The Long Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by Harper Audio
Read by Michael Fenton-Stevens
Sometimes collaborations can bring out the best of two authors and result in a product that really shines, and sometimes not so much.
I am a BIG fan of Terry Pratchett. When his collaboration with Neil Gaiman Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch was released in 1990 my first reaction at the time was “Who’s this Gaiman guy?” But I read the book and really enjoyed it. In fact, it is on my list of favorites even though it is the only thing Mister Gaiman has written that I have ever enjoyed. The humorous twists of Pratchett with a bit of an edge from Gaiman made it a very entertaining story.
Naturally, I expected his collaboration with Stephen Baxter to be equally entertaining and at first it was. Together these two masters of SF and Fantasy came up with a really fun version of the old infinite probabilities theme, but with an interesting exception – there is only one Earth on which Homo sapiens has evolved. So, no stepping from world to world looking for differences in history. Good. it’s been done frequently enough and while I do like alternate histories too, it’s nice to see they side-stepped around that.
The probabilities of the Long Earth (the collection of worlds that Pratchett’s and Baxter’s Steppers can get to) instead seem to be all jumbled up at random. So while you might find a “Belt” of worlds that are all ideal for farming, for example, there might be a dessert world smack dab in the middle. These are called “Joker Worlds” and the implication is that our own world is one such Joker in the deck of worlds that is the Long Earth.
They also came up with an interestingly individualist character, Joshua Valienté. Joshua is an orphan who was brought up by nuns in Madison, Wisconsin, but even growing up he was a strange little boy with an unusual attention to details and, it turns out an unusual ability to step to other Earths without the use of a “Stepper Box.” Eventually Joshua is hired by Lobsang, a reincarnated Tibetan mechanic, to travel across the Long Earth in an air ship and they are off.
All in all it sounds like it should be an interesting trip both for passengers and readers. Sadly, it falls flat because neither author seems to have been able to write a satisfying ending to the story. There are also a few too many subsidiary characters, but I suppose that is hard to avoid in a collaboration. However, while all those minor characters are tied up together eventually, the story itself runs full speed until it just crashes at the end. No denouement, just a stop. Like both authors decided not to bother with an ending.
It is less than unsatisfying, it is insulting to the readers as though we are being told, “You wanted a story? Here it is, now pay up and shut up.” Or “Once upon a time… the end. Now go to sleep, kiddies!” And that’s a shame, because it seemed to be going along quite nicely up to that point even with all the disjointed flashbacks and actions that may or may not have been out of sequence.
What is worse, we are presented with a large set of mysteries of which most are never explained or even hinted at. I really hope the authors are not planning a sequel, however, because this was one of the worst cliffhangers I have encountered in a long time and it does not lead me to want to read any more.
The Audio Book:
Michael Fenton-Stevens – reads the story very well, so while the story itself ends poorly, while it goes on, I truly enjoyed the way he read it. No funny voices (I concentrate on that a lot, I know), no outlandish accents, just properly performed and sometimes subtle nuances between the characters so you always know who is talking.
His reading enhances the good parts of the book, which I will admit is most of it. It is just that the poor ending ruined the rest of the story for me.
So should you read or listen to this? Well, I have always been one to say you should decide for yourself what is good and what is bad, but keep in mind that is satisfying conclusion is a must for you and you go ahead and read or listen to this anyway, you have been warned.