Thursday, January 17, 2013
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
If you like: sentient machines * parallel worlds * exploring
In The Long Earth, the secret of transitioning between parallel worlds is revealed. Plans are published to make a stepper box, a potato powered device that will move its creator from one world to the next, and people immediately begin exploring the unknown earths. Though the majority of people don’t step until they create their stepper box, there are individuals that are natural steppers, with generations of stepping ancestors. There are also those that cannot step, even with a box; they are left behind while the rest of society spreads through the endless new earths. Myriads of different evolutionary possibilities are explored, as well as the consequences of different environmental developments. If it can be imagined, it most likely exists on one of the earths.
Anything is possible when there are innumerable trajectories. Each earth represents a different evolutionary path, with similar divergences clustering together. The dramatic impacts of minor differences are easily realized when stepping between consecutive realities. The physical differences in the planets are dramatic, and the life forms that exist within them are equally astounding. With this collection of infinite wonder, there isn’t room in just one book to fully explore it -- even the characters remark at how limited their exploration abilities are. There are enough fleeting references to the local flora and fauna to serve as a jumping off point for readers with active imaginations. While there are so many differences, there are also many fundamental similarities. This helps every earth to feel like home, even if it is over two million steps away.
The new-found ability to walk away from the problems of Datum Earth reveals humanity at its worst. Most assume that humans will begin to ruin the nearby worlds, and continue to do so exponentially. As soon as stepping is revealed, people start to ravage nearby worlds for resources. There is no concern for this destruction, or the trash that is left behind. Each action changes the future of that earth, but no one is concerned with preservation. Steppers even leave family members behind without a second thought. Many children who are unable to step are abandoned while their families move on to pioneer the far earths. This only encourages the rage and insecurity of the non-steppers, which proceeds to showcase intolerance and prejudice at their worst. This does not mean that all people are bad. Some people, like Joshua the main character, seek to understand the creatures that have evolved, and to help where they can. The consequences of population density are also explored in The Long Earth. Most assume that in worlds with no rules and no government chaos will ensue. Instead, as people spread out there is less crime and less conflict. People are much happier in small, sustainable communities than in traditional Datum Earth living situations. Seeking like-minded individuals to live with can have both positive and negative consequences, but is nearly inescapable when a new world is only a step away.
If you would step into the unknown without looking back, read The Long Earth.
Pratchett, Terry and Stephen Baxter. The Long Earth. Doubleday, 2012. Kindle edition.