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    Review of THE LONG EARTH by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

    Harper, June 2012

    One day it happened--a potato-powered device let almost everyone step through the dimensions to other earths--earths where humans never evolved, where humans never despoiled the planet, where California's gold remains on the ground, ready for picking, where Texas's oil fields remain untapped. From tired old earth, people flooded out--leaving economic recession behind for those who stayed. Not that life was always easy in the new worlds--traveling by potato makes most people sick, and nobody can carry iron with them so technology is stunted on these other versions of earth.

    While some must travel slowly, sickly, a few are natural steppers. They don't even need the potato to make their way through the dimensions (while others can't travel at all). One of the naturals is Joshua--famous for helping bring back children who stepped through dimensions and lost their way. Now he's traveling with an artificial intelligence who thinks he's a reincarnated Tibetian not one or two dimensions from old Earth, but millions--looking for something although neither really seems to know what.

    It's an intriguing concept. A lot of scientific theory is based on the idea that all paths are taken, that our universe is simply one leaf among an infinite number of others. In many (most) of these alternate universes, humans wouldn't have evolved. It's intriguing to consider how our world would react to a sudden opening of a new frontier--one where everyone could have their own world, if that's what they wanted, or where communities could go to create their own utopias. Would, as authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter posit, those left behind feel resentment over being abandoned (probably). Would they descend into right-wing gingoism and terrorism (quite possibly). Which, to me was the weakness of the story. I'd be fascinated by a look at people trying to carve out a new world (literally). I'd be fascinated by a story of those left behind trying to cope with a huge outflux of humanity, especially of healthy and young humanity as the ambitious left the elderly and infirm behind to fend for themselves. Pratchett and Baxter don't give us this story. Instead, they give us glimpses of a multi-million dimension journey that includes sapient beings who just might be the elves and trolls of human legend.

    I'm a huge fan of <../sfpages/sf_rev_autm-p.html#tpratchett">Terry Pratchett (see more reviews of speculative fiction by Pratchett). To my mind, his works are simultaneously hysterically funny, exciting adventures and thoughtful commentary on the human condition. In my previous experience with Stephen Baxter (see more reviews of speculative fiction by Baxter), I found his concepts intriguing but that his execution didn't fully realize that vision. For me, THE LONG EARTH was exactly that: a great concept followed by not-so-great execution.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 7/10/12

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