is recruited for a big multiverse expedition by an entity dubbed Lobsang, an artificial intelligence, distributed across various platforms, which also claims to be the reincarnated-in-silicon soul of a lowly Tibetan motorcycle repairman. Then there's Sally Linsay, another "natural Stepper" and daughter of the Stepper's mysteriously vanished inventor, Willis Linsay; policewoman Monica Jansson; and frontiersman Jack Green and his daughter Helen.

Baxter and Pratchett use these various characters and many others to disclose a succession of marvels from their unflagging imaginations. Sentient hominid races known as trolls and elves and kobolds are revealed. The Gap is discovered: a continuum where the planet Earth is entirely vanished, removing any solid doppelgänger Terra and leaving a vacuum to be traversed. Timelines with ancient megafauna are reached. Finally, the unique intelligence known as First Person Singular is encountered, sending the expedition back to Datum Earth with a preliminary map of the riches that await humanity.

Baxter's touch shows up in the brilliant extrapolations and impeccably logical unfolding of the Stepping tech, I think, while Pratchett's hand is omnipresent in the whimsical characters and in many droll observations on culture and society. For instance, I take the invention of "The First Heavenly Church of the Cosmic Confidence Trick" to be a Pratchett bit, a smooth blend of Vonnegut-style tomfoolery with Asimovian analysis that goes down easy. As Lobsang explains, "They consider their religion to reflect the truth about the universe, which is its essential absurdity. True Victims believe that there is one Born Again every minute. And they must be fruitful and multiply, to create more human minds to appreciate the joke."

The Long War opens ten years after the events of the first book. Joshua is married to Helen Green, with a family of his own, content to live as a simple homesteader out in the High Meggers, the (differently spelled) neighborhood at least one million Earths removed from Datum Earth. Lobsang is out of Joshua's life, busy running the Black Corporation, which has a monopoly on many important new technologies, including the nonferrous dirigibles that keep all the iterations of Earth in contact, under a loose affiliation known as the Aegis. Joshua's placid life gets a disruptive jolt with the reappearance of Sally Linsay, as prickly and unpredictable as ever. Sally is worried that the trolls — kindly, peaceful partners to humans — are being slaughtered or maltreated up and down the Long Earth, and she convinces Joshua to try to do something about it, launching him on a new odyssey, with his family along for at least part of the ride.

In addition, we get a passel of intriguing new characters and their quests, such as Captain Maggie Kauffman, who helms the USS Benjamin Franklin dirigible, tasked with enforcing Aegis authority up and down the Long Earth. Her conversion from an officious point of view to another frame of mind becomes a central theme. We also meet Christopher Pagel, an expert on trolls. Moreover, Sister Agnes, the Harley-riding nun who helped raise orphan Joshua (can we discern Pratchett's hand here?) returns in a surprising manner.

Baxter and Pratchett don't merely repeat the feel of the first book. Everything has evolved. Some twenty-five years after Step Day, their frontier is now morphing into "statehood," with all the Realpolitik issues that condition implies. The plot of this volume reflects the extant complex conditions of a widely settled cosmos. The milieu is less Davy Crockett (a figure cited frequently in The Long Earth) and more John C. Frémont, Great Pathfinder turned politician. At one juncture, the authors illustrate these changes with a touching symbol: the markers that Helen Green and her family used on their long trek across the endless forests are now crumbling and abandoned. (Also conducive to more empire building are the anti-nausea medicines that have normalized the Stepping procedure.) Additionally, whereas the first book concerned mainly the cognate USAs, we now experience what China has been doing in its associated dimensions, thanks to riding along with the East Twenty Millions Expedition involving pedagogue Jacques Montecute and his super-bright student Roberta Golding.

The Long War concludes on a very satisfactory note, after its patented amalgam of jesting and jousting, having explored topics such as the nature of consciousness (human and otherwise), cosmology, freedom, and the soul. But the last couple of chapters also form a trembling springboard to further adventures. Whether Terry Pratchett's well-known health issues will permit any extensions remains in doubt. But should this entry terminate the series, readers will still feel blessed.

Like Greg Bear's infinite corridor in his Eon series, Philip José Farmer's overstuffed Riverworld, Larry Niven's Ringworld, or Roger Zelazny's feuding realms of Amber, or any of a dozen other allied venues, Pratchett and Baxter's Long Earth is a quintessential SF construct tailored to offer an infinity of exploration and a bounty of fresh readerly joys.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

Shelf Awareness
“ The Long Earth is the solid start of a series with infinite potential.”
The Long Earth is a brilliant Science Fiction collaboration with Stephen Baxter: a love letter to all Pratchett fans, readers, and lovers of wonder everywhere… This novel is a gift to be shared with anyone who loves to be amazed.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Long Earth Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

