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Review and Giveaway: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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 🙂

Good luck to all the entrants! 🙂



Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Giveaways, Reviews


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The Random House Struik Get Smarter Short Course in Creative Writing

Hey Guys and Girls, I thought that I would let you know about the excellent course again, considering that I took the course earlier this year and was very, very impressed and happy that I took part. 🙂

The course is for anyone and everyone who has thought about being a writer, or anyone who has tried their hand at writing. 🙂 I’ve been writing for about 8 years now, and when I began all I wanted to do was write the stuff that was in my head; I tried my hand at writing fan-fiction for Tomb Raider, Highlander, even Star Wars. About 6 years ago I started writing a South African-set Urban Fantasy and stopped after about 40000 words because I had no idea how the tale continued. lately I’ve been busy with an Epic Fantasy project that has gone through many iterations over the years. I finished a couple of short stories, but not much else.

And then early this year I heard about the Random House course, from a good friend (and now fellow writer). I was impressed that the course was being presented by Random House Struik and Ron Irwin (Ron got in touch with me after I reviewed Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland, and I’d also read House of War by Hamilton Wende, one of Ron’s clients), and to be honest, if anyone other than Ron was attached to the course I probably wouldn’t have taken it.

But I did (after taking out a loan from the bank – I just didn’t have the money), and after 10 weeks I not only learned an absolute shitload about writing but I became more focused on my writing. Now I’m sitting at 51400 words (almost half-way) and I know for a fact that I really do want to write for the rest of my life.

You see, the course is excellent for the following the reasons:

1) Ron knows what he’s doing: he studied under an absolute giant of South African fiction, J.M. Coetzee; he’s been working in the publishing industry long enough to know everyone, everywhere (he’s good mates with the guys behind Angry Robot, too) and he’s in the game to help writers become the best bloody writers they can be.

2) During this course you’ll learn about POV, introducing and handling conflict, what you need to keep in mind to create awesome characters, how to keep the pacing of your story up, the fact that you’re telling a story and not reporting a story, etc

3) Your work is also critiqued by fellow students and Ron himself (one of the most awesome aspects of the course, since learning how to take critique is too important to ever overlook);

4) Get Smarter has an incredible team of people ready to help you with anything – you see, this is an online course, so there’s no catching taxis or getting stuck in traffic or paying for a hotel, etc.

This course is probably the best thing I’ve done, and has laid the foundation for all the bestsellers I’ll ever write. 🙂 If you’re serious about writing, or even if you’re only dabbling, you could do much, much worse than take this course. 🙂

Head on over to the Get Smarter website for more detailed info. 🙂


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Posted by on August 23, 2010 in Announcements


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The Random House Struik / Get Smarter Creative Writing Course

Here’s an opportunity for budding writers (even already-published writers) that absolutely cannot be missed: Get Smarter and one of the biggest publishers in South Africa, Random House Struik, have joined forces with literary consultant Ronald Irwin to provide writers with the skills they need to get published and to write manuscripts that will become bestsellers!

Here’s the information you need about the course:

* 10-week part-time creative writing course presented via Internet-based distance learning

* Will teach students the techniques of good story writing applicable to fiction and non-fiction

* Highly practical with 5 written pieces completed during the course

* Continuous guidance, monitoring and assistance is provided by the Course Convener and Course Coordinator

* Students form part of a “online writing community” and interact via a learning-based website

* Top manuscripts will be submitted to Random House Struik for consideration

The Course will consist of the following modules:

Module 1 Planning The Story
Module 2 The Importance of Beginnings
Module 3 Characters and Characterisation
Module 4 Plot vs. Story
Module 5 Dialogue
Module 6 Point of View
Module 7 Conflict
Module 8 Tying it all Up
Module 9 Revision
Module 10 Approaching Publishers & Agents with Your Finished Work

And here’s Ron Irwin, talking a bit about Creative Writing – and trust me, he should know; this is the guy who represents the authors who brought us Moxyland and House of War.

I’m going to be taking part in this course and I’m incredibly excited! In fact, excitement is an understatement. This is the first opportunity that’s come along for me to really learn as much as I can about the craft of writing, and I’m grabbing it with both hands. 🙂

And, since this course isn’t limited to a location or to a specific country, I suggest that you do, too. 🙂 I’m confident that this course will be really good preparation for Clarion!

Head on over to the Get Smarter Course Page to get some more info and download the pack that’ll have all the details you need to register for the course, 🙂

If you need more info about the course, contact Karin on +27 21 685 4775 or via email on karin(at)getsmarter(dot)biz.


