16 March 2013

EAST or WEST: A Review of The Long Earth, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

Terry Pratchett's and Stephen Baxter's collaboration, The Long Earth perplexes me.  Having recently stuffed my copy up onto my third floor bookshelf, I am cognizant that I did read it, even liking it.  Why then am I struggling with the review?  My first attempt at describing the plot was a fail on all levels.  My husband, who is not one to shy away from SF, scurried out of the room after asking me to please stop talking.  Somehow during my ill attempt at summarizing the book I freaked him out.  True, husband is terribly sensitive to aliens to the extreme of monitoring their activities for the sole purpose of ensuring we (Dune family unit) are ensconced in the deep woods of Newfoundland before the mass invasion.  He may describe himself as an advertising copy writer to the general public but in reality  he is Alien Tracker/Keeper of the Family Safety. 

While satisfied with the terror I instilled if let's say I was describing The Things by Peter Watts, I doubt mind-numbing horror was what Baxter and Pratchett were going for.  Where did my telling go so wrong?  In all probability it has to do with stepping. Stepping is the ability to move from one "dimension" to another and another and another and....  Thanks in part to the Internet, a potato, some wires and an East, West labelled switch, humanity can step to new virgin Earth.  Earth as we know it is a product of a myriad of chances.  The happenstances of evolution if altered, exaggerated or skipped would have great ramifications to our way of life.  An extreme example and a section of the book that captured my attention is an Earth without the Moon.  A limitless chain of Earths are open for humanity to explore, expand into and per usual,  attempt to tame.  These endless realities is The Long Earth.  

Interesting stuff, and to be frank I felt at times that I needed some Coles Notes to get me through the science.  I am not completely positive that I grasp the full implications of The Long Earth.  As steppers stretch East and West further away from our Earth, they pass through massive groupings of Earths displaying similar characteristics such as grassland or ocean dominance.   Geologically this makes perfect sense, but from an evolutionary perspective it does not feel right.  Would not parallel universes based on chance be more random?  True, there are planets that steppers arrive too that are so dissimilar from one step before and after that they are called Jokers.  As the story crept along I kept hoping that my questions would be answered. Alas, this was not the case.  

This is not the first book I have read in recent months where the plot freezes up.   Hello, 2312.  It is a shame because The Long Earth and 2312 held such promise, showcasing interesting world views, and ideas of who we are in our solar system.   While 2312 was successful in displaying how remarkable space is, The Long Earth fails to capture my imagination.  The book is reminiscent of an experiment gone wrong.  What would humanity do if suddenly there was an abundance of sustainable land, minerals, water and space? 

Great concept, too bad  Baxter and Pratchett lost control of their vision.   Deciding to add "science" into a SF book doesn't automatically make it better.  In fact, the science frustrated me so much  that I am now not willing to admit that I liked the book. And I do, I really do but then again, do I?