Melissa McShane's Reviews > The Long Earth

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett
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's review
Jul 05, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction, exploration, alien-encounters

** spoiler alert ** I really wanted to like this book. Turns out I liked parts of it. The idea of millions of Earths branching out from ours--a variation on different choices creating different realities--is pretty cool, as is the mechanism by which people reach them. Pratchett and Baxter gave a lot of thought to how the Earth might have developed differently under different circumstances, such as the lack of a moon altering tides and climate or even failing to deflect large asteroids from the planet. I also liked the vignettes interspersed with the main plot, about how the discovery of Stepping affected ordinary people. The characters were charming and the aliens were interesting, if not particularly original.

Unfortunately, what should have been the high point of the story fell flat. The mystery of who or what they're going to find at the far end of the Long Earth grows increasingly suspenseful--and then the answer is...sort of blah. The reason for the disaster that's driving the aliens inward toward our Earth, the origin Earth, is in fact disastrous, but doesn't feel disastrous--and it's dispensed with too easily, no sacrifice (literally none, as the last sentence of the book proves) and no payoff.

I was more dissatified with the social ramifications the authors believed would arise from this situation:

1. Supposedly, Stepping off to new and untamed wildernesses means the economy of Datum Earth (the main world) would start to collapse. That's sort of true in the sense that if you remove enough of any vital material from an economy, it will destabilize. But the historical example of the depopulation that happened because of the Plague in the 14th century says that not only will the economy restabilize, it can do so in a way that improves the lives of the survivors. Since it's impossible to bring anything made of iron into the other Earths, the people who stay behind get to keep all the resources of civilization. And since the authors also argue that violence and crime are almost entirely caused by overpopulation, wouldn't that mean that Datum Earth would see a similar drop in crime when the poverty-stricken rise out of poverty?

2. Except I don't actually buy the whole "crime is caused by competition for resources" thing. People kill for a lot of reasons that don't have anything to do with theft, and even if you look at one person killing another to take the second person's mate as competition for resources, it only takes three people for that to happen. The utopian settlements of the Long Earth come off, to me, as more of a social statement than a realistic possibility--a given outcome, based on assumptions that they didn't try to prove.

Overall, it was enjoyable once, but not a book I'd want to read again.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Anna I think the reason I liked First Person Singular so much was that she wasn't calamitous, just the product of an evolutionary principle mostly lacking on our earth and thus very hard to interact with. I really hope there is a sequel, I'd love to read more about how her part of the contingency tree meshes with the other bits. It's presented in a very binary way ( competition - cooperation) but these could just as well be only two points on a multidimensional compass

Tari_Roo I concur with you on several of your points - notably the bleak portrayal of the Datum - at times I felt that in order to make a point (or perhaps comment on something) broad stroke assumptions were utilised rather than a comprehensive/balance view.

Rachel MacNaught here, here. i also felt the story went absolutely no where. i really wanted to like it due to the concept, but it was the first time in years i closed a book and wanted to claw my eyes out for having wasted the two hours to read it.

Dorothy I agree about the portrayal of the pioneers - it seemed to me the authors were in cloud cuckoo land, if they felt that ending crime was as simple as removing overcrowding.

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