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Posted by on January 7, 2010 in Announcements


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An Interview with Christopher Paolini

I had no idea whether this would realize or not! 🙂 This is all thanks to Daniel Rabinowitz, Sales and Marketing Manager for Random House Struik South Africa – he sent us an email about a letter that Paolini had written to his fans, and I replied by asking if it would be possible to do an email interview with Paolini. After a few weeks, I got the reply, with the interview questions answered! 🙂 So, thanks to Daniel and Christopher for making this happen! 🙂


Christopher Paolini


First of all, South Africa welcomes you, Christopher, and let me tell you, we can’t wait to read Brisingr!


Thank you. I can’t wait for you to read Brisingr, too!


 With Eragon and Eldest now under your belt, and millions of copies of both books having sold world-wide, and the movie adaption of Eragon, did you ever think that simply telling the tale you had in your head would lead you where it has?


The creation of Eragon was a personal journey, my attempt to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, and the first part of a larger story. Publication was the furthest thing from my mind. I certainly didn’t know how big a project I had tackled, but as I poured my heart and soul into the story, writing it soon overshadowed other activities.


I have been blessed with good fortune in many ways, but the success of Eragon and now Eldest is based upon years of hard work and sacrifice, by myself and my family.


What was the first thing you did after writing (or typing) the final words of the first Eragon manuscript? Did you celebrate or take it easy?


When I finished the first draft of Eragon, which took a year to write, I sat down and read it through for the first time. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited. However, I quickly realized that the manuscript was unpublishable. The story was there, but the technical aspects of the writing needed serious help.


I spent a second year and rewrote the book, fleshing out the dialogue and the characters and the descriptions. At the end of the second year, I gave Eragon to my parents, neither of whom had read it before. Fortunately, they fell in love with the story and decided to help me self publish it. Before that happened, we spent a third year editing the book and preparing it to go to press.


After a fourth year spent marketing the book around the U.S., Eragon was acquired by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and it went through another round of editing. I learned a lot from this process, which was reflected in the manuscript for Eldest.


What were some of the more challenging aspects of writing Eragon?


The hardest part of writing Eragon was working on such a long project. I’m a slow and steady writer, so it’s necessary for me to put in long hours each day to complete a novel. It helps me to have a routine. I get up, eat breakfast, write until late afternoon—with a short break for lunch, exercise, then eat dinner and relax with a movie. I often write again in the evening. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But the plot and characters are so interesting that I seem to live their lives as I write.


Was there any time, after the huge success of Eragon, that you had to take a step back for a moment and suck in a few breaths to steady yourself again?


Those moments have been far and few between. Once a book is completed, I’ve taken some time off, and then I find myself getting anxious and restless. I’ve been writing long enough to recognize that there’s only one cure for those symptoms: beginning the next book. I have a story to tell and it wants to be told.


Would you please take us through the highs and lows (if there were any lows) of writing Eldest?


In Eldest, I decided to challenge myself by writing from several points of view. Because I had never done this before, I found it both exhilarating and a bit scary. I also developed my invented languages more fully, which took a tremendous amount of time.


Were there any times that your characters surprised you? Times when they may have done something or when the plot turned in a direction that made you think ‘Huh?!’ or ‘Now that will work like a bomb!’ ?


It happens all the time. I’ll be in the middle of a paragraph or a sentence, and suddenly I’ll realize that, no, Eragon would do this, not that. It’s a wonderful experience, because in that moment, the world and the characters seem to have a life of their own, and I feel as if I’m just transcribing the character’s own words, instead of inventing them myself.


Did you celebrate in the same way when you finished Eldest, or did you go bigger or calmer?


One of the fun things I did earlier this year was attend the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, where I had my first experience driving a Corvette on a race track. And I also treated myself to a Damascus steel knife. It reminds me of something an elven smith might forge.


Would you please take us through Brisingr, give us a little taste of what we can expect?


Brisingr is the continuation of the adventures of Eragon and the dragon Saphira, as recounted in Eragon and Eldest, the first two books of the Inheritance cycle. In it readers will discover a ship made of grass, a forest made of stone, and a rose that is a star. And they’ll battle terrifying enemies and view the world through the eyes of a dragon!


And finally, how is the outlining for Book Four going?


I’ve completed the outline for Book Four last month. I’m very clear about the direction of the story, how it will conclude and the path each character will take.


Thank you for giving up your time for this interview, Christopher, and I’m sure that I speak for everyone who has fallen into the world you created when I say that we all wish you well that we can’t wait to dive into Brisingr!


Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. I look forward to visiting South Africa someday. I am interested in Cape Town, Table Mountain, the beaches on the Cape, and the South African people.


May you soar on dragon wings,


Christopher Paolini






Posted by on September 25, 2008 in Interviews


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