Considering I am such a vocal fan of Terry Pratchett, it’s odd that it has taken me such a long time to get to this book. I think that I am saving each book of his, like a fussy collector. Anxious about reading them because I know that for each one I start, there will be one less Terry Pratchett book which I will ever read for the first time. It’s hard knowing that his publications are finite. But then you fall upon a line which could only have been written by Sir Terry, and it sings from the page.
In a future not too distant from our present, Earth is a very different place. In fact, it is many different places. Following the events of what has come to be known as Step Day, humans have discovered that parallel versions of Earth exist just a step away from the original, or Datum Earth as it is now known. Using a device called a Stepper, invented by missing physicist Willis Linsay, humans can move to Earths east or west of Datum, into the Long Earth and unclaimed territory just like the pioneers of the old west.
For Joshua Valiente, stepping isn’t just about discovery. It is a form of escape. Like millions of children across the world, he made his own Stepper on Step Day, before the world knew what the device did and what the ramifications would be. Finding himself in another world, he saved the lives of nearby children who found themselves in the same situation. But Joshua discovered he could step without his Stepper. Fifteen years later and only a handful of people know his secret: Madison Police Officer Jansson who found Joshua wondering the streets of Datum Earth on Step Day, and is now investigating Long Earth crimes within the area which would be Madison on the Datum; and Lobsang, a legally sentient computer who happens to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. And Lobsang has a proposition for Joshua: to join him aboard his stepping airship called the Mark Twain and travel further through the Long Earth than anyone has before.
This is a fun collaboration between Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and the first in a five book series. Like all good Sci Fi and Fantasy fiction, complex themes are considered within the book, such as overpopulation, individuality and Homo Sapian’s need to explore and discover. Disappointingly, I found the middle of the book dragged a little. As Joshua and Lobsang step across countless Earths there is period where not much happens, but towards the final third the tension starts to ramp up a little. I found some of the characters reactions a little unrealistic at times, with conversations seeming to move from calm and considered, to angry in the space of a sentence. But overall I found the concept interesting and the characters fascinating enough to keep me gripped. The fact that I was up in the air whilst reading it added to this. Not aboard the Mark Twain and stepping across the Long Earth however, just on a bog standard Ryanair flight. Still, it’s a start.