Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: The Long Earth

The Long EarthThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I used to read settings for role-playing campaigns that I knew I'd never have time to use. I always sort of wondered why I was doing that. Reading The Long Earth helped me understand -- some writers are far better at setting than they are at other elements -- say dialogue or characterization.

The basic idea of the "Long Earth" is fascinating -- an array of alternate Earths, each an easy "step" away once someone discovers the method. The Earths are mostly uninhabited, which raises a series of interesting economic and political questions. The possibilities are explored in interesting ways. The setting is enough to earn the book its three stars.

Beyond that, I have a lot of problems with the book. The main two characters in the book (one of them an AI) speak to each other in ways that sound like a 14-year-old nerd's idea of witty banter. E.g., "Although these worlds are full of elephant types. A plethora of pachyderms." There's a third character who arrives later in the book who I like better, which gives me hope for the sequel.

I would also like to coin the term "Stark Industries Syndrome" for any sci-fi book where the narrative relies on a corporation run by an eccentric billionaire who seems more interested in science and technology than on making money. (To be clear, I have no problem with Stark Industries itself, thus illustrating a difference in what I think is proper in a comic book versus a novel.) That leads to lines like, "Now when you are dealing with the Black Corporation, funds are essentially without limit." Really? I don't think that's true for Apple, Google, or Exxon -- how much bigger of a corporation is this entity supposed to be. Or, "The ultimate "black box", you might say, is in the belly of the ship, armoured in an alloy that I confidently believe makes adamantium look like putty..." Nothing about this alternative-Earth scenario makes me believe any such thing should be remotely possible, especially developed in secret for a company which doesn't immediately try to monetize the invention.

I was initially hoping for something like what I hoped Charles Stross' The Family Trade was going to be before things went off the rails in later sequels. I'm not going to get that, but I'm probably going to read the sequel and hope the setting keeps me from banging my head against my Kindle when I read some of the dialogue.

I had initially checked this out because it was on somebody's list of "maybe nominate these novels for the Hugo." I was still reading it when the nomination deadline came around, but did not rush to finish it because I knew I wasn't putting it on my ballot. I hope it doesn't get nominated, but then again I know Pratchett has a lot of fans.

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