Monday, April 22, 2013

The Long Earth

The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

My wife commented the other day that she didn't think I liked much in the way of science fiction. This isn't entirely true, although I'm less inclined to the science fiction imaginings of outer space, ray guns, and spaceships or the fantastical worlds of dragons and elves. What I particularly enjoy are books that take our own world and re-imagine it in subtle but thought-provoking ways.

The Long Earth is such a book. Written as a partnership of Terry Pratchett (he of the ever-expanding Discworld series) and Stephen Baxter (an almost-as-prolific author who likes his science fiction to have a hard scientific basis), the book reconceives what it means to travel in time and space. What if we lived in a world that had multiple instances—ones that we could visit with a device we could build ourselves, fabricated from simple electronics and powered by a potato? (And yes, you can.) What if you could visit, inhabit, or colonize an endless series of plausible worlds? Or if you could, with time, travel to the very ends of what “plausible” looks like?

While there is less immediate evidence of Terry Pratchett's unique brand of humour (in Discworld, it may be turtles all the way down; here, it's worlds all the way across), there is much to enjoy in this book. What I particularly appreciate is the way in which Baxter and Pratchett start with a simple conceptual possibility and progressively unfold deeper layers of meaning. In particular, they explore the larger implications of what such a possibility would mean for society, and they reimagine quantum entanglement and the collective unconscious in a uniquely ingenious manner that pokes around the edges of the question, "Why are we here?" If you like your science fiction to be both plausible and mind expanding, this is your book.

Here is a collage of readers (including some well-known authors) reading the beginning of The Long Earth:


- Mark Mullaly

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