I really enjoyed the speculation about how humanity would react to suddenly having hundreds of thousands (millions?) of easily accessible copies of the Earth available to anyone able to assemble an inexpensive, Radio-Shack style gadget. Other alternate earth stories usually presume special mutant powers or multi-billion dollar technology being required for "shifting", but not this one. What if I could just get up and...leave? My only regret was that the story ends on a massive cliffhanger, with major plot points left unresolved. Mr Pratchett, Mr. Baxter, please write a sequel!
This book brought up a lot of really interesting ideas about resources and the value of things if there was an infinite amount of resources. What would be valuable then? I liked the main character, Joshua, a lot. As for the spirit of the ancient Tibetan who had transfered into circuitry . . . well, I'm not sure what I thought. He was alternately irritating and likeable but made for an interesting foil against Joshua and, eventually, Sally. I thought Terry Pratchett did a great job exploring a lot of the issues that would arise if we were suddenly to find ourselves with an infinite number of earths to explore and exploit. My only complaint was the ending--the story just cut off. Obviously there needs to be a sequel but I wish that the end had felt more rounded off rather than snapped.
I adore Terry Pratchett, and haven't read any other Stephen Baxter, so I'll read any Pratchett, and might give Baxter a shot.
It didn't really develop into any cohesive "then what happened" kind of plot. They went all over all the alternate earths, and saw a lot of stuff, and found the macguffin... and while it was an interesting exercise in what might be if earth had all of its alternate realities available, it wasn't fun, or engaging. at the end, i really didn't care (and i only cared in the middle to see what happened at the end). In short, they traveled around, and saw alternate reality stuff. And nothing really happened. *sigh*
I haven't listened to his readings before, but he did a fine job with his characterizations and performance. The material just wasn't that engaging.
I was disappointed. It's like when someone spends 10 minutes telling you about a dream they had, and there's no point, no plot, nothing changes (either for them, or for you). You get to the end and you think, "and? was that it?" There is a very cool concept near the end, but it isn't really explored, and if that's just a build up for book two, they've blown in, because i'm completely disinterested in what happens next.
If you're looking for the fun, romping narrative in a typical Pratchett book, you'll be incredibly disappointed.
Sculptor and costumer
I cannot honestly say as I have not read the book.
I cannot say I could compare it to any other books I have read. It is an interesting twist on the idea of parallel universes..or in this case "earths."
He does a very good job at voicing the characters.
Joshua's initial introduction to the "elves" and the realisations and epiphanies it causes.
I will say that it took me at least two chapters to actually get hooked into the story. I am glad I stayed with it. This is a thought provoking book and I think that many will find it refreshing and possibly illuminating.
The idea of stepping between worlds and the implications thereof was very enjoyable. The examination of AI versus human was also nice to see in how it plays out through adventures across worlds.
The book did get slightly repetitive about 3/4s of the way through before it was wrapped up, but that was a minor distraction.
Stephen Baxter is one of my favorite authors. He does a wonderful job dreaming up new technologies and stories to go with them. While his latest novel doesn't necessarily disappoint, I don't think I'd call it is finest work. In the past, Baxter has teamed up with science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke to produce several excellent titles. But in the case of The Long Earth, Baxter's hard sci-fi background seems to clash jarringly with Pratchett's propensity for fantasy. The result is a book that struggles with its credulity.
The book is set in a world where an enigmatic (and disappointingly absent) college professor invents a device that allows nearly anyone to "step" between adjacent versions of Earth (think "Sliders" -- the TV series). Unlike with Sliders, the parallel Earths are not inhabited by humans, leaving them open for colonization. The only catch is that iron cannot be moved between worlds, and everything else must be "carried" by a sentient being.
As I read through the book, I felt much like I did when watching Ridley Scott's recent not-an-Alien-prequel, Prometheus. There's even an AI that provides us with one of the most compelling and "human" performances. And in the tradition of Prometheus reviews, let me share some of the frustrating plot holes from The Long Earth.
WARNING: The following contains things that might be considered spoilers (not that there's much to spoil). Skip to "END SPOILERS" if you want to avoid them.
- Even though humans have obviously developed iron-free computers and electronics, few of these devices seem to be carried between worlds. Many people even complain about the "unavailability" of technology.
- Speaking of lack of technology, one major aspect glossed over in the novel is communication between worlds. On the one hand, no one tries to build inter-world communications systems (which would be enormously useful), but on the other hand, communication between worlds seems to be well within the realm of possibility. At the end of the novel, a Geiger counter in one world appears to register a nuclear reaction in an adjacent world. Also, the AI appears to be able to "detect" incoming creatures from "nearby" worlds. Both of these appear to be methods for establishing at least rudimentary communications, something that would have solved about half the problems the book's characters face. Heck, even hiring some kids to walk back and forth between worlds with portable electronic storage devices would allow for a sneaker-net-style link which could be used to provide a high-latency internet link.
