Terry Pratchett has been so successful in writing the numerous Discworld novels that he finds himself in a predicament: people either expect him to be just as funny in his other novels, or they expect him to do something completely different. Unfortunately, in this collaboration with Stephen Baxter for the book ”The Long Earth” he falls somewhere between these two. Not funny in comparison with Discworld, too pratchett-y to be different.
The Long Earth is a fantasy/science fiction novel about parallel universes. One day people discover that they can ”step” between worlds using a strange potato-based contraption. This opens up a lot of possibilities, at the same time as it creates a lot of problems. The book explores all those issues through the eyes of Joshua, a saviour kind of guy who was raised by Harley-riding nuns, and who travels through these universes in the belly of a Zeppelin controlled by the robotic reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman.
I’ll give you a minute to re-read that last sentence, shall I?
See the pratchettness of it yet? The quirk? The philosophical questions it raises? But there is one pratchettian component missing: the humour. And that’s where I think Pratchett has dug a hole for himself. He’s so good at what he does best, ie the Discworld novels, that a lot of people – myself included- expect him to keep doing exactly that. As soon as he strays from the formula and aims for something more ”serious”, like he did with ”Nation”, for instance, he’s doomed. People will make comparisons, and his non-Discworld offerings will be lacking, because they’re not Discworld. Oh, and because they’re not as good. Pratchett is best when he’s funny.
But say that you somehow manage to put the comparisons aside, and judge the book as is. Pretend that it was written by an unknown author. The book is still lacking, despite the very promising premise. It drags on, until the last 50 pages or so when it suddenly picks up pace and becomes really, really interesting, only to leave you hanging. No, really. The end felt like a cliffhanger, and I don’t know if it was intentional and they are planning a sequel (probably) but it seemed like the book would have benefited by getting rid of maybe 200 or so pages about what came before and telling us what comes after instead.
Stephen Baxter, then? I mean, his name is on the book cover. Well, I wasn’t able to ”see” his contributions to this novel as much as sir Terry’s. But then again, I haven’t read that many of his books that I can easily recognise his voice, as I do with Pratchett’s.
In the end, I think the book has trouble finding its audience. It’s not kid-friendly (because of the swearing) but not adult, either (too….lightweight). Will I read the sequel? You bet. I’ll read whatever Pratchett throws at me. Even if he throws me crumbs. Don’t judge me! They taste a bit like the cake they came from.
More of my reviews and ramblings in my blog.