The Long Cosmos
By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by Harper Audio
Read by Michael Fenton Stevens
At last, the conclusion of “The Long Earth” series. Way back, at the start of the series, there was an article on how to make a device called a “Stepper” using a simple circuit and a potato. Assemble, turn it on and find yourself on an entirely different Earth, one in which Homo sapiens never evolved. Turn it on again and you go to another and then still another. Flip a switch and you go back the other way and after as many “steps” as you took in the first direction, you find yourself back where you started; on so-called “Datum Earth.” Each step takes you to a world in which something fairly basic went differently. This collection of billions of Earth versions is called the Long Earth.
Is the Long Earth infinite? Hard to say. Physicists (well, actually only the authors) used a “necklace of beads” metaphor to describe how this chain of worlds works, but that would imply that if you went out far enough you would eventually come back, but explorations out billions of worlds never found a limit.
Humans may only have evolved on a single world, but there are other sentients on the Long Earth. Many of them are hominins, vaguely related to humans, many of whom are natural steppers (They can do it without the potato) but other genera are represented, Canids for example and some rather exotic life forms as well. And through it all, strides Joshua Valliente, a natural human stepper who on that initial “Step Day” discovered he did not need the potato device to step from one world to the next.
Well it turns out there are a lot of people who don’t need those potatoes. So many, in fact I had expected that eventually it would be discovered the potato circuit was just a crutch, a placebo, if you will, that allows people to step when they don’t think they can. Well, apparently not.
As each book in the series progresses the Long Earth and the way it works gets more and more complex, which is odd, since in a world that is, for all purposes, infinite, a lot of the added complexity was far from necessary, so along with threats of various sorts from “Joker” worlds, gaps in Earth’s actual existence, creature of the far realities and so forth. We have travel to other planets where it turns out that any world that has or has had sentient life also has alternative realities (which implies that those that do not have only one reality) and apparently the various realities of the other Long Worlds have nothing to do with each other… until this final book in which they are described as a skein in which each of the Long World necklaces interlink in some places.
It’s an interesting notion, but like many interesting notions it is not enough to hold the story together by itself. What you need are well-developed characters and a plotline. The story does have that although most of the book meanders over territory we have seen over and over again in previous volumes. That applies even to places our characters go where no one has been before. It is all just more of the same with the message, “The Unknown is dangerous.” And yet, even Valliente, one of the more experienced travelers on the Long Earth, gets hurt repeatedly, but we have seen that before too.
So, what’s new? Well, the only thing that is new is a psychic message from the stars, “Join us.” And is this some cliché Galactic alliance of sentients inviting Earth to be a part of their great civilization? Is it an invitation to be the entrée some grand galactic banquet? Something else? Well… we never find out.; After wandering through the distant probabilities trying to put a crew together for the entire book, a single ship goes forth into deep space using unknown and unexplained technology they were expected to take on faith. They discover a few new worlds, which are also Long (having alternate realities demonstrating that somewhere is or was sentient life) and then decide to return to Earth and let other expeditions continue the exploration.
In all, I felt the book had roughly one chapter’s worth of novelty and the rest was just rehashing what the rest of the series had done so far. This was NOT a satisfying end to what was a very long story.
Once again Michael Fenton Stevens read acceptably as he has throughout the series. For the most part he reads very well, but as I have noted in the past, every so often he resorts to funny-sounding and rather annoying voices. Some readers can make that work, but not this one. Mostly the funny voices are attributed to talking non-humans, which helps a bit but really does not make it any less annoying.
All told, I think the story fell flat and what might have made a good short story got stretched out for no good purpose other than, perhaps, to make money. Too bad, since the concepts in the series were fascinating even when the story itself was not.