The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter)

The Long Earth is the first in a series of books (three so far!) by renowned British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett, and British science fiction author Stephen Baxter. It is anticipated that there will be five books in the The Long … series.

Author bio stuff: I’ve reviewed one of Terry Pratchett’s books previously. He really is one of my most adored authors, and I cannot help but love the vast majority of the Discworld novels. I was quite surprised to see him venturing into Science Fiction territory, though he’s dabbled in it previously. I have, however, found the last few Discworld to lack the sparkle and magic that I had come to expect. This is almost certainly because “Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) in 2007, a condition where the symptoms root themselves more in the physical rather than cognitive.” (Source) The following quote is from Neil Gaiman, Pratchett’s collaborator on Good Omens, one of my beloved books: “Terry still has all of his faculties. He’s fighting Alzheimer’s, but he has a rare kind of Alzheimer’s which means physical objects no longer make sense to him, but he still has memory, and he still has a mind, and he’s still very much the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he couldn’t read the script, so I had to give him his lines. … And it was this very strange, sad, sweet, funny, odd moment, as the two of us sat in the car with Dirk’s lines inspired by a line that one of us had written 26 years earlier. With me saying my line first and then Terry’s line. And then Terry echoing his lines. It was a little moment for me and Terry. I don’t know if we’re acting terribly well, but it’s a moment that made me extra happy.” (Source) Given that, it was quite surprising to me that Pratchett was collaborating on a new series.

Stephen Baxter, Wikipedia page and Amazon page. I will admit to not having heard of Baxter prior to this collaboration. He writes hard science fiction (emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail), and has been quite prolific over the past two decades.

The basis for the story was from an unpublished short story by Pratchett, The High Meggas, details of which can be found in a collection of his short stories, A Blink of the Screen. The Discworld series took off, and the story was never pursued.

The Long Earth is a (potentially infinite) series of parallel worlds similar to Earth that can be reached by almost anyone who has build a “Stepper” device, the plans for which were released anonymously on the internet. It is believed that each of these worlds are present on some probability tree, with the defining changes occurring longer ago as a person travels further from the original Earth (or “datum” Earth). Humans in the form of homo sapiens appear to be unique amongst the Earths, though not the only form of sapient life. The story primarily follows Joshua Valienté, a level-headed young man who is a natural stepper–that is, he can step between worlds without the use of a stepper box. He is co-opted to an exploratory journey by Lonsang, an artificial intelligence who claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. (I’m sure that there are references there to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values that I’m missing.) As they explore more than a million parallel Earths they encounter other sapient humanoids (the peaceful “trolls” who carry their history through song, and the violent “elves”), as well as humans who discovered that they were natural steppers prior to “step day”, and an extinct race of dinosaur descendants. There is plenty of political commentary and social and scientific speculation on how humanity would act and develop if freed from the constraints of limited land and resources.

The book is good. Fantastically good. And I’m surprised. As I mentioned in my author bio section, Pratchett is sick, and his writing has been suffering badly as a result of that (in my opinion). But this book is strong! The pacing is good, the story is well-crafted, there are sufficiently many storylines interweaving with each other, and there is a good overall arc to the narrative. I’m sure that a lot of that is due to the strong influence of Stephen Baxter as a coauthor.

I really hope that Terry Pratchett remains healthy enough to finish the series. At the moment it is at three books: The Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars. The Long Utopia is scheduled for release mid-2015. The novels have been released on a fairly strict yearly schedule (second week of June each year). With Pratchett’s failing health, I don’t hold out too much hope, sadly.

Of course, the book is available on Amazon: (I read it on Kindle, but Amazon is still refusing Affiliate links to Kindle titles):

The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

Allow me to wave hello to my readers. Hi there! In particular to Lauren who decided to write a blog post every day this week. This has spurred me towards making an effort to write more. Since books are generally slightly more than a one day effort (usually :P), I’m doing to write a review of a book from one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett.

Author bio stuff: Terry Pratchett, sorry, make that Sir Terry Pratchett was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1998, and was knighted in 2009. His first book, The Carpet People was published in 1971, and the first book of the Discworld series, The Colour Of Magic, was published in 1983 (a good year!) According to his Wikipedia page, he was the best selling author in the United Kingdom during the 1990s until usurped by J. K. Rowling, and is amongst the world’s most-read and most-popular authors. And I think that he’s brilliant. In 2007 he announced that he had early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He subsequently donated a million dollars (US) to research on the disease, and his fans donated another one million dollars as part of a “Match It For Pratchett” scheme. Various news reports discuss it further, as well as the fan-site.

