Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Book 1 of 'The Long Earth'
1916: the Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man's Land gone?
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive (some said mad, others dangerous) scientist when she finds a curious gadget - a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever.
And that is an understatement if ever there was one...
The 'Long Earth' is a series of parallel worlds that are similar to Earth, which can be reached by using an inexpensive device called a "Stepper". The "close" worlds are almost identical to 'our' Earth (referred to as "Datum Earth"), others differ in greater and greater details, but all share one similarity: on none are there, or have there ever been, Homo sapiens - although the same cannot be said for earlier hominid species, especially Homo habilis. The book explores the theme of how humanity might develop when freed from resource constraints: one example Pratchett has cited is that wars result from lack of land – what would happen if no shortage of land (or gold or oil or food) existed?
The book deals primarily with the journeys of Joshua Valienté (a natural 'Stepper') and Lobsang, who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as an Artificial intelligence. The two chart a course to learn as much as possible about the parallel worlds, travelling millions of steps away from the original Earth. They encounter evidence of other humanoid species (referred to as trolls and elves); of human settlers who learned their gifts early, and of an extinct race of bipedal dinosaur descendants. They also encounter warning signs of a great danger, millions of worlds away from 'our' Earth, causing catastrophe as it moves. The book also deals with the effects of the explosion of available space on the people of Datum Earth and the new colonies and political movements that are spreading in the wake of Step Day.
Terry Pratchett is a favourite author of mine, and I was a little skeptical what this book would be like. I was pleasantly surprised and have really enjoyed this departure from Pratchett's normal writing