Friday, 22 March 2013

Review: The Long Earth

The Long Earth
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I suspect that there's much more Baxter than Pratchett in this book. I stopped reading Stephen Baxter (and in fact hard SF in general) years ago, because of exactly the hard SF flaws that infest this book: characters that exist almost solely so they can give you idiot lectures, other characters that exist largely to be mobile cameras for the tourist documentary about the setting, and hardly a protagonist in sight.

There are some characters with great potential. The leftist nuns, who we mostly see in Joshua's memory, not onstage. The homesteaders who are inexplicably going a huge distance away, much further than they need to, and who are inexplicably broadcasting from a private journal on shortwave just as the main observer passes through, and who are inexplicably, in that journal, saying things for their small community to hear that you wouldn't want your close neighbours to hear. And who then break into an idiot lecture. They could have been so much more.

The whole book could have been so much more. But it spent so much time exploring ideas that it never quite got around to having much of a plot, and the characters were mainly there to observe, not to want things, not to act, not to strive towards a goal or overcome challenges (other than technical challenges). Almost the only character who seemed to be taking any determined action towards a goal was the straw-man ignorant, bigoted politician.

I also didn't buy the idea that multiple children, on the same day that the design for a "stepper" was published on the Internet, would go out and buy electronic parts and build one, not knowing what it did, not having built electronics before, not caught up in any existing popular movement or viral idea. There are some kids who would do that, but they're not the kind of kids that were depicted.

And I kept waiting for Joshua's life rule of following the instructions to become more than a personality quirk, to make a difference to the plot, but there was so little plot for it to make a difference to that it never became significant.

No, this one failed to live up to its potential. It took a wonderful idea and made it, frankly, dull.

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