An unlikely teamup (Stephen Baxter of Flood and Ark and Terry Pratchett of Diskworld) put their heads together for The Long Earth, a roaming scifi novel set 15 minutes into the future, when the world(s) open up.
The book starts with a schematic, a simple diagram, some wires and resistors and such, all centered around a common potato. This drawing has appeared all over the internet (so the story tells us) detailing a device which can be built out of Radio Shack parts (have you been to a Radio Shack lately? Fat chance of that!), and when you push the center off switch one way or the other, you throw up down your front. And when you are done heaving, you realize that you are standing in woods or swamps which would have been there had your community (and your species) never existed. Welcome to either West-1 or East-1 (depending on which way you pushed the switch).
Turns out there are millions of Earths strung out in two metaphysical directions, east and west. Each represents a world where something changed, some sort of reality shift, that makes it slightly different. And our Earth, “Datum” Earth, is the one variant where humans showed up.
The only trick is that metal doesn’t come through. That means no guns, no tools, no nothing. Everything needs to be be built from the ground up. Of course, most people just tour out a few words, get their thrill, then pop home.Others build houses in new communities in the low Earths. And some, well, the more adventurer frontiersmen, they head off into the far reaches, 100,000 worlds or more, to make their own communities and start from scratch.
It’s an interesting premise which held my interest, even to such details as that Westerners tendered to shift “west” and Easterners “east” as fitting their frontier mentality. That’s good. And there are the famous Pratchett characters, the moody young man, the smarmy young woman, along with a robot that seems to be trying too hard to be likable (good storytelling? Bad? Can’t tell).
If Pratchett has a problem (be it for me to critique his writing methods), it tends to be that he has rippling climaxes, one overlapping another until you wonder if the story is ever going to resolve itself. Baxter (at least, from reading his book Flood) is more of a realistic writer, one whose climaxes are not really good-evil but simply the event that defines the novel. What we are left with in The Long Earth is a climax that kinda isn’t, that the ultimate dread is discovered and reasoned with, off page, a sort of “now why do you want to go and distress everyone like this, eh?” mood. There were other minor problems – a lot of time telling me how many jumps they were making, yet no time at all spent with the rise of Earth-centric fascism at “Datum”.
But that’s the analytical me, fussing over details. Overall, its a very interesting idea that seems to flow well, one with enough interesting vistas (in the form of SSDD (Same scenery, different dimension)) to keep it moving. I got my copy from the library, read it on a rainy day, and it was the perfect book for such a thing. I’m not giving it a rave, but a nod. Have a look.