It’s not very often I like fusion fiction like this. Pratchett was a well-known fantasy writer, most famous for Discworld. Stephen Baxter writes hard science fiction so they are hardly the best of bedfellows. Yet come together they did and they’ve created a (largely) fun romp about dimension travel.
Stepping: it’s the new global craze everyone is talking about. All it takes is a box with a three way switch and a potato and you can visit as many alternate Earths as you are able. The world we live on is no more as people, young and old, entrepreneurs and drifters, strive out into the new frontiers of The Long Earth. It seems the number of alternate Earths is immeasurable and each one is slightly different to the last, that is until the next one that is truly different.
Every conceivable world is here, but I won’t list them for you. The story is really about the concept and that is where the sci-fi elements are at their heaviest (not, I add, that this is heavy by any stretch of the imagination). Nevertheless, the very idea of Stepping and its social implications are paramount here. The characters are merely bit part players in the tapestry that is the universe of The Long Earth.
So there is Baxter’s contribution, what of Pratchett’s? Anybody looking for a humorous romp and in-jokes, daftness or profound explorations of humanity will be bitterly disappointed. I can honestly say that there is little here that stands out as being Pratchettesque. Much of this feels like Baxter’s work. That’s certainly not a problem for me, I do like his fiction, but anyone looking for more of a sci-fi and fantasy blend will be bitterly disappointed I am afraid to say.
Now the good parts. I really loved the adventure element to this story. I really loved covering the social implications of a new technology. How will the world economy change? Will social dynamics alter? Will people’s outlook on life change? Undoubtedly the answer to all of these questions are in the affirmative, and this is certainly my favourite side of the tale.
On the down side, everything else feels quite superficial – which is unfortunate. I love alternate universe stories, especially when looking at one major particular aspect. There comes a point in this when I feel bored with how different the worlds are and boredom is not something I want to feel with this type of story.
Also, where is the conflict? As our hero and his AI unit travels the universes, there is very little incentive to do so. Sure, the spirit of adventure and wanderlust is there, but it’s not strong enough in the characters and it’s not enough to maintain the interest for the duration of the book. We need conflict and even when 300 pages into the paperback (of around 420 pages) nothing has happened, indifference is firmly embedded.
I know this is part of a series and it feels like it. At the moment, I am really not bothered about reading more.