Let’s jump to the punchline: The Colour of Magic is good. It’s really quite … good. But. And it’s a rather significant but, it is not anything close to his best work. It was his first real attempt at comic fantasy, and the balance isn’t quite right. The world that we are introduced to is a little too generic fantasy. The characters rely a little too much on the standard tropes. Many people hear wonderful things, glowing and effusive praise for Pratchett and the Discworld series, they read the first book (because starting at the beginning is logical, right?) and are left a little cool on the experience. Most of the books are quite stand-alone (there are recurring characters: the Witches books, the Watch books, the Unseen University books, the books that centre on Death, etc, and it’s good to be introduced to those characters in the correct order, but it really isn’t important), and so reading order doesn’t matter here. This is the not the book that should be the introduction to the Discworld series.

The principle characters are Rincewind and Twoflower. Rincewind is introduced as a street-savvy failed wizard who was forced out of the Unseen University due to his inability to retain any spells. Twoflower is a tourist to the city of Anhk-Morpork (you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…) from the Agetean empire where, well, things are done a little differently. For a start, gold is quite abundant, to the extent that the entire economy of the city is somewhat warped by his presence. And, unfortunately, he makes the mistake of introducing the idea of fire insurance, leading to the city being burned to the ground. (There are more than a few jokes about “echo-gnomics” and “in-sewer-ants”….) Unknown to Rincewind and Twoflower, they are but pawns in a game of the Gods, and are being directed by The Lady, Fate. They are diverted to the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, where they are rescued by Hrun the Barbarian (hello slight mockery of standard fantasy tropes) who bemusedly acts as their hero and guide in exchange for photographs of himself produced by Twoflower’s imp-driven picture box.

They escape to the upside-down mountain of the Wyrmberg, a gentle parody on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (on the list of “things to read”–I’ve only ever managed some of the short stories), where magic rules everything, and there are some very amusing scenes with a cowardly wizard and the child-like curiousity of a genuine tourist who believes that nothing wrong can ever happen to an innocent bystander.

The novel, which is divided into roughly four mini-stories, finishes with our characters being rescued (or, depending on their point-of-view, kidnapped) by the city-state of Krull, where they are accidentally launched into space to determine the gender of Great A’tuin oh damnit I forgot to mention something really really important.

Why is called Discworld? Because the world is carried through space on the backs of four elephants, who are in turn standing on the back of the space turtle, Great A’tuin. No one knows where he (she?) is swimming toward, or what will happen when they get there. There was speculation that the world was a great sphere, which is patently nonsense: all of the people would fall off the bottom half.

Anyhow, Rincewind and Twoflower are accidentally jettisoned into space, and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is resolved in the following book, The Light Fantastic, the pair of which complement each other quite well, and stand as a neat little Pratchett-package, separate thematically and stylistically from the rest of the series. Well, at least, that is how is feels in my opinion. Pratchett once said that he wanted to do for comic fantasy that Blazing Saddles did for Westerns. It just took him a little while to find that sweet point of comedy and fantasy.

Like I said, it’s a good book, and if you read it, you really should follow it up with The Light Fantastic. But, it probably shouldn’t be considered representative of Pratchett’s work in general. (Actually, if you’re going to start out, don’t start out with the latest works either. They are, in my opinion, a little smug and cheesy. There was a golden period of about twenty years where he wrote amazing literature. He won the Carnegie Medal during that period.)

Postscript: massive points in its favour for this book though as it introduces the Luggage. A magic trunk made of sapient pear-wood, with hundreds of little legs, that will follow its owner anywhere, in any point in space and time. It’s very devoted. And quite quite deranged.

Oh! There was a TV series a little while back that combined The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic: The Color of Magic [Blu-ray]

The books have been republished in some many different formats over the years: I prefer the artwork of the UK versions, but since I’m linking to Amazon, you’re going to get the US-style illustrations: The Color of Magic: A Discworld Novel There were twentieth anniversary special releases a while back. Nice editions. (Again, Amazon won’t let me link to the Kindle version, it exists…)

There was also a graphic novel: The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic The artwork is very very good.