The Long Earth is a sci-fi novel by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The book is about humans acquiring the ability to travel through the multiverse. However, space travel is no more advanced than our own so traveling in the multiverse is limited to traveling across the various earths. The collection of the various earths is referred to as “The Long Earth.” The story mainly focuses on a man named Joshua, who has the rare (though not exclusive) ability to “step” from earth to earth without the aid of a device, and a sentient “AI” or else a human whose soul was reincarnated into a computer (the book doesn’t indicate which is true) named Lobsang, as they try to travel to the “end” of The Long Earth to discover it’s mysteries.
The books is incredibly fascinating. One of the best I’ve read, in terms of piquing my interest anyway. The authors do a good job throwing in the unexpected (in regards to the other earths) and also unfolding the expected (such as how society might unfold given the discovery of a seemingly endless landscape with endless resources). I liked it so much I plan to read it to my nephew after we finish Lewis’s Space Trilogy (we’re currently on Perelandra). Many have complained about how this book is nothing like Pratchett’s previous work in the Discworld series. Having never read any of the Discworld books, I can’t make a comparison. But most of the complaints I read looked unjustified: as though they read the book with the expectation of another Discworld and then were disappointed to find that it wasn’t another Discworld book. Having read so many negative reviews along these lines and having enjoyed The Long Earth so thoroughly, I’m almost glad I haven’t read any of Pratchett’s previous works. Other reviews complained that the book didn’t go anywhere. This is confused. The book most certainly “goes somewhere” (develops), and quite well. However, it doesn’t exactly conclude because it is obviously the first in an intended series.
Christians and the religious feature somewhat prominently in the book since Joshua, the main character, is raised by nuns and since the authors explore how religious people (read: nuts) would respond to such discoveries. The book gives a negative presentation of Christians and religious people in general. The nuns who raised Joshua are cast in a positive light, but these are not your average nuns. These are “nuns” who think it more important to learn about Carl Sagan than the Old Testament. We also get at least one hint that these may not be nuns at all. And so as usual, the only good Christians are those who are not good Christians.
Homosexuality is also presented in the book as something normal, though it is only featured in passing and plays no important role. The presentation of religion and homosexuality are indicative of our cultural climate. It’s interesting that I could pick up two fiction books at random almost and get a negative portrayal of religion and a positive portrayal of homosexuality in both. This probably says something about how prominent these issues and attitudes are.
Philosophically the book is pretty shallow, almost non-existent, outside of minor explorations of the multiverse theme. And on these explorations of the multiverse theme, I think it gets some points wrong (i.e., what we might expect of the multiverse). Politically the book is surprisingly nuetral, in my estimation. We do get a nun (naturally it would be a nun, right?) who hates Republicans, but we also see the faults of government(s) trying to extend their reach beyond their grasp.
Entertaintment value: 10 out 10
Theological value: 3 out of 10
Philosophical value: 1 out of 10
*I should say in regard to these ratings: I am not giving these ratings primarily based on what a thoughtful reader might get out of the book but on what the author(s) put into the book. So, for instance, a book may be theologically shallow or negative and therefore receive a low rating even though a creative reader may find fertile ground for his own theological reflection.