Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Not sure when, how or why I stumbled on The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter but at some point I put it on the wish list.  Anticipating some long car trips for work, I recently downloaded it via Overdrive and listened to it on audio book while traveling around Ohio.

Gut reaction: interesting but sort of meandering; a giant thought experiment with some intriguing characters and a good hook but that never quite gets beyond a desultory pace or energy. Despite the “bombshell” at the end, not sure I have the energy to tackle the second book.

I should perhaps offer the caveat that I don’t believe I had read any of the author’s previous works and that science fiction is not something I read a lot of or seek out.  I enjoy imaginative and speculative fiction, however, and felt like this was in that ballpark.

FWIW, Adam Roberts seems to think there is more Baxter than Pratchett:

The Long Earth reads much more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett one. It’s not very funny, for one thing – discounting some wry dialogue and one not-very-successful stab at a comic character (a deceased Tibetan monk who has been reincarnated as a superintelligent drinks dispenser). Instead our hero, Joshua, explores stepwise for a million earths or so, the whole journey rendered with a characteristically Baxteresque mix of big-scale imagination and scientific rigour. The resulting novel is a surprisingly gentle piece of work. Something Wicked, or at least Something Worrying, is sweeping in from the further reaches of the long earth, driving frightened steppers before it like refugees; but it’s a long time before we become aware of this, and not much is made of it. Otherwise human settlement upon the alternate earths is rural and low-tech (steppers cannot carry iron with them, for unexplained reasons) and almost entirely free of crime, rapine and nastiness. Lacking the pressures of overpopulation and with infinite natural resources to draw on, people just seem to get along with one another. Indeed, I’m tempted to call The Long Earth an exercise in utopian writing; an unfashionable mode nowadays, when grim-and-gritty dystopias rule the publishing roost.

I am not big on dystopian fiction so I too enjoyed the style.  The set-up and concept (Stepping, tech driven and “natural”, across worlds, etc.) was fascinating and sucked you in.  The philosophical questions raised are interesting to think about.

But once Joshua and Lobsang embark on their adventure it fell into a lot of dialog and slow moving plot.  Even the interesting bits about natural steppers and what might be causing the “trolls” and “elves” to flee too often get caught up in slow moving discussing between characters.  At the end the tension ratcheted up and things got interesting but I guess I just expected a little more heft or depth.

The AV Club review gets at this:

The story is filled with dozens of huge philosophical, scientific, and social questions, but it ends up short on answers. It lacks a strong plot, and asks, “What does it all mean?” and “What’s going to happen to humanity?” several times over its course, then ends with a promise of sequels. That promise is welcome, but The Long Earth suffers slightly from its own overpacked potential: It promises a satisfying meal, and delivers a tasty appetizer.

It was interesting but after over 11 hours of listening I thought I would be further along or come away with more.  Instead I was left wondering whether it would be worth continuing the series.

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman – Part I

I have a confession and an apology to offer about The View from the Cheap Seats.

First, I will confess that I didn’t pay attention when requesting a review copy that the books was 544 pages.  I simply thought: “Oh, a collection of Neil Gaiman’s non-fiction writing? How interesting. I should read that.”  But about halfway through, I was started wondering just how long this book really was and noticed the answer was very, very long.

And this brings the apology. I haven’t finished reading the book yet. Perhaps a second confession is in order.  I am not really a fan of comics; although I have been reading some graphic novels now that my kids enjoy them.  I didn’t grow up reading comics and know very little about the genre or its history. I enjoy Gaiman’s fiction but really know nothing about his comic work.

So I got a little bogged down in the sections dealing with comics and the comics industry and took a bit of a break from reading. Sorry.  That is why I a writing a “review” of a book I haven’t finished reading.  I figured I get some pixels down since the book has been out for two weeks and the publisher probably didn’t give me a review copy so I could write a review sometime in the distant future.

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Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Making Money is his latest addition to his longstanding fantasy Discworld series. For those unfamiliar with either the author or the series – or indeed the fantasy genre in general – the series is set on the eponymous Discworld, which a flat world that is supported by four elephants that stand on a turtle swimming through space. This is in much the same way that the Lord of the Rings is a very long book about a midget trying to toss the Ultimate MacGuffin into a lava pit without anybody noticing, or how the Chronicles of Narnia are a bunch of books about magical talking creatures and the English kids who love them. In other words, there’s quite a bit more there: while the series began as a relatively straightforward (if hysterical) send-up of classic heroic fantasy (we’re talking Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance territory), it quickly morphed into something a bit more complex. The series is exceptionally versatile: it can and has supported everything from Shakespeare to police procedurals, and usually quite well*.210jOnE-oML._AA_SL160_.jpg

Making Money is the second (the first being Going Postal) in a sub-series about a character improbably-named Moist von Lipwig. Moist is a conman and swindler (although not, in point of fact, actually a bad man) who has become a more-less-voluntary fixture in the improbably-named Ankh-Morpork***, thanks to the decision of its current Patrician (one Lord Vetinari). Vetinari, who actually has the sort of mind and abilities that people erroneously ascribe to famous political operatives, decided that Moist’s skill set was of value to the city, so he hanged the man, and then gave him a job running the Post Office. After the events there (excellently described in Going Postal), Moist is then given a new assignment: fixing Ankh-Morpork’s banking system. Whether the current operators of it like it, or not.

There are also golems.

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