Sci-fi and audio books can be a gamble. Long alien names can really become annoying and sometimes the stories just don’t seem to lend themselves to the spoken word. However when they do work then it can be a real treat. So it was with some trepidation that I downloaded The Long Earth which is the new collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The story takes eleven and half hours of careful reading by Michael Fenton Stevens.
One way to tell how well the story is written is to look at how quickly you start to believe the world in which it is set. Sometimes, as with werewolves, this can take a little getting used to. For The Long Earth I found the early chapters a little stilted. It wasn’t always clear what exactly was going on and where we were going. However once the foundations were laid we were up and running across the multiple or parallel worlds. You don’t get funny alien names, just normal ones like Joshua, Sally and Lobsang. Well maybe Lobsang is unusual but it works as a name for a computer.
The story really does draw you in. Not just with the detailed physical descriptions which are very realistic but it also starts you thinking about the scarcity of things and how that drives our world economies.
Anyway, let us look at the plot. It all starts with the premise that there are multiple parallel worlds which we can step into and across. The other worlds are all based on this earth or as the books calls it Datum Earth. Imagine earth after earth without people. Just trees, forests and wildlife in abundance. But then you start to get the variations. Some worlds are still in an ice age and others have been damaged by meteor strikes. The story becomes like a carnival with one wonder after another. It is fascinating, and you won’t want to stop listening. The story line is enough to hold it all together, but the real success of the tale lies in the many different scenarios across the worlds.
The reader does a good job with the various voices. He is consistent across the characters and manages to cope with some of the more unorthodox people.
Looking back on the story I can’t help but think that this is what sci-fi used to be about. Bringing a sense of wonder to the reader. Challenging their conceptions of the world without necessarily embracing intergalactic wars, alien monsters or just too much testosterone. Also, there is always the nagging thought that maybe what is sci-fi now might just turn out to be true.