- Even though complex life develops on nearly every iteration of Earth, humans only develop in one. This is a stretch because other creatures that co-evolved with Humans seem to show up readily.
- Speaking of evolution, the book takes a very ignorant approach to the whole subject. Many times it's implied (even by apparently super-intelligent folks) that evolution is some sort of progression that begins with "simple" things and ends with intelligent humans or Trolls or Elves. This is actually a pretty creationist view of evolution ("those 'Darwinists' think we evolved from monkeys!", and one that left me often frustrated.
- At one point, our protagonists find themselves on an Earth that lacks a moon. This could have been on of the most fascinating parts of the book, but turned out to be one of the most irritating parts. At this point, the authors explore in-depth a couple interesting bits of fallout from the lack of a moon, but skip over those that would throw a huge wrench in the story. For instance, they discuss how gravity is higher because the Earth is more massive, but fail to note the diameter of the Earth would be significantly greater, requiring them to ascend to very high altitudes before stepping into that version of Earth to avoid stepping in a few hundred miles beneath the surface (which they don't).
- Also (in a very Prometheus-like moment) our protagonists march right out onto the moon-less Earth without regard for the breath-ability of the atmosphere. Earth's oxygen-rich atmosphere is the result of biological events occurring approximately 2.4 billion years ago -- long after the formation of the moon. What's to say there's any free oxygen at all in a moonless world?
- Finally, in a very frustrating moment towards the end of the book, two of our protagonists discover that they can game the "everything must be carried between worlds" system by holding a tether attached to a floating dirigible. This trick could easily be used to solve about 80% of the "problems" faced by the world:
-- Trade is uneconomical because "everything must be carried"
-- A portion of the population can't step without being indignantly "carried" (no one feels indignant being "carried" by a blimp, do they?)
-- Technology must be re-built from scratch because things like forges must be recreated from scratch on each world. One can only assume this is because a concrete and titanium forge would be "too heavy to carry"
-- Long trips across many worlds are arduous because all supplies must be carried (I assume they'd be more pleasant in a climate-controlled airship).
-- Long trips WITHIN remote worlds are arduous because there is no air travel (I really can't figure out why no one bothers to bring a blimp with aluminum or titanium infrastructure).
Note: Titanium seems like a pretty obvious alternative to iron-based stuff. You'd think it wouldn't be practical because it's so rare and expensive. But in the infinity of similar Earths in the Long Earth, you only need to find one deposit. Then just "find" it again in the next world over. This is discussed at length in the book, but only as it applies to gold.
Now that I'm done ripping hole after hole in the plot, I'd like to express one final gripe: The story just gets started as it ends. Nothing is actually resolved in this book. I understand that it's the first in a series, but all it does is open a bunch of doors and close none of them.
The last 30 minutes of the audio book start to ramp up the excitement, but then the book just ends. Abruptly. With no real conclusion, climax, or denouement. Nothing feels resolved. Even the narrator (who, I should say does a fine job) seems surprised at the abrupt ending. The inflection of his voice for the final sentence implies there's more. But there's not. It's over. If the Audible folks hadn't jumped in to thank me for listening, I would have sworn the file was incomplete.
This book is less of a complete novel then the first part of a larger story. There's a lot of hope for it yet. But it just doesn't stand well on its own. I would have hoped for more from two such prolific authors working together on such a novel and fascinating concept as travel to parallel Earths. There's a lot of promise in this series, but the first part doesn't really deliver.
I can not believe that Mr. Pratchett has stooped to the level of ending a book in the middle of a conversation. This was once used by authors to get people to but thier books. Is Terry Pratchett going the way of Ms JK Do Any Thing For Money???
Warning This IS the start of a series and the publisher, and author did a bad job of it.
For those expecting a "funny" Terry Pratchett book, I have only one thing to say: Why?
Pratchett's sharp wit and deconstruction of modern society shine through from time to time, and his humor is evident throughout the novel. But this book is much more _Nation_ than it is a Discworld novel. Someone once said that Terry Pratchett (and I'm paraphrasing) is a great novelist who just happens to write funny books. That's true, but still, he doesn't have to be funny all the time, does he?
And let's not forget Stephen Baxter. Doesn't he get to have some influence on this novel?
Seriously, people. It's a great listen, and one I plan on encouraging all my friends and family to read. It's one of the better multiple earth novels out there, with great characterization, a solid plot, occasional humor (some of it unintended, I believe), a bit of insight into human nature and society, and a truly nifty airship. What more could you ask for in a novel?