Saturday 7 January 2017

REVIEW: The Long Earth


Everyone loves Sir Terry. I love Sir Terry. I love the books & have great respect for the man. This review is simply my opinion of the success of this particular collaboration. I'll be 1st in line for the next T.P book and I'd even give T.P + S.B another go. 

From the slew of 4 & 5* reviews already on show I may be out on a limb on this one - so don't listen to me - give it a try.


Collaboration. It’s a word with an unfortunate aftertaste. Collaborators get a bad rap. Sir Terry Pratchett’s collaborations with other notable authors have been limited. In 1990 we saw Good Omens, produced with Neil Gaiman. On the crest of that success Pratchett found another partner in Larry Niven but this effort floundered with Niven producing Rainbow Mars in 1999 as a solo work built upon some of their shared ideas. And now 2012 sees The Long Earth, a collaboration with Stephen Baxter. The accompanying promotion contains a photo of the two grandees locked in combat before a laden bookshelf. A certain degree of dynamic tension does help in collaborative writing, too little and you get compromise writing, too much and it’s never going to get finished. I think here both men were pulling punches and the pages could have benefited from a good blooding!

Collaborations can be port and stilton good, or marmite and custard bad. I suspect it’s impossible for two fine writers like Baxter and Pratchett to serve up anything wholly unpalatable, but the Long Earth feels long, although it is short, and is decidedly blah. Think porridge.

The Long Earth is science fiction. In science fiction the IDEA tends to overshadow the characters and even the story. Here the IDEA has flattened both. Glimpses of story and character may be seen poking out from the margins of the IDEA, vital juices pooling. You can’t see much but you can see enough to know you don’t need an ambulance.

The Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame has not shown up to this party. There’s rarely a smile in The Long Earth, and never a laugh. The idea explored is that Earth sits in one of an infinity of parallel universes and that these become opened up to humanity such that pretty much everyone can step through them like moving from one card to the next in a deck of cards. We get to hear a lot about the impact this has on humanity, both social and economic. Sometimes we hear this from characters who pop up and are not heard of again, giving the book a disjointed feel. Of the hundreds of thousands of Earths open to Joe Public almost all are Earth as it would have been without us. A lot of time is spent detailing minor evolutionary variations in the flora and fauna, to the point where you just don’t care about one more slightly smaller elephant or slightly uglier crocodile. A lot of time is spent hopping from one forest world to the next. It’s an idea that is interesting in a paragraph but becomes increasingly dull over 300 pages.

The writing, line by line, is fine. It lacks trade-mark Pratchett sharpness but it does the job. The story arching over chapters is . . . not gripping. There’s essentially no tension in it. Our heroes (a young man who is very good at moving through the worlds, and an artificial intelligence named Lobsang) are exploring, they don’t have any clear goals stated, nothing is after them, they have no serious problems, they don’t appear worried or even to care that much, and thus as a reader one tends to a similar disposition.

The book ends with a bang, but it’s a rather ineffectual one that is, like the bulk of the book, hard to care about. I’m a fan of Sir Terry’s work and I applaud his willingness to experiment with new styles and new writing partners. I hope he keeps doing it. I cannot though, hand on heart say I enjoyed this book. Not even a little.  

Edit: RIP Sir Terry - you left us many great books to remember you by.

You can go and 'like' my review on goodreads, if you like.

1 comment:

  1. An AI named Lobsang? Interesting. In a couple of the Discworld books there is a character who is a Monk of Time, (or is it, of Traversing Time?) Thief of Time is the one that comes to mind. I've had The Long Earth on my shelf (unread) for a while. I loved his collaboration w/ Gaiman, but I cant (yet) bring myself to read this one.