The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The basic conceit behind The Long Earth is simple: There are parallel universes and one day human beings discover they can "step" from one to the next quite easily.
But while most parallel universe stories would use this as a stepping stone to tell about the conflict between our world and one where the Axis powers won World War II, or where the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs never struck the earth, The Long Earth takes a different approach: humans don't seem to have evolved on most of the other earths.
Instead, Pratchett and Baxter basically have two stories to tell: one about a very small team of adventurers that start exploring the Long Earth, and one about the impact the discovery has on the world as we know it.
Interspersed with the tale of exploration are snippets looking at the social and economic impacts of the fact that there's now a nearly infinite amount of land available for humans to populate -- and what it means when some people just pick up and leave their world behind in search of a better one.
Like any story that Terry Pratchett has been involved in writing, The Long Earth has a touch of humor to it, but it also poses some interesting philosophical questions and feels at times more like a Heinlein or Asimov novel than a Discworld story -- which makes sense, because it's *not* a Discworld story. If that's what you're expecting, you'll probably be disappointed.
You'll also probably be disappointed if you like your stories wrapped up in a bow with everything explained at the end. There are a lot of questions asked in this story that are never answered -- and while it's possible that's just to leave open room for a sequel, I kind of like the open-ended nature of the world(s) and characters created in this story and don't see the need for a second volume.
There are times when the story seems to ramble a bit, and some of the characters we're introduced to only seem to play a role for a moment or two and then fade into the background, wondering if they even added enough color to the story to merit the few seconds it takes to read about them. But overall I found The Long Earth to be a quick, enjoyable read as a classic science fiction tale set in the near future.
The Long Earth will be available on June 19th, 2012.
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