Thanks to the kindness and awesomeness of the folks at Random House Struik I’ve got one hardcover copy of The Long Earth to giveaway – but more on that later; let’s get to the review, shall we?
Right, confession time: I’ve only ever read The Bromeliad, Only You Can Save the World, and The Colour of Magic by Sir Terry Pratchett, and Good Omens, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman; and none of Stephen Baxter’s work. Why? Well, I read The Colour of Magic just as I was graduating from David Eddings’ The Belgariad to heavier stuff, and I guess the Discworld novels just fell by the wayside, unfortunately. Might also have to do with the fact that I can’t watch a lot of comedy or satire – it just builds up to the degree that I get saturated, so I try to keep that from happening. And with Stephen’s work, well, in the time that I’ve been a bookseller his work just hasn’t been on the shelf as much as it should have been, so my exposure to his novels has been very limited.
But anyway, six ‘may the Force be with you’s’ and on I go,
The Long Earth was, I know, a book that garnered plenty of attention – back when I first heard of it I thought that it would definitely be an interesting read – combining the satirical and comedic abilities of Pratchett with the SF-brain of Baxter seemed like something unique to me and was sure to be a sought-after novel. And when I began reading it I was definitely intrigued and interested.
The Long Earth takes the parallel-Earth idea to an entirely wide-spread level, because instead of ‘the world next door’ being opened to a select few scientists and marines, ‘the worlds next door’ have been opened to practically all of humanity, to anyone who can ‘step’ from our world, the Datum, to the worlds ‘beside’ it. And the story focuses on one person, Joshua, as he explores not only the Long Earths but his peculiar attunement to these new Earths.
Joshua as a character is interesting – because of something that happened, basically, at the moment of his birth, he’s not like the rest of humanity – he’s not the prophesied ‘One’, not different in that way, but he’s different enough to draw the kind of attention that follows him throughout his life. And because of this ‘difference’ he feels that he doesn’t quite fit in. He meets up with a peculiar character named Lobsang who convinces him to become part of an expedition to ‘map’ the Long Earths, to discover what there is out there, to go further than anyone else has ever gone, and this gives Joshua a sense of purpose that sees him grow throughout the novel. There are a couple of other characters in the novel but none of them have the importance in it that Joshua does, one of the most notable being Monica Jansson, who I’ll come back to later.
There were also some character-spotlights, I’ll call them, that served to explain what kind of effect the emergence of the Long Earths had on people – and I ended up really enjoying these spotlights because they showed, to a much greater degree than with Joshua, how the Long Earths affected people – who saw it as an opportunity to move toward a better way of life; who saw it as a new way of exploiting the environment; who became so captured by the Long Earths that they just couldn’t settle down anymore because there was suddenly so much more within stepping distance. I actually wouldn’t have minded at all if the entire book consisted of these spotlights, that’s how much I enjoyed them.
Some of the ideas that the book deals with were also very interesting, such as: if practically everyone on the planet can have their own Earth, why settle for an apartment that you’re struggling to pay for; why work for money, or even work, at all; how can governments tell their citizens to stay when you only need to take a step into a place where you don’t have to pay taxes, where you don’t owe anyone or anyplace money, where there’s no traffic, no smog, no pollution, no over-crowding – and no crime; basically, what the Long Earths do to society. Very interesting thoughts to think while reading this novel.
Plot-wise, The Long Earth unfortunately disappointed me. Throughout the novel there was a definite sense of something coming, a danger building, which made Joshua’s and Lobsang’s mission that much more important, and as they stepped from Earth to Earth the hints about this danger -and how it was affecting the Long Earths- really held my attention; combine that with the novel’s easy-reading style and this meant that I was flipping the pages constantly. But when the ‘climax’ came I felt a bit let-down, almost cheated – the idea of the climax, and the danger that Joshua and Lobsang have been trying to find out about, is an interesting one, but it just didn’t have the impact I was expecting. Also, there was another, smaller climax in the novel that had, confusingly, a bigger impact than the ‘big’ climax – at least, that’s my opinion. Monica Jansson is part of this smaller, though almost more important, climax.
It’s as if the idea for this novel -millions upon millions of new Earths to explore- was simply too big, perhaps even too complex, to enjoy in one novel, as if this idea should perhaps be part of a shared-world novel series because there are just so many stories to tell that there isn’t any one story. Almost as if the idea took over the novel – I guess that’s the closest to articulating my thoughts about The Long Earth as I can get. (Oh wait, The Long Earth is the first of two novels? I honestly didn’t know that.)
Don’t get me wrong – The Long Earth is entertaining, pacey, surprising and interesting and it seems to me that both authors did a brilliant job of balancing what they both brought -as individual writers- to the table (there are plenty of genuinely funny moments), but I just can’t shake the feeling that The Long Earth as an idea is just too big, almost too chaotic, to have made the novel work has it should have.
I still recommended that you read it, though – we who review books aren’t the be-all and end-all with regards to opinions, and I certainly don’t want to make up your mind for you. It may very well be that I just haven’t read enough Pratchett and Baxter to truly appreciate this book, and if that’s the case then all I can say is, “Oh well”. Please do check it out – it’s an event when two authors such as these get together to write a book.
7 / 10
To order your copies of The Long Earth, click here for Amazon US, here for Amazon UK, and here if you’re in South Africa. And in case you haven’t heard of Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, click on their names to head off to their websites.
Now, to the giveaway: As I said, I’ve got one hardcover copy of The Long Earth to giveaway. This giveaway is limited to readers in South Africa (postage is a killer for us, folks, sorry!) and all you need to do to enter is to leave a comment on this post. The giveaway will run from today (10 October) till 25 October – that gives you guys and girls plenty of time to get your entries in! The winner will be announced on 26 October after I drawn the name via Random.org.
Good luck to all the entrants!