Reading certain books can be like listening to a piece of beautiful music, with many of the work’s themes remaining in the mind long after you’ve finished.
“The Long Earth” (HarperCollins, 2012) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is one such book. It should come as no surprise, given that the British authors are giants in the science fiction and science fantasy genres with more than 100 books in their combined list of credits.
Their collaboration results in a science fiction tale that postulates that Earth is but one of perhaps an infinite number of earths, each of which evolved in a different way – but none seems to be populated.
“The Long Earth” begins in Madison, Wis., in 2015, when people have just discovered that they can visit, or “step,” among these different versions of earth by means of a small, inexpensive mechanical device.
Pratchett and Baxter devote most of the novel to the travels of Joshua Valienté, a teenager noted for his unusual ability to step without an aid, and Lobsang, part-robot, part-man, who builds a massive airship able to travel with ease among the earths.
The real fun of the book chronicles the sights and sites Joshua and Lobsang discover on their voyage of adventure – all kinds of plants, animals and creatures that have evolved on the different versions of the earths. There are worlds frozen in a perpetual ice age, worlds covered with enormous forests, verdant worlds with extraordinary plants and peculiar animals and, most interesting of all, worlds with strange elf- or troll-like creatures and other vaguely humanoid forms.
The premise of “The Long Earth” allows the tale to unfold with creativity and imagination. What if we really could run away from our present circumstances and start over – with other people or not? What kind of new colony would we like to start, and how would we like it to be organized and governed?
The loveliness of the book lies in the low technology and simplicity of these worlds, and the descriptions of the different earths and the new colonies that people begin to form.
I am quite familiar with Pratchett’s work, and “The Long Earth” doesn’t contain much of his sense of humor or wonderful wordplay. It is, however, charming and rather utopian in feel, not to mention thought-provoking and fun to ponder how one would go about organizing one’s own unspoiled earth.
Book clubs that enjoy reading science fiction should explore “The Long Earth.”
Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.