Friday, July 20, 2012

Science Fiction: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

This was my first attempt at a Terry Pratchett novel, and The Long Earth is also a collaboration with science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. Something I didn't realize when beginning this book, despite very clear evidence that things were headed in this direction, is that it will be the first in a series. So while this was my first Terry Pratchett book, it appears it will not be my last. 

The Situation: It is 2015 and Joshua Valiente, along with many other children in Madison, Wisconsin, assemble a strange device that has a potato at its core. The instructions for such a device were published on the Internet anonymously (of course), and scores of children proceeded to assemble the device, not even really knowing what it is, and use it. And thus, this day would forever be known as Step Day. Joshua assembled what would be called a "stepper," turned the nob to either East or West, and "stepped," along with scores of other children, to another world. Well, I guess that really isn't quite definitely wasn't the world we all know, but then again it was, but a different version. And Joshua, along with the rest of humanity, soon discovers that if you keep stepping, in either direction, you'll continue to encounter more versions, in a never-ending line. Not long after Joshua's successful trip to a different earth and back, Joshua makes his second trip. But something weird happens. Something doesn't go wrong necessarily, it is just that Joshua manages to step away without the help of his stepper box. 

The Problem: Naturally, once the adults realize what has happened and what endless possibilities there are when it comes to an infinite amount of earths to explore, people start exploring and colonizing these other worlds, finding new species of animals, starting their lives over, founding new societies, discovering new businesses, and even new ways of doing business. The possibilities are literally endless. But that isn't really the problem though - in my view, the real problem are people like Dr. Tilda Green, who insist on moving her family to one of the many settlements that are starting thousands of earths west, despite the fact the her son is unable to step, even with the aid of a stepper. That's right, she leaves her son on what will be known as Datum Earth, so she and the rest of her family can take advantage of starting over in one of the new settlements. Of course, those left behind become easy prey to jealousy, resentment, anger, bitterness, and with just the right amount of encouragement, blind rage. But even if there wasn't the issues of people being left behind, there is still the issue that people are stepping blindly, not realizing that they could be stepping into a world still in its ice age, or a world covered by endless water, or they could land in a part that is currently experiencing a forest fire. Not to mention the dangerous species of wildlife that very few people are prepared to encounter. Just as the possibilities are endless, so are the dangers. And Pratchett and Baxter have hit upon a story that has endless directions, and this first novel in the series has only hit the surface. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel that explores the issue of colonization - something that is not at all new to the human race. Of course, there are also themes of discovery, fear of the unknown, anger at the misunderstood, greed, isolation, and even corporate takeover. Also, with the dividing line between the steppers (both natural and with the help of the stepper) and the "phobics" or this unable to step, it is easy to see a situation of Holocaust proportions starting to brew. Yeah, it is kind of scary. 

My Verdict: Science fiction isn't usually my thing, but I know Pratchett's novels are incredibly popular, so I gave it a try, and I am glad I did. As I mentioned before, I didn't quite realize I was entering in on a series, but I am okay with reading a few more books to see how this all shakes out. The premise is incredibly interesting as Pratchett and Baxter have hit upon something that literally has endless possibilities for directions it can go in. And I will go ahead and say the while the book does end on a cliffhanger, it isn't a terribly frustrating one that will leave readers fretting too much. 

Favorite Moment: Whenever Joshua, a mostly anti-social loner who is a natural stepper and prefers to travel alone, still speaks of the nuns who raised him at the orphanage with great admiration. And even though he is an adult now, he still finds himself behaving in ways he knows they would approve of, and acknowledges to himself when he does something they wouldn't like. 

Favorite Character: There wasn't anyone that really stood out to me, but I suppose I could go ahead and pick Joshua since he is the one I could relate to the most. While I didn't grow in an orphanage run by some seemingly awesome nuns, I do prefer to travel alone, hate being the center of attention, and if I found out I could naturally "step," I would do so often, mostly to just get people to leave me alone. 

Recommended Reading: Most of the books I think to recommend have something to do with time travel, and that isn't really what "stepping" is, although it came seem like it when the next version of earth has not quite developed to the point that our earth has. The process of stepping did remind me of the different levels of the Twilight in Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series. So I guess I'll go with that. Although, as of yet, Pratchett and Baxter have not included any vampires or werewolves or shape shifters into the story. But you never know...

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