Audiobook Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

12 07 2012

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Read by Michael Fenton-Stevens

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Long Earth is a wonderful tale of exploration and discovery by two authors that blend their styles so seamlessly that it becomes something unexpected. Some readers, those expecting something decidedly in the styles of the individual authors, or those looking for a concisely plotted tale, may be disappointed, but those going in looking for the exploration of almost infinite  potentialities should have a whole lot of fun.

Grade: A-

I really love books about exploration. I think that, more than any other aspect is what has influenced me as a speculative fiction reader. Exploration and discovery is the root that runs through many of my favorite SFF subgenres. I love portal fantasy, space exploration, post apocalyptic, time displacement, and anything centering on the concepts of the multiverse. I love when an author takes recognizable characters and puts them in whole new situations. Whether its SM Stirling opening untouched America in Conquistador or Gordon R. Dickinson’s metaphysical travels through time in Time Storms, I long to be along for the ride on these thought experiments that are as much a journey through probability as they are through new or altered worlds. This was the mindset I had going into The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I chose this novel not because I am a huge fan of either author but because the concepts of traveling through a multitude of different versions of Earth fascinated me. Yes, I am familiar with the works of both authors. I have read the first Discworld novel, and Good Omens which Pratchett cowrote with Neil Gaiman, and have read a few Stephen Baxter novels including Flood, Time, Moonseed and the Time Odyssey series he cowrote with Arthur C. Clark. Terry Pratchett is known for his comic fantasy, outrageous characters and wry wit. In some ways, Baxter is his stylistic opposite, with slow boil narratives, and a straight forward style of high concept science fiction that takes an idea and pushes it slowly to its extreme. While The Long Earth has stylistic elements of both authors, going in expecting a Terry Pratchett or Stephen Baxter novel would be a mistake. Luckily, I didn’t make this mistake, instead hoping for a novel of discovery that contained a touch of both authors. In the end, I think this is exactly what I got.

Since Step Day, when a scientist posted a design for a device allowing interdimencional travel easy enough for children to make, Joshua Valiente has never felt comfortable unless he was out in The Long Earth, stepping from one alternate America to the next. When hired by a sentient AI named Lobsang to accompany him on a voyage to the furthest ends of The Long Earth, Joshua reluctantly accepts beginning a fascinating journey through the millions of probable earths, experiencing new life, strange alterations and a force that may explain the essence of who Joshua is. Pratchett and Baxter have created a huge world to play in and play they do. The Long Earth is less of a plot based novel, than a look at what infinite alternate Earths these two minds can create. While the journey is the major part of the story, the authors also examine the many political, social and economic issues that the opening of new worlds creates, adding an interesting limitation by not allowing iron to travel between worlds. While stepping through the multiverse is probably the ultimate MacGuffin, it’s one that taps into our innate desire for something new. The world the authors have created often seems too big and you feel that you are only scratching the surface of potentiality, while still going on a very, very long ride. This novel is less about what happens, and more about what can happen, so readers looking for lots of action and plotting may be disappointed. Pratchett and Baxter use the two main characters to filter the experience of these worlds to the individual authors taste. Joshua is a kind of dull, plodding boyscout, who always is prepared and always follows directions, while Lobsang is an over the top combination of shifting perceptions and manipulations whose hidden agenda is always pushing things in new directions frustrating Joshua.  The writing itself is crisp and witty, full of pop culture illusions and high concept exposition elegantly handled. Don‘t expect laugh out loud moments but plenty of clever moments played out for good effect. My only true complaint was that with a world so large, there was no true way to end the tale except for a sudden stop that leaves you reeling a bit.  Yet, The Long Earth is a wonderful tale of exploration and discovery by two authors that blend their styles so seamlessly that it becomes something unexpected. Some readers, those expecting something decidedly in the styles of the individual authors, or those looking for a concisely plotted tale, may be disappointed, but those going in looking for the exploration of almost infinite  potentialities should have a whole lot of fun.

I always question the decision to use a British narrator for an audiobook that takes place mostly in America with the majority of the characters being American, but in this instance it actually works well. I think the reason it works is that much of the exposition and worlds-building takes place through the filter of Lobsang, who in some ways acts as the avatar for Pratchett. Sure, Lobsang isn’t British, but instead a Tibetan reincarnated as an Artificial Intelligence, but his character is so exotic that the tone that narrator Michael Fenton-Stevens uses to portray him is totally fitting. I enjoyed many aspects of Steven’s narration, particularly his use of affectations, like sighs and soft chuckles to capture individual characters. He has an excellent sense of pacing, and gives some of the long flowing segments of Joshua and Lobsang’s journey an almost stream of consciousness feel. His portrayal of some of the women characters was on the rougher side, but I think he knew this and tried his best to understate his female voices. My other small problems were that he seemed to be channeling a stereotypical, Gary Cooperesqe tone for many of his American male characters, and occasionally would slip a bit in his consistent transition between British and American pronunciations. Yet, other than these small quibbles I felt he gave an excellent performance in The Long Earth, and effectively captures the feel the authors were trying to achieve.

Note: A special thanks to Harper Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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4 responses

12 07 2012
Dave Thompson

I have to say, I wasn’t at all interested in listening to this book prior to this review. Now, I’m totally curious! The themes of exploration and the set-up you mentioned sound way intriguing.

Thanks again, Bob!

14 07 2012
Prachett terry | Jameseldermusi

[…] Audiobook Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen … […]

14 07 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I’ve never read or listened to any Pratchett and have long meant to, this sounds like something I’d probably enjoy.

17 07 2012
Wayne Farrell

Don’t forget to listen to Mort and Weird Sisters!
You won’t be sorry! 🙂

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