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 in the trees. Where have the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man's Land gone?
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive - some said mad, others dangerous - scientist when she finds a curious gadget: a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever.
Reviewed on 29th June 2012
The Long Earth is the first collaboration in a possible series between Pratchett and Baxter for which the idea has been brewing for some time. In the early twenty-first century the design for a 'stepper' is released to the public, enabling almost anyone to 'step' between a possibly infinite number of parallel Earths, and triggering a migration much likened to that of early American settlers.
I'm coming to this book having not read any of Stephen Baxter's previous works, but I have been reading Terry Pratchett for seven years. This is quite different from Pratchett's Discworld series.
The Long Earth is a serious science fiction novel, yet it maintains much of the lightness common to Pratchett's work and none of the sometimes dreary dullness of hard-core SF. The worlds and events are clearly thought through thoroughly and intended to depict a realistic set of consequences to such a discovery. This provides a stark believability to the text which enables the narrative to flow. There are also a number of points where humour does poke its head through.
One issue with the story is the amount of time it takes to get going. While events kick off fairly quickly at the beginning, there are a lot of seemingly disconnected scenes and characters, and it's not until quite late on that we get a distinct sense of plot and where this particular story is taking us.
Overall it makes for an interesting read, and is filled with literary and movie references of which I'm sure I barely noticed a few. I didn't find it as entertaining as Discworld, but I'm sure that if there comes a sequel, I'll be in line to read it.