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The Long Earth: A Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 138 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The teamwork of Baxter and Sir Terry is remarkable with a new take on the multiple realities theme in a truly stunning way. Without revealing anything, elements of Sir Terry are there in the form of fabulous, epic story telling and short vignettes showing life among the worlds along with the tight, hard sci-fi integration provided by Baxter with all the usual literary conflicts nicely laid out. I will definitely be signing on for the rest of this series. This is something new and different. Read it now!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With the discovery of seemingly infinite worlds parallell to our own and the potato-powered devices called 'steppers', humanity is moving out and into the Long Earth. Entirely new and uninhabited Earths are only a step away, and pioneers are quickly claiming the nearest worlds East and West of our own planet. Joshua Valient¿, a natural stepper (a person who can step between Earths without using a Stepper Box) and a bit of a legend, is hired to go on a mission to the High Meggers--the earths more than a million steps away from our own. No pioneers have ever made it out that far and it is a challenge he looks forward to, until he discovers something that can consume all of the Long Earth and leave nothing but desolate silence in its wake. Meanwhile, our own Datum Earth is having its own troubles. Opposite the natural steppers are people who cannot step at all, and they are speaking violently out about the steppers and the Long Earth. Political difficulty mires the Datum while an unknown threat moves slowly down the line of Earths towards humanity. It's lucky Joshua has friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this! This mellow sci-fi is thought provoking and original. The style isn't obviously "Terry" but it flowed and was a quick read. I couldn't put it down and hope that there will be some follow-up books to explore the Long Earth further. I think folks need to see this as a collaborative work - it's not another Discworld novel, which is great. A fresh idea is always a welcome addition. I was at the Convention in Madison and it was surprising to see this already published - what a lucky day when I stumbled upon it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book. It got kind of tense for awhile. I suppose the sequels will be, too. An infinite number of earths a sideways step fron this one - and endless possibilities. And Joshua Valiente is tied to it from birth. Terry Pratchett toyed with this idea when he first began writing, but the Discworld took off and the idea was dropped. I'm looking forward to the next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, I get his books on my Nook than get them in paperback for my bookshelf. If TP wrote any part of the Long Earth he had the flu, wasn't feeling good or just wasn't himself that day. I am up to page 78 and am struggling to get thru it. I probably won't and it'll just be put away. The book is boring, the writing is dull. The idea would make a great Terry Pratchett novel, but this isn't it. Save your money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book drew me in, fascinated me, I didn't want to put it down. The story and characters are wonderful. I just hope there's a sequel, because the ending was incredibly abrupt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I own every single Pratchett book ever written, so I was excited to get this one! Several chapters in my excitement was diminished. He has co-written some wonderful, smart, engaging books with authors that will stand forever on my shelf to be reread and shared. This is not one of them. I don't recognise him in any part of this book. The book is smart and points out some interesting challenges to the reader about an "infinite earths" scenario, but it is written in a rather dry and disjointed style. The sad thing is I might have liked it if I wasn't waiting for it to turn into a Terry Pratchett book!
bookworm201212 More than 1 year ago
Normally I love anything by Terry Pratchett, but this book was a major let down. It was so incredibly boring and dull. If you must read it check it out at the library and save your money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pratchett and Baxter offer us solid and meaningful science fiction. The Long Earth tells a story of what happens when humanity is no longer bound to one Earth but can "step" through infinite Earths. This is a science fiction tale populated by realistic, intelligently crafted characters and a believablity that is only broken by the premise of "stepping". The Jacket explains it is "the First Novel in an exciting collaboration..." and it definately feels like it is intended to be a first in a series. While a wonderfully interesting if not overly thrilling adventure it not only sets the stage for future exploration into the innumeral possible Earths but also into the human heart. I for one am looking forward to future entries into what I hope continues to be a rich and fullfilling look at what might happen if we are ever able to penetrate the barriers between worlds.
oceans1 More than 1 year ago
This is not a Disc-world novel but it is still classic Terry Pratchett! Anything that I could say about the plot would be a spoiler so I won't say anything. The book description given here on B&N is sufficient. If you love Pratchett like I do and you don't mind that this is not a Disc-world story then run, do not walk, to your store and get it. NOW.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy one of Terry's Disc World novels instead. Characters are flat, plot crawls and what should be deep questions instead stay in the kiddy pool. Such a pity because I could see many of the elements shining if they were in his other books.
Vivian_Metzger More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this collaboration, though some of my friends who read did not. The ending was a little disappointing, but other than that this was a magical, fun read. Whenever a book is written by two authors, I'm never sure as to who did what. The world building doesn't seem as well-woven as Sir Terry's other books, but it was still a fascinating place nonetheless. The book is not as light-hearted as the Discworld series, so perhaps it's more serious tone is to Stephen Baxter's style of writing. This revolves around physics and parallel universes and string theories all set in a fantastic world, so make sure you are awake and alert when reading! Lots of backstory and multiple points of narrative, so it makes for a well-rounded tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book topic was very interesting. However, it was such a long book and I feel like nothing truly ever happened. I didn't understand the ending and was a little disapointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terry brings a measure of his unique humor into this interesting story. The book itself reminds me of Good Omens.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book. It was amazing that I couldn't tell what was Pratchett and what was Baxter (you can kind of parse out Good Omens and tell which ideas came from which writer). There had better be a part 2, though. The ending was abrupt, and it would be very interesting to have the continuation of what is really a social commentary on how the human race keeps managing to do the same destructive things over and over again. Does anyone on Datum or any of the other Earths learn the lesson?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this one as the characters were well enough developed and the authors did a great job of providing some thought provoking points. The Sci-fi aspect was intriguing while politics, economies, and social aspects are discussed.
Vorsomethingblah More than 1 year ago
The book had a good flow to it, and was moderately engaging. However it did feel a little bit slow, also towards the end I started wondering how it was going to get wrapped up in so few pages I had left... The ending was very rushed and left a lot of the questions unanswered. Possibly to be picked up in the sequel. As much as I like TP though, I will not be picking it up. The style just didn't feel like his, and even though the book had some neat sci-fi elements, it was just too boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first introduction to fantasy fiction; hooked I am and stepper become.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Not quite what I expected but entertaining and even a little thought provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting concept, not the best story. I love the idea of the multi-verse Earths and how humanity handles it, but this story spreads across too many side characters that seem unimportant other than for atmosphere while the main plot plods along. I would like to know what happens next, but I'm not sure I want to read three more books to find out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't stop! Don't ever stop! But space bending? Werw.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love it! B)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeah, l think the first thing you need is details. Add emotions, make us feel like we are there. Suspense, love, anger. It helps connect us and read a lot more. Still amazing grammar and spelling doh...