The Long Earth


Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 16, 2021

he Long Earth is the first in a series of five books about parallel universes. What would happen if humans suddenly discovered that they could "step" into an alternate world - apparently our world is just one manifestation of an infinite series of Earths, and with a magical feat, really no more than a thought, a person can transport themselves (and whatever they can carry, except for anything made of iron) into the next world. Since our world is just one in a chain, a traveler can "step" either "east" or "west" - moving left or right along the chain. Accepting that premise, what might happen to people living in our world?

The Long Earth tells the story of Joshua Valiente, one of the first people to learn how to step between worlds. In fact, Joshua is so proficient at "stepping" that he doesn't even need to build the stepping box, with a thought he can move one world over. And over. And over. At first, Joshua devotes his abilities to the "near" worlds, which are adjacent to our original Earth (which is called Datum). Joshua rescues people who step into wilderness and then can't figure out how to get back. But Joshua is a loner, and desires to explore much further a field.

Joshua gets an invitation from the wealthy, powerful Black Corporation, which makes him an offer he can't refuse: join an expedition to step as far as possible - could a team travel one million earths away? Further? The Black Corporation has a constructed an Artificial Intelligence called Lobsang. The plan is to fly an airship, The Mark Twain, through as many earths has possible. Joshua climbs on board and off he goes with Lobsang over countless worlds. They pass through many many versions of Earth, none of which contain human civilizations. It made me think of the Fermi Paradox: "Where are they?" If our Earth can traverse a million or more planes less than a year after learning how to step, then any slightly more advanced civilization ought to have spread across many millions upon millions of parallel Earths, yet there is no sign of them. So where are they?

One thing that bothered me several times is that when Joshua gets into a dangerous encounter with some of wild inhabitants of the parallel Earths, he runs from danger. Huh? Why doesn't he just step one plane to the East? No need to run, just vanish!

The Long Earth is the story of Joshua and Lobsang's journey of exploration. Yet the start of the novel introduces characters who serve no apparent purpose. We meet Jim Russo - his first thought is to jump to Sutter's Mill in California and pick up the gold nuggets that were discovered there. But of course, many others already have had the same idea. With an infinite number of Earths, there are an infinite number of gold nuggets lying around waiting to be picked up - so what then is the value of gold? Later, we see Russo trying to transport raw materials back to Datum Earth (the original plane of humanity). Three men hoist a giant tree trunk and step back to Datum, taking the log with them (the rules of stepping are that you can take whatever you can carry, except for anything built of iron.) I couldn't help but wonder - how did the the three tree-carrying men synchronize their stepping? If one of the three stepped too soon, would he have taken one third of the tree? Would he have taken the whole tree and gotten crushed beneath its weight in the next plane? Anyway, that's about the last we see of Jim Russo - so why was he introduced at all? I know this is the first book of a series, so perhaps Russo plays a bigger part in the later books.

Equally puzzling is police officer Monica Jansson. We meet her in the opening chapters, and then she doesn't play any significant role the rest of the novel. Why is she there at all?

Strangest of all is the Green family. They are so excited to step to a new Earth that they leave their son behind. Rob is a "phobic", one of about twenty percent of humans who are unable to transfer to the parallel Earths. I couldn't imagine why the Greens would leave their son behind. Why not carry him? They carry lambs and chickens - but leave Rob?? The Greens join an expedition to found a new society in a lonely lost corner of the infinite Earths. After nine months of constant stepping, they are 101754 steps "West" of Datum Earth. There, they attempt to build from scratch their new society. This approach bothered me. Why would people want to be so far from Datum Earth that there is no chance of rescue? What if you get cancer? A heart attack? I started listing things that I would miss if I was living on West Earth 101754:


Central heating/cooling




The women I know not dying in childbirth

Electric light

Indoor plumbing

Professional Bands & concerts




World travel

Chocolate, ice cream

Avocados, bananas, pineapples, oranges, cinnamon, chili peppers, wasabi, tuna, pepper

Beer, Wine, Bread

Okay - you get the idea. The list of modern conveniences lost would be enormous. Just how many people would be willing to give up all the comforts of modern society to live at a level of technology where you have to make your own clothes, build your own homes, etc. Sure, for a month it might be fun to trek through virgin wilderness, but then I want to return to Datum Earth and enjoy a shower, a cold beer, and a pizza while watching some football on TV. Anyway, forget about the Green family on Earth West 101754, because they also disappear from the narrative. Again, why are these characters in the story at all?

!!!*** SPOILER ALERT ***!!!

I didn't like the ending at all. The phobics who resent being left behind on Datum Earth decide to nuke Madison Wisconsin, destroying their own plane, to show their frustration. That makes no sense at all. Datum Earth is the only planet they will know, so why ruin it?

The next book in the series is The Long War. I will probably read it, I am intrigued by the whole idea of parallel Earths; maybe the ideas in the next novel will be presented better. Both Baxter and Pratchett are good writers, there is a lot of potential here, even if book one is somewhat of a